Visitor data is, or should be, the beating heart of the organisation.
Why? Because without it you don’t really know who your visitors are, where they come from and how they interact or engage with you (or not) and as a result how will you keep them informed and interested in what you do? Data and data driven marketing put simply just helps you to reach the right people and at the right time and to build an ongoing relationship with them. It doesn’t matter whether you sell ‘tickets’ or have a full blown CRM system it’s still worth collecting visitor data.
Every team in an organisation will have something to do with people and therefore touchpoints with data and data systems. It makes no sense to exist in a vacuum. Everyone is working to the same end, whether it is getting a donation, selling a ticket, organising a workshop, selling a mug you are all trying to get people to buy-in to your organisation and support your work. It is through good data collection that you’ll have the quality information you need to make informed decisions. Without data collection, you’ll probably end up stumbling around in the dark using less reliable or robust methods to make decisions.
Data shouldn’t be seen as a challenge but as an opportunity for you to move from intuition to insight. There are lots of simple ways of collecting and storing data so that you can use it market your offer to your visitors as well as gain insights, get answers to problems and to be able to use these to affect your strategy and business objectives.
Start by thinking about what data there is available to you, where from and what to collect or not to collect. There are essentially two types of marketing ‘data’: contact information and performance metrics. Doing data-driven marketing based on contact information involves tracking individuals in order to get them to buy do something / engage so it’s important to collect and store somewhere you can use it. Alongside that doing data-driven marketing based on performance metrics means you can analyse investments in and returns from marketing initiatives that you’ve done which will help to better drive results.
The kind of data that there is available will likely include:
- Personal data – that’s anything that is specific to you as a person. It covers your demographics, your location, your email address and other identifying factors
- Transactional data – anything that requires an action to collect so a purchase, donation, booking an event (this could be a workshop or a class or anything that is paid for)
- Web data – any type of data you might pull from the internet (your website or elsewhere)
- Survey data – data you have collected from surveys
At the same time it’s important to define across your organisation:
- what data it is important to you and if it’s necessary for you to collect it
- why do you want or need the data, and what you will use it for
- what level of data do you want? Perhaps you don’t need someone’s shoe size or what their dog’s name is but you do need their name, address, email, telephone, age
- do you have the necessary (and legal) customer permissions to use the data? If not then you can’t use it.
There will be instances where it’s not necessary or practical to collect or keep data and it’s important to recognize these instances. For example if someone hasn’t engaged with you for long time (and in that instance you need to define how long that is) or when there’s a huge queue at your ticket/reception desk.
Once a decision has been made about what data it is important to collect, the question will be where does that data come from?
There will most likely be valuable data available from ALL parts of your operation, from onsite sales, memberships, fundraising, education, media, portals/websites to mobiles/apps and social networks that together will allow you to connect with all types of audiences/visitors and communicate with them effectively.
For transactions – over counter, on phone, online – it might be a case of clicking on an ad, making a purchase or visiting a certain web page. Customer behaviour can be tracked on websites to track potential customers and generate leads and so on and in-venue Wi Fi data can be legitimately collected where a login is required to gain access to the free Wi Fi service.
Data can be collected through survey responses too. Whilst visitors must have the option not to provide their data as a condition of completing a survey and you may only use the data where you have sought and gained permission, with those caveats in place it can be useful source of information. It’s about making the right connections at the right time and through the right channels and collecting data that is relevant and appropriate.
Of course many of the functions and considerations I’ve mentioned may or may not be necessary for you to think about. There might only be one or two of these elements in play and perhaps just one person dealing with all of them rather than lots of departments. That’s okay because the principals outlined apply regardless of the size or resource in an organisation or whether you sell ‘tickets’ or not. It’s about scaling what you do to fit.
You don’t need an expensive CRM system to store the data, a well organised excel spreadsheet or simple database (such as Microsoft Access or something similar) will do the job. What’s important is making sure the data is held in one place and you are operating a ‘single database of truth’ which is the central repository which everyone is using and you are maintaining it by keeping the data up to data and relevant. That means not duplicating data in other systems or places.
There are quite a few cost effective CRM systems that will give you a bit more functionality and allow you to report on and better analyse the data and campaigns so that you see what’s working and what isn’t, so don’t rule out something more than ‘excel’.
Setting up whatever ‘system’ is used, be that a spreadsheet or fully-fledged CRM system, correctly and coherently to categorise different types of interaction will be the difference between an accurate and inaccurate picture of activity by visitors.
By collecting information about our visitors/audiences in all the places you interact with them and then bring that data together in a single repository means there will be a 360° view of every contact and how they’ve engaged with you in one place. This means that campaigns and contact can be targeted by individual, by geography, by what activity was engaged with and much more.
Once the opportunities to collect data have been set up it’s important to make sure there is the ability to use it. GDPR, which came into effect in May 2018, should mean the data held and data permissions are in order. There are 8 important things to get in place to make sure the data can be used:
- Clearly demonstrate consent
- Show granularity – that’s the specific intended uses of data held
- Tying up consent – can’t be made a condition of service
- Clear notification statement
- Right to withdraw / easily withdraw consent at any time
- Performance of the contract – if booking online can’t just use email to market to the buyer.
- Automated processing – the right not to be subject to automated processing (in most cases this element is probably unlikely to apply to the arts/heritage) which means the right to human intervention to review decisions.
- Right to be forgotten – completely remove all record of the customer. This might mean removing the name, address and email contact details of the customer whilst retaining the audit log and sales history.
Committing to keeping the data that is held in good order is just good practice. Regularly reviewing and updating visitor/contact information is a necessary ‘housekeeping’ practice and will be time well spent. The same applies to making sure that everyone understands the importance and reasons behind the data collection policy that you have – it’s a team effort! The key words are consistency and uniformity of collection and making sure that ‘rubbish’ isn’t going onto your database which will end up with ‘rubbish’ being spat out. It sounds dramatic but a lack of good data hygiene can end up really annoying visitors/audiences/customers and damaging you reputation.
We actually need to spend a lot more time understanding our visitors/audiences. To do that starts with investigations into the data we have collected, the gathering of more, and the questioning of all our visitors, only by doing this will it be possible to make strategic decisions.
With this in mind how do you turn data into audiences? It’s vital to know the end goal and ask yourself these questions:
- What you want to do with the data or information collected.
- How will it inform your marketing?
- Have you set targets and KPIs to do with increasing visits, growing new visitors, encouraging secondary spend, growing loyalty through membership etc.
If you’ve collected some contact and/or transaction data then it will enable to you to identify and target the right people for the right product, activities or to give you a donation. Put quite simply data, if stored and collected, can be segmented, extracted (from an IT system) and used to target audiences – for all kinds of marketing communications. Whilst many heritage organisations are free to enter, Covid and the necessity to manage capacities has seen a rise in ‘free ticketing’ and this gives the perfect opportunity for organisations to collect information about their visitors.
Having this contact and transaction data in ‘one database of truth’ removes the reliance on gut or anecdote or on mass marketing techniques such as print distribution, website to everyone. It allows you to segment and tag the data you have collected in order to target in an informed and granular way. It means you can recommend something right after that first visit to sow the seeds of interest right through to encouraging more visits, more purchases through to making donations and joining membership schemes.
It will also potentially help you to identify ‘audiences’ you might not yet have tapped into and is about building your picture of your ‘audiences’ not as a homogenous mass but as distinct groups of people who like to do particular things, connect in particular ways, buy things that interest them.
From there you can identify your strategy for where to take each person or groups of people next on their ‘ladder of loyalty’ with your organization To sum up the contact database should drive marketing, which helps build relationships with audiences, which drives more sales/transactions/interactions, which enables true audience development resulting in more people, new people, attending more things, enjoying new things and more often. Good luck!
Helen Dunnett | Director | Helen Dunnett Consulting
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Please attribute as: "What is visitor data and how do I collect it when I don’t have a ticketing or ‘Customer Relationship Management’ (CRM) system? (2022) by Helen Dunnett supported by The Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0