An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Purple Seven

Un-ticketed venues and events can now gather data that will give them the level of customer insight that performing arts venues have long enjoyed through their box office systems. Hannah Mitchell explains how. 

Photo of the Giant Spectacular

Culture Liverpool

The top 55 museums and galleries in the UK had a total of 69 million visitors in 2011/12, of which the top five saw almost a third of all visitor traffic. What’s more, this sector generates well over £12bn a year and is clearly a key component of the broader British service industry in both the domestic and tourist markets. Yet despite this, one of the greatest challenges for museums and galleries is how to build on that foundation to engage with their audiences in ways that enhance their visits and deepen their relationship with the venue.

The past decade has seen an unprecedented leap in understanding of customer behaviour thanks to the proliferation of data collected at the point of transaction. Ticketed venues such as theatres have a plethora of customer data that they can understand, interpret and action, but by comparison, free-to-enter venues have been left behind, with the marketing of the museum and gallery experience suffering from a gap in visitor insight. Even in ticketed exhibition venues, where the potential to capture valuable data clearly exists, the complex logistics of gathering it from queues of walk-up visitors is a key challenge for many organisations. But as museums and galleries have wholeheartedly embraced digital communication, mobile technology is providing a solution.

Box office or not, all cultural venues can now have access to audience insights

Purple Seven has been exploring the potential of ‘I’m@app’, through which free-to-enter venues have been collecting data about the behaviour of visitors who are offered exclusive content related to the exhibition or collection. Visitors download the app before a visit, and when they approach the venue I’m@app springs into life through beacon technology, and gives the visitor relevant content related to wherever they happen to be standing. From the visitor perspective, the app can deliver a hugely enhanced experience; from the venue perspective, it can fill that frustrating gap in customer data. The app allows a venue to understand who is in its audience – whether the visitor is a local resident, domestic tourist or an overseas tourist. It also reveals where visitors go in the venue, how long they spend there, what content they look at and what they share in the social space. Then, when they leave the venue, they are invited to give feedback on the experience. All in all, it’s a goldmine of information for gauging the success of events and marketing them to future visitors.

Jeff Boardman, who is leading on the development of data insight for visual arts at Purple Seven, describes how it works: “Its power lies in its simplicity. As you approach an exhibit or even a painting within a gallery, the app will automatically deliver relevant content. For a visitor to the area or as a resident of the city, this is a truly helpful use of technology aimed solely at enhancing the visitors’ experience.”

I’m@app was launched as a trial in Liverpool as part of the International Festival of Business, with the aim of driving cultural engagement in the city. Running from 22 July to 26 October, it involved ten cultural organisations – the Bluecoat, Dazzle Ship, Tate Liverpool, Giant Spectacular, Open Eye Gallery, FACT, Liverpool Biennial, Museum of Liverpool, The Old Blind School and Walker Art Gallery – as well as support and involvement from Liverpool Vision, Liverpool Culture and the Mayor of Liverpool. By fully embracing this venture, they generated a wealth of visitor understanding and insight into engagement levels, content viewed and venue crossover. So what do we know now? Among the data, they have discovered that:

  • 1 in 5 app users visited 9 venues across Liverpool during the trial – the app encouraged multi-venue visits
  • 90% of app users were local residents who embraced the exclusive and new content from all the venues
  • Visitors spent an average of 75 minutes per visit
  • Over 60% of visitors were aged 25-44 years. This could be influenced by those most likely to have a smart phone, but is more likely indicative of the typical local museum visitor.

I’m@app creates a win-win situation. The visitor wins by having free access to engaging, relevant content that will enhance their experience, all driven by their location within a venue. No longer do they need to follow a specified path around that venue – they can be in control of their own experience. The venue can gain insight into their visitors, what they do in the venue, where else they go, and their contact details, opening up the possibility of future communications to encourage them to return. By bringing arts & culture together with data & technology, I’m@app is levelling the playing field for museums and the visual arts. Box office or not, all cultural venues can now have access to audience insights.

Hannah Mitchell is Client Services Manager at Purple Seven. This article is the part of a series of articles on the theme ‘Insight into Audiences’, sponsored and contributed by Purple Seven.

To find out more about I’m@app contact Jeff Boardman:

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