This is the second article on digital marketing in the arts in the last few weeks. In the last instalment we explored how arts’ organisations are embracing digital de-centralisation and digital first, with the help of the Barbican CentreLondon Philharmonic Orchestra and National Theatre. In this blog we take a look at how ‘big data’ is impacting the approach and effectiveness of arts’ marketing.

The concept has long been popular in large corporate environments, where terabytes of high-volume, high-velocity data are often analysed to provide insights and more responsive targeting of products and services. Nowadays, the usefulness of accurate data collection, management and analysis for smaller and non-profit organisations is beginning to be realised.

Some have argued that so-called 'medium data' is a useful intermediary step by which non-profit organisations can work together to share data and resources to achieve valuable results. The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts and NESTA are increasingly providing funding to organisations in order to develop and implement better ways of collecting and analysing data.

Ryan Nelson, Digital Manager at the Barbican, argues that, with the exception of sales data, email “remains the primary marketing tool, as it still has the most data”, going as far to describe it as “the original social network”. Ryan argues that data derived from email marketing is the most well understood and analysis most sophisticated, because tracking of open and click-through rates are a standard feature of most email marketing systems.

Alison Atkinson, Digital Project Manager at LPO, points to the increasing sophistication of arts-focused CRM and ticketing software as the driving force behind the push for better data collection standards. She states; “most box office systems are very sophisticated allowing integration of very granular digital tracking, with unique URLs, email and offer codes.” However, there is some concern that there is a lack of connectivity between various (and increasing) data sources that needs to be addressed.

In addition to email data, most, if not all, arts’ organisations will have access to sales data, with software solutions increasingly being sold on their ability to collect and crunch data. The Barbican’s Ryan Nelson states that the core of their data-mining activity “comes from sales, allowing audience segmentation, which is very sophisticated profiling.” For both the Barbican and the National Theatre the sheer complexity of the data requires a dedicated internal data analyst team, whose jobs it is to sort and segment customer data and, increasingly, to connect it with external sources of data. As aforementioned, email marketing is often integrated with ticketing software, such as WordFly or Mail2, with a ticketing and CRM system such as Tessitura or Spektrix and its proprietary system, however, pulling in further data is more complicated.

Nelson highlights the challenges in matching up “email, social media, display advertising with specific internal audience segmentations”. Equally, Alison at LPO suggests that tools such as “Google Analytics tracking can be useful in optimising digital [platforms], but it is still difficult to know how different people use them.” Furthermore, LPO has only just begun to use the sophisticated CRM platform Tessitura, which enables it to benefit from the data economies of scale of it consortium partner, Southbank Centre, whereas “with only limited data in the past, we could only respond to digital, not shape it.”

The obvious advantage of accurate and large-scale data is better segmentation and, consequently, better targeting of marketing and fundraising activity. However, LPO’s Alison still suggests there remains a “challenge when it comes to trying to convince more senior levels of management or the board of the value of digital and that it needs to be given greater weight.” Ryan Nelson’s experience at the Barbican supports this view, arguing that management recognise “the possibility of immediate measurement of digital ...” meaning “... that more justification is demanded than from traditional marketing media.”

However, due to the relatively recent advent of digital, and its comparatively fast-paced rate of evolution, pinning down relevant and useful measures of success can be difficult. This is especially true in a sector that still relies heavily on a balance of digital, print, outdoor and crucially, word-of-mouth.

One of the biggest challenges is tracking people who visit or click, then drop-off, then return through search” and Ryan suggests that finding ways to connect the data to the customer, or at least customer segments, is the next big task. At the Barbican, they are beginning to explore attribution modelling - a way to measure the various points at which the customer connects with an organisation which leads to a conversion.

For LPO the lack of standardised ROI measurement of social media and other digital marketing platforms means that they are more useful for general brand building rather than targeted sales marketing. Alison argues “social media is cost-effective, but difficult to measure how many people purchase, but there is not necessarily the point of it” acting more in a PR fashion that offers a platform for “free endorsement”.

The ideal of big data, as is being explored by major corporations such as IBM and Facebook, might never be realised by the not-for-profit arts sector, but the concept of good data management, and perhaps most importantly, good data connectivity will becoming increasingly necessary. Arts’ marketers are starting to understand the advantages of developing a more accurate picture of the diversity of audiences, more efficient and more effective targeting and ultimately a better experience for the customer.