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Lockdowns, venue closures, cancelled and postponed events – the era of Coronavirus has created an 18-month crevasse in our databases. Libby Papakyriacou has been assessing the role of historic data in the sector’s recovery.

an audience waiting for a show to start

Mohammad Jangda

Over the past 18 months, big conversations about reshaping the relationship between arts and audiences have been taking place which are both essential and ambitious.  But it's important not to lose sight of those existing audiences – indeed the search for new audiences need not necessarily entail attrition of existing audiences at all.

As audiences begin to return, and sales targets start knocking on the door, it’s easy to jump in and start firefighting, especially if resources are limited. But taking the time to look into the data will pay off: helping to set targets more realistically, to have a good picture of who is and isn’t engaging, and to streamline communications. Differentiating between new customers and those with whom you have a historic relationship will impact how to present your offer.

The world has changed - your customers haven’t

Much as it’s tempting to pick up where we left off (and indeed, many upcoming shows were on sale at the time of the first lockdown), the real people behind the data may require handling with care. As the June/July 2021 Culture Restart survey showed, while 64% of existing arts attenders hold future bookings there are still 22% who are not ready to book for at least another 3 months. 

Dividing bookers into buckets of those who haven’t returned yet, those who have a future booking, and those who have attended already will help to focus communications, particularly when considering past loyal attendees yet to take the plunge. How do you ensure your programme appeals to this core audience? Do the necessary links exist between your customer data teams and your programming staff?

You may find your brochure or email data selection needs refreshing be certain that target segments are aware you are back in operation, safe to visit and have something of interest to them. Non-digital audiences will need particular attention – any messaging on the website or Twitter isn’t going to reach them. 

Baker Richards has developed a simple Covid segmentation that tracks movement of audiences from pre- to post-pandemic. Overlaying this with your usual segmentation or data selection methods will help tailor your messaging to the relevant audience segments. Do your high-spend, ‘night out’ audiences need reminding of the fun to be had with dinner and your blockbuster show? Do your loyal, low-ticket price but high frequency bookers need informing of the latest discounts and subscriptions (especially if your subscription model may have changed)? 

The world has changed - so have your customers

Segmenting historic data also gives a good steer about who your new patrons are and how they might behave differently. An understanding of your past data is crucial to report on, and maximise the opportunities of, change. After all, if you don’t have a clear view of the past, how can you understand the present?

With seismic shifts in customers’ lives, new bookers may no longer be commuting and prefer to experience the arts closer to home now. Students enjoying your city in 2019 will have been replaced with new faces. Geographical shifts in your data can be identified by comparing ‘old’ with ‘new’ to identify changes and gaps. 

Overlaying geographical data with open demographic data (for example Office of National Statistics data in the UK) helps to illuminate more clearly who is or isn’t engaging with you. Think about how you’re targeting those who aren’t currently engaging - particularly if you have objectives to address specific demographics. Do you know why they’re reluctant? If not, you might want to join the Insights Alliance Missing Audiences survey.

Setting realistic targets against which to benchmark is more accurate, and ultimately more motivating, than wishful thinking. So, if a run of a challenging production with no name-brand actors didn’t typically hit more than 50% capacity before the crisis, it’s unlikely to do so afterward. 

Working with pre-pandemic data

There are some considerations to bear in mind when working with pre-pandemic data:

  • Think about how to refer to this ‘lost’ period. This isn’t a normal lapse due to lack of will from the customer, so perhaps you need to retain customers from 2019/early 2020?
  • Someone who typically books a Christmas show is more likely to do so again, but might lapse this year and require more persuasion in 2022. How are you going to mark them as ‘lapsed’ if it’s been 3 years since they last booked?
  • GDPR regulations might mean you’ve set boundaries around contacting customers who have booked in the last 3 or 5 years. Think about how this impacts your data selection and whether it needs revisiting.
  • For postponed shows, some of your customers will have booked as far back as 2019 for a show that mightg now be in 2022. They are both ‘historic’ and ‘current’ at the same time. 

While we switch gears from touchpoint and administrative messaging to active marketing and fundraising, it’s easy to leave bases uncovered in the clamour. By layering the information from your current post-lockdown activity onto your historic knowledge, you’ll get a much better steer of who to target, and how to message them, setting you up for the swiftest and most robust recovery possible.

Libby Papakyriacou is a Consultant at Baker Richards.


This article, sponsored and contributed by Baker Richards, is part of a series sharing insights into how organisations in the arts and cultural sector can achieve their commercial potential.

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