Business challenge

Every year, millions of people visit HFE parks, resorts and websites—how can the company deliver great experiences that keep these guests coming back time and again?


HFE uses IBM Watson Campaign Automation to better understand how customers engage with its offerings and to create personalized, integrated marketing campaigns across email, the web, mobile and more.


Holistic view

of customers helps HFE shape relevant, compelling marketing outreach


offers and messages boost customer engagement and conversion

Drives revenue

by incentivizing guests to purchase and use tickets and season passes

Business challenge story

Creating memories worth repeating

The largest family-owned themed attractions company in the U.S., Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) operates dozens of entertainment, tourism and hospitality properties. Whether guests are enjoying a day out at a theme park or aquarium, relaxing at a resort, or browsing online for vacation inspiration, HFE aims to deliver a unique, memorable experience that inspires customers to keep coming back for more.

Matt Berry, Digital Marketing Manager at Herschend Family Entertainment, elaborates: “Across all of our properties, we strive to create memories worth repeating. We offer many different festivals and award-winning events at our parks throughout the year, including Christmas, pumpkin and BBQ festivals.

“We welcome guests of all ages, so we need our emails to be appealing to each subscriber’s life stage and interests. The ultimate goal is to encourage our guests to become season pass holders and visit the park repeatedly throughout the year. Their consistent attendance strengthens long-term retention and drives greater incremental revenues through add-on experiences, as well as food, beverage and merchandise sales.”

HFE knows that relevant marketing outreach is key to capturing customers’ attention and deepening their engagement. However, relying on multiple systems to manage different elements of the marketing mix made it challenging for teams to shape consistent, personalized messages.

Bill Germani, Marketing Technology Manager at Herschend Family Entertainment, continues: “Email is a strong focus in our marketing strategy, and we complement it with web and social campaigns, app messaging and SMS, digital buys, search advertising and more. It’s a lot to execute, and we wanted a strong cross-channel platform that could act as a central point of control for our marketing activities. By consolidating our marketing automation solutions to a single platform, we aimed to help our teams work more efficiently and deliver personalized messages at scale across multiple channels.”    

Watson Campaign Automation gives us a more complete picture of every customer, which enables us to address our guests based on their unique needs and preferences.

Bill Germani, Marketing Technology Manager, Herschend Family Entertainment

Transformation story

Personalized marketing from a single hub

HFE replaced its email marketing system with IBM Watson Campaign Automation, using the solution to design and deploy campaigns for email, app messaging and SMS. The company also integrated Watson Campaign Automation with data from its customer relationship management (CRM) and web content management systems (CMS).

Berry recalls: “IBM Watson Campaign Automation offered a very compelling proposition, allowing us to better sync our digital channels and create coordinated customer journey campaigns. It was also easy to integrate the solution with our CMS application, giving us a rich store of information on our customers’ web experience and a powerful hub for designing optimal customer follow-ups.”

With Watson Campaign Automation, HFE is tapping into customer data and real-time actions to tailor its digital marketing outreach. For email campaigns, marketing teams can use personalization and dynamic content to deliver customized messages to different customer segments within the same campaign.

The company has also developed a proprietary engagement model in Watson Campaign Automation, which scores customers based on how recently they’ve engaged with a message or channel. HFE then uses these scores to determine where to focus its sales and marketing efforts for optimal effectiveness. For example, the company may suppress direct mail to subscribers who have recently engaged with an email campaign to avoid overwhelming customers with too many messages and reduce operational costs.

“Having the added layer of engagement scoring is really improving our email segmentation strategy,” says Germani. “Plus, thanks to the integration between Watson Campaign Automation and our CMS, we can use the same engagement scoring data to personalize our guests’ web experiences.”

In addition, HFE has launched brand-new apps for its Dollywood and Silver Dollar City theme parks. The company is leveraging the Watson Campaign Automation mobile software development kit (SDK) to complement its scoring efforts, and can now trigger mobile messages that alert on-park guests about special events—helping them engage more actively with the park.

HFE also makes use of geofencing to share exclusive offers and discounts with smartphone users at its properties. By using Watson Campaign Automation’s segmentation capabilities, the company can target these offers to very precise customer groups. For instance, when a visitor without a season pass visits the park, HFE can trigger a message offering them a special discount to upgrade their general admission ticket to a season pass.

The company harnesses location-based marketing to reach out to customers in different regions with personalized offers. Berry gives an example: “We can promote a one-day ticket or season pass offer to customers within a one-hour drive of a specific property. For subscribers farther away, we can go in with a total experience package—offering multi-day tickets and resort accommodations.”

Results story

Lifting engagement

Today, HFE continues to work to gain a more holistic view of visitors to its digital channels, which it can use to better understand customer needs and shape more relevant communications.

“Watson Campaign Automation gives us a more complete picture of every customer, which enables us to address our guests based on their unique needs and preferences,” remarks Germani. “For example, we can see who is visiting our websites but not completing a purchase. By pulling in data from our engagement scoring model, we can determine who is most active and work on a targeted campaign to address that segment.”

Reaching out to customers with more relevant marketing messages helps HFE to boost engagement, incentivize conversion and strengthen loyalty.

Berry confirms: “Our emails are a valuable way to engage our customers by sharing regular newsletters, special offers and announcements for new rides, experiences and events. We’ve definitely seen an increase in email open rates since introducing Watson Campaign Automation and our proprietary engagement model, and we expect this to grow as we layer in more personalized web content to support our emails.”

He adds: “We can now update email opt-out and opt-in preferences across our systems in near-real time. This enables us to start communicating with prospective guests faster, which helps us reach more people during the consideration stage of the buying process.”

Germani concludes: “Our journey with Watson Campaign Automation has only just begun, and we’re looking forward to deepening integration with our entire stack of marketing tools to shape an even more centralized and efficient approach to customer engagement. With a unified hub for marketing, it will be far easier to reach out to guests with compelling, personalized offers and content—helping us build closer relationships with our guests and inspire them to come back time after time to create more memories.”

Herschend Family Entertainment

Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) is the largest family-owned themed attractions corporation in the U.S. The company creates, develops and operates entertainment, tourism and hospitality properties across the United States. HFE is committed to creating memories worth repeating by producing wholesome, immersive family entertainment experiences.

Solution components

Take the next step

To learn more about IBM Watson Campaign Automation, please contact your IBM representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website:

View more client stories or learn more about IBM Watson Customer Engagement