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How does the cultural sector’s use of data measure up?

How valuable is it to know that you’re heading in the right direction?
One of the biggest benefits promised by the move towards digital marketing from more traditional channels (print, radio, TV) is the ability to measure performance and understand what works and what doesn’t.
In their 2017-18 CMO Spend Survey, the research company Gartner revealed that 9.2% of total marketing budgets were being allocated to analytics. They point out that analytics is “central to delivering customer experience, identifying, understanding and growing customers, and measuring and optimizing marketing performance”.
Is the cultural sector following this trend?

The cultural sector’s data challenges

From what I’ve seen, I don’t think it is. There are some excellent exceptions but, in general, the cultural sector seems to have been very slow to adopt data-driven practices that are commonplace in other sectors.
This has been backed up by some recent reports.
The 2017 Digital Culture Survey from Nesta and Arts Council England found that “the majority of arts and cultural organisations still do not use data for important purposes such as understanding their audiences better through data analysis and profiling”.
This was echoed by the recent Culture is Digital report which warned that “A lack of skills in data analysis is preventing cultural organisations from collecting data and using it to develop their business models“.

Seeing the wood for the trees

When it comes to arts marketing, data collection isn’t a problem. Pretty much every digital tool that you use features some sort of dashboard or table of metrics. From your website (with Google Analytics and user feedback tools) and CRM/ticketing systems, to your email, social media, and PPC performance reports.
However, the next step is to use that data for segmenting, remarketing, automating, prospecting, evaluating, predicting, and optimising. In other words, finding insights that lead to action.
This seems to be where the problem lies.
The Digital Culture Survey found that only 34% of organisations feel ‘well-served’ for data analysis. There aren’t many cultural organisations employing digital analysts, CRM specialists, or business analysts. In most cases, people in other roles just have to do what they can with the time available.
But as I said, it’s not all doom and gloom and there are lots of organisations that are doing excellent work. I’ve chosen to highlight:

  • The Royal Academy of Arts’ digital content strategy
  • English National Opera’s website development and ongoing optimisation
  • Sam Freeman’s experiments with visualising ticketing data

Examples of good practice with data in the cultural sector

At the 2017 Museums and the Web Conference, The Royal Academy of Arts won an award for their digital content strategy. It’s a piece of work rooted in the organisation’s objectives and principles and informed by data at every turn.
Louise Cohen, Head of Digital Content and Channels, explains that to begin with “there was little reflection on why we were doing it, and most staff at this stage had no digital training or understanding of analytics, no awareness of what had or hadn’t been successful in the past”.
Training sessions, purpose-built dashboards (with targets), and new processes were introduced. Louise says “Having these in place has made a huge difference to our output and to our culture. We are reminded to be more focused with where we put our resources, and to push for continual improvement“.
When English National Opera‘s website was relaunched in 2016, some features were included because data pointed to the way they improved the user’s experience. For instance, as this Econsultancy article mentions, the ‘sticky’ book buttons that stay on the page no matter how far the user scrolls are used twice as often as the static button near the top of the page. This is even more pronounced on mobile devices.
Investment in analytics and user testing has continued since and informed significant changes to the website (PDF). You don’t get much more radical than replacing your homepage with your what’s on section, but data from Google Analytics and feedback from pop-up surveys made a compelling case.
Sam Freeman is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Theatr Clwyd. In a series of blog posts he’s documented his experiments in taking data from his venue’s ticketing system and importing it into Tableau, a data visualisation tool. He’s used this to speed up access to his data and insights.
In his own wordsI’m not a programmer, or a mathematician, or a data scientist – I’m an enthusiastic amateur and geek who wants to make some charts to see if I can sell more tickets“.

Using data with purpose

Opening up reports and dashboards and hoping that insights will pop out is a surefire way to find information that’s interesting but ultimately useless.
The examples above are all very different, but the process was the same – start with a clear purpose and a set of questions, find the necessary data, and then act on the findings.
This is what I’ll be talking about at Future Now, with examples of cost-effective tools and simple techniques to help you move away from guesswork and let your data show the way.
Chris Unitt, One Further.

Chris will be speaking at Digital Marketing Day 2018 — Future Now in London, 5 December.
Sessions: Letting your Data Show You the Way and Using Data to See the Future
He will also be hosting our day workshop Measuring Up — taking your Google Analytics skills to the next level