Speak Creative, Memphis Zoo Team Up With App Launch

By Sarah Baker

Animal, music and barbecue lovers behold – there’s an app for that.

Speak Creative has built a new app for the Memphis Zoo on a platform called The Zoo App. The firm is selling the template across the country.

“It’s a platform that allows zoos, botanic gardens, things like that who have kind of large outdoor parks and exhibits that they want to take people through and provide an app at a much more reasonable price than starting from the ground up,” said Jacob Savage, founder of Speak Creative.

The app contains tools for adding interactive maps, allowing zoos to build a list of exhibits and present it to its audience, regardless of their location.

“Somebody, whether they’re at the zoo or at their home, can pull up something like Northwest Passage and see the different animals that are featured in that exhibit,” Savage said. “They can read details about the animals. They can listen to audio tours of those that have been enabled, watch videos and very easily plot that particular animal or exhibit on a map so that they can find their way right to that place within the zoo.”

Other features include a calendar system, which makes it easy to keep up with what’s going on at the zoo and the show times offered. Users also have the option to add events to their phone’s calendar and star events as favorites.

“It complements the in-person experience, reading the different signs and whatnot,” Savage said. “If they wanted to show you in-depth information about a particular animal, they could.”

The Zoo App also contains “fun features” like the photo booth, which provides zoo-branded picture frames that can be saved to the phone or shared on social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. In fact, the entire app is social-media integrated, allowing users opportunities to share content as well as connect with the zoo’s social network.

Also built into the app are push notifications, allowing the zoo to inform its audience of specials and emergencies. What’s more, Speak is working on some other features that would allow virtual zoo membership cards down the road.

Since the Memphis Zoo App for iPhone went live Jan. 20, it’s received more than 6,000 downloads in the iTunes store. An Android version was released in mid-February and has notched 1,800 downloads. And Savage said the rate of daily downloads has increased dramatically since the weather got warmer.

“They’re averaging about 150 downloads a day over the past several weeks, so definitely I think as they move through the spring and summer, they’ll see a huge uptick in adoption rate,” Savage said. “That’s an ever-present connection that they have with their audience. The Memphis Zoo app is installed on their phone, so people are staying in front of their brand and being reminded about the zoo.”

This is Speak’s first year to work on The Zoo App, but it’s a similar concept to the firm’s platform offering for churches nationwide called EverChurch.

“We’ve got a library of features that a typical church would want to tap into – like a sermon library being available right there on the phone, calendars, media, things like that,” Savage said. “That supports quite a few organizations across the U.S.”

What a lot of people have discovered if they’ve explored building an app, Savage said, is that creating one from the ground up can be very costly. And it’s a different approach completely from building a website.

“We’re 20-plus years into websites, so a lot of the costs have come down dramatically from where they started,” Savage said. “But apps are still very new. It’s a different type of programming, so we’re looking at ways to build out reusable functionality. They can still be customized, but allows us to provide a lower price point for organizations who don’t have very unique needs.”

The Zoo App is free for users, which helps the organization reach a wider audience and will reduce costs in the long run, Savage said.

“There’s a lot of statistics and information out there about how charging for an app will decrease your adoption rate and it’s in the zoo’s best interest to get this app out to as many people as possible,” Savage said. “It enhances their experience, but also having a digital interactive map down the road will enable them to print fewer printed maps that are unchanging and not easy to update.”

Meanwhile, Speak plans to go live with the Memphis in May App and website by mid-April. The firm launched the app last year, and in many ways, the user experience will be the same, with up-to-date maps for Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, as well as a “new look and feel for 2012,” Savage said.

Outside of platform projects, Speak is working on a handful of fully custom apps – a completely different approach from consumer-facing apps like the Memphis Zoo and Memphis in May.

“We do a lot of apps for businesses where we build out, like, an iPad application that might facilitate a catalog of products and an actual ordering process,” he said. “Business-purpose apps are certainly in huge demand.”