Art by Numbers: the D-word

Michael Nabarro is contributing a brand new column on data management, helping you get the most out of your audience stats. In the first instalment, Nabarro gets back to basics – and takes the mystery out of the D-word 

Data-driven decision making, data sharing and data management: the D-word is very much on the arts agenda these days. But while the industry’s embrace of data is very evident, how well we actually understand what it can do for us varies widely.

What is data marketing exactly? It’s about using audience information like booking histories, demographics, and communication history to build more meaningful relationships with the people who attend our performances. Used the right way, data can bring us closer to customers and help us speak to them in ways that are relevant to their interests and habits.

That’s a crucial point. The connection people have with the organisations who provide the art they love is exactly what makes our industry so special – it’s the thing that sets us apart from all the other products and services competing for consumers’ discretionary spend. Using data to strengthen that relationship will help us stand out from the noise, and increase both revenue and audience engagement. How to do this will be the focus of these posts in the coming months.

Before data marketing can begin in earnest, the foundations of good data management need to be in place. If your data is poor, results will suffer. You need to ruthlessly check your current data for quality, and implement effective processes for capturing data in the future. Some systems make this easier than others, but whatever you’re using, establishing good practices within your team will set the stage for successful data marketing.

Michael Nabarro
Michael Nabarro

Making the most of the data you have

The most common drag on effective data marketing is a database weighed down by duplicate records. They waste money and effort, and annoy customers who get contacted multiple times about the same thing. But as well as this, if the data you hold on individual customers is spread across multiple records, you’re never going to have the full and accurate picture you need to make data-driven decisions. Here’s how you can keep duplicates down:

Email, always

Email addresses are the base requirement for email marketing and by far the easiest data point to use as a unique identifier. If your system doesn’t allow multiple customer records with the same email, all the better. If it does, talk to your system supplier to see if that can be changed.

Check, then check again

Implement a regular procedure to check your database for duplicates. This should only require a small amount of time each day or week, and is potentially something box office staff could do during quieter periods. Keep duplicates under control and they never need become a headache.

Getting more from the data you capture

Whilst the shift to online sales and registration has dramatically improved the accuracy and completeness of customer data, arts organisations need to get better at capturing information during phone sales and in particular during over-the-counter transactions – where things can really fall down. How can this be overcome?

Don’t make it mandatory

For face-to-face sales you should always try and capture data when possible, but the vagaries of face-to-face communication mean it can’t be forced and therefore shouldn’t be mandatory for staff. Enforced data capture just leads to bad data – which is worse than no data.

Monitor and correct bad habits

Instead, reports should be run regularly to spot when data isn’t being captured. Patterns often emerge which you can overcome with training or feedback; such as data not being captured during quieter periods (when staff should have enough time); or certain staff members capturing data less frequently or accurately than others.

Rethink CoBo

What about those busy times just before a show? Too many venues charge customers extra for having their tickets posted, so they queue for pickup at the box office instead. But there are potentially significant costs involved. It means that staff will have less time for good data capture for customers buying on the door. And then there’s the hidden cost of having fewer opportunities to offer a drink at the bar or a programme.

No arts organisation is going to achieve 100 per cent data capture, but 99 per cent is an achievable goal. A clean, accurate and up-to-date database is critical to effective data marketing. Getting there doesn’t have to be a major headache – a bit of training and a few well thought-out procedures and processes will make it happen.

Michael Nabarro is co-founder and managing director of Spektrix 

Image: © Ivan Walsh via Flickr