Bigger brains than mine have been arguing for years in favour of the benefits of collecting and analysing quality audience data, and the influence it can have over marketing and fundraising outcomes. So why hasn’t this become settled opinion across the arts sector? Data management is still too often seen as an esoteric specialism – the purview of a select few within an organisation.
In the information age, customer data is an essential asset and analysing it should not be a gruelling task reserved for specialists. I want to make the case for adopting data-led thinking at every level, with some practical suggestions for bringing data to the heart of arts organisations.
Get better at using the tools you’ve already got
There are incredibly powerful data management technologies, available now yet often sitting idle inside arts organisations. These offer a single customer view of the database, allow you to track every interaction with your customers, see which emails they’ve opened and clicked through to, to which tickets they’ve bought and how much they’ve ever given as a donation. Having a micro-level understanding like this for each customer means you can segment and communicate with audiences in ever more intelligent ways. Arts organisations need to ask: Where are our skills gaps? How can we make the most of the tools we have available to us now?
Look to other sectors for inspiration but know where to draw the line
Telecoms, supermarkets, big charities have all developed sophisticated, data-based ways of communicating with their audiences, so it is only right that we consider what they have learned and, where appropriate, apply it to the arts. There are great case studies out there from other sectors covering data-driven email marketing, e-commerce journeys and charities using data to drive donations.
A/B testing is only the beginning
Your database will never be truly finished as segments need to be tested and refined as you try different ways of communicating and reaching out to audiences. You need to constantly work with control groups, undertake user testing and use data to measure their impact. Although this work is most likely to be led by marketing departments, the results should be shared to help everyone in the organisation better understand customers and make smarter decisions as a result.
Embed data-driven decisions in fundraising strategy
Fundraising teams are doing themselves a major disservice if they are not looking at how their marketing and box office teams work with data. For example, your marketing team could exclude potential major donors from their regular communications and let the development team look after them on a more personal basis. Your box office could be alerted when a potential donor is due to collect their tickets and be reminded that this patron is of particular importance. Using data to connect these departments will put you in a much stronger position when it comes to making the ask.
Secure buy-in from the top
Data leadership needs to come from the top. Data is evidence – it’s proof of success or failure, and an impetus to bring about meaningful change in an organisation. As this becomes better understood by chief executives and directors, effective customer relationship management (CRM) and data management will become a concern for everyone at every level.
These changes won’t happen until buy-in for data-centric thinking becomes the norm in creative organisations. Analysing data to identify problems is the easy part. Noticing a downward pattern in your email open rates or realising that your advance bookings have dropped off a cliff are relatively easy to spot using modern analytics tools. The hard bit is coming up with creative solutions. For example, knowing how to test and refine your email marketing to improve open rates, or how best to alter messaging around priority booking. These are skills that can make the difference between a significant loss of revenue or a near miss. We have to focus on developing these skills throughout the arts industry, or we will start moving backwards.
This article orginally appeared here on Arts Professional.