Alumnus seeks students’ marketing ideas for his Go Ape adventure course

May 13, 2011

Looking for fresh marketing ideas for his Go Ape treetop adventure course, alumnus Dan D’Agostino – who donned a gorilla suit and handed out bananas in D.C. Metro stations for the course’s 2010 opening – returned to his alma mater to seek the advice of students in his former marketing professor’s class.

Marketing instructor Don Lavin was more than happy to help – in fact he incorporated the real-life assignment as a question in his marketing final exam. And D’Agostino, USA Go Ape managing director, came to class to brief students about the enterprise he and his wife Jenny brought from the UK, where its 27 courses are wildly popular.

Go Ape features five zip lines, Tarzan swings, bridges, trapezes and rope ladders on a treetop course that spans six acres. The D’Agostinos are partners in the U.S. with the British firm that started and owns the UK courses. They discovered the “Live life adventurously” courses while working in London – Dan as a project manager with the 2012 London Olympics and Jenny as a forensic accountant.

“We believe in permission marketing,” D’Agostino said during his class presentation, which included a run-down of guest demographics, price and course details. “We won’t force an ad in front of you. Instead, we’re asking if we can give you a banana and a card that hopefully steers you to our Web site and then to the course.”

As a result of pre-opening marketing, which centered on PR and D’Agostino’s stint as a Metro-stop gorilla instead of costly advertisements, the Go Ape Web site crashed and the first month sold out. In fact, D’Agostino told the students that the first year has been highly successful with 12,000 guests swinging in the tree canopy at the Rockville, Md., course.

“We rely on word of mouth – but first we have to bring the guests to us, they have to like it and then tell people about it,” he said, briefly telling the students about some other marketing strategies they’ve implemented before turning them loose to create their own.

And create they did.

“Probably the most interesting ones dealt with business strategies, such as targeting larger and different customer segments, attracting repeat customers, and establishing partnerships with other businesses,” Lavin said, after reading through the students’ ideas. “They proposed tweaking prices and adding services such as baby-sitting, birthday parties and a membership club.”

Others included building a miniature course for children 4 - 9 years old, targeting people to come during the week (when attendance is lower than weekends) with incentives for groups and using buzz marketing more effectively through Internet access and social networking (a Day in the Life of an Ape).

Find out more about Go Ape at
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