Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Take the dullness out of databases

Database schema diagram for MediaWiki 1.10Image via Wikipedia

We know databases aren’t very sexy. But we also know they are integral to the smooth running of an arts organisation. And a good database can make the difference between a very successful arts organisation and one that’s struggling to make ends meet. You might be asking how a load of information on a database could make such a difference. It’s just a load of names and numbers isn’t it? Wrong. Your data is your gold. It’s where you store the names of customers who’ve bought tickets – so you know what you can target them with when you’ve got a new production or event. It contains your membership list so you can see when people are coming up for renewals.

But many organisations don’t have one central database. Instead they have the information they need spread across different access databases, excel spreadsheets and email accounts. Often different people are responsible for updating different bits of information (or where they are held). This usually leads to a huge amount of duplication, both of information and effort and leaves the door wide open for inconsistency and mistakes.

  • What are the benefits to have one properly maintained and centrally controlled database?
  • Your information is more secure – you don’t have to worry about the security of data across different locations. And you can do central backups regularly.
  • Your staff can share information – you can make notes on each piece of data so all your staff have the same information when they access the database. You’ll avoid mistakes like one staff member asking for a donation of £100 when last year the patron donated £100,000! You’ll also vastly reduce duplication of records.
  • You can produce one report that focuses on different areas of your arts organisation – membership sign ups, ticket sales – helping you identify which customers need chasing up for renewals or a good sales opportunity.
  • You can easily share information with customers, members and partners via your website. Your website can pull information directly from your central database when a visitor needs it. You can also link your database to other systems which will allow you to contact customers, for example an email system so you can contact potential customers about an upcoming show.

In the current climate with many arts organisations facing cuts the way you fundraise and deal with customers will become integral to your future. A good central database can bring together your fundraising, membership and patron management with your ticket sales and ongoing customer contact. If you’d like to know more about bringing all your information into one central database contact Masque Arts on +44 (0)20 7100 6010 or email us for further information.

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Sunday, 15 May 2011

Now is the time to invest in your customers

A desk in an office.Image via Wikipedia

2011 has been a difficult year for arts organisations. Early this year 206 organisations found out they had had their applications for funding rejected by the Arts Council.

The impact of these funding cuts will depend to some extent on the size of the arts organisation you work in. If you are a larger organisation, you may have other sources of revenue and therefore be able to withstand the worst of harsh cuts. If you are a smaller organisation or have been heavily or entirely dependent on Arts Council funding you may suddenly find yourself in the position of trying to find a viable way forward.

So now is the time the way you deal with your customers becomes incredibly important. It’s the one thing that can make the difference between your future security or disappearing off the arts scene forever. You need to explore how you currently manage your customer relationships – do you have a reliable customer relationship management system that can give you the information you need on customers and patrons at the click of a button? Do you know what marketing campaigns you are running and if they are working? Do you have good mailing lists that you can quickly target if you need to promote an event (and bring sales in)? If the answer is no then now is definitely the time to invest more in your customer relationship marketing (CRM) system.

It might seem counterintuitive to invest in a software system when you are facing funding cuts. But that’s exactly the reason you need to do it now. If there is a chance your sources of revenue are going to dry up then you need new ways to bring money into your organisation. And that money comes from customers. If you aren’t talking and marketing to them effectively then you are missing out on the chance to sell to them. A good customer relationship management tool will allow you to:
  • control communication with your customers at both an individual and campaign level
  • pull all your lists and databases together in one place
  • update information for everyone in one place
  • manage memberships, collect donations, produce targeted mail shots and email newsletter
  • take bookings and sell merchandise.
Start by looking for a CRM system that integrates with your existing website, this will give you customers a simple way to interact with you and easily make purchases. Masque is designed specifically to work with your website to provide a seamless experience from sending a letter to a customer to them purchasing their ticket.

If you’d like to know more about CRM systems for your arts organisation call Masque Arts on +44 (0)20 7100 6010 or email us for further information.

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Friday, 13 May 2011

Why do we need an effective website?

A person navigating through a Chilean bank web...Image via Wikipedia

Because it makes you money. It’s quite simple really. If your website is really working for you then it will bring in more visitors. Not lots of random visitors, but exactly the right kind of visitors for your arts organisation.

They’ll be looking to buy from you. And if your website works well and you can boost conversion rates then they’ll become customers. You need a website which is visible so people know about your organisation and are driven there. Then you want to make it an easy and pleasurable experience for them to buy from you. If they have a great experience from the moment they deal with you then they are likely to become repeat customers.

Your first step is to develop a marketing plan for your website – get that end objective clear in your mind and then work towards developing a profit-centre website that will take your organisation to the next level.

If you’d like to know more about turning your cost-centre website into a profit-centre website then call Masque Arts on +44 (0)20 7100 6010 or email us for further information.

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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Jamming at 10: Friends or Foes? Friends schemes discussed.

First let's wish a Happy Birthday to JAM (Journal of Arts Marketing) which has just celebrated its 10th birthday! And is it still jamming at 10? I think so, with this excellent issue dedicated to Friends and Membership schemes in the Arts.

Very timely this, it arrived the day after I went to the excellent AMA "Best of Friends" workshop hosted by Liz Hill - if you get the chance, take the opportunity. In fact JAM has a nice extract from her book "The Complete Membership Handbook" (with Brian Whitehead) on page 6, just to get you started. Go through the checklist, if it's right for you then read teh rest of the article, then buy the book then start your scheme! Couldn't be easier.

Actually if you are thinking of starting a scheme, or already have one then a good read of this JAM is a must. Heather Maitland first poses the question of whteher you really should have a friends scheme dipping into lots of statistics (Did you know that The Friends of Norwich Theatre Royal Scheme had a return of 460%!) and drawing on articles and case studies to help you answer the question.

Of course not all schemes are effective so Sarah Gee's article "Friends or foes" takes you through what to do if it all stops adding up. This could be making no financial return, the objectives of the Friends (if an external organsiation) might not be the same as yours, plus a number of other pitfalls.

Roger Tomlinson takes us back to the starting point, posing the question "what relationships should we seek?" in Fans not fiends. Are fans of an arts organisation analgous to football fans? Can we have fans? An interesting question and it changes the way we might look at the competition - fans don't switch sides on a whim. And how does social media affect this?

In addition, there are a couple of excellent case studies, by Jennifer Faure Francis of the Royal Academy of Arts, Sarah Chambers of the National Theatre, and there is an extract of Nina Simon's interview with Kristen Denner about the new scheme at the Whitney Musuem of American Art, to put it all into the context of real organisations.

Finally, get to know Sam Eaves, marketing manager of Birminham Royal Ballet in the "Just a minute" column.

As I always say, if you don't get JAM - sign up today.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Selling to new customers is just so costly

We all know the old adadge that selling to new customers costs a lot more than selling to existing ones, so perhaps we should just stop chasing new ones - in these austere times that might make sense.

However, as I've mentioned here before (Customer Acquisition vs Customer Retention), it does seem that going after these expensive new customers is much more attractive than some boring direct marketing to exisiting ones. However, this blog is not about urging you to spend more time on your existing customer marketing (I'll leave that for another day - as Chad Bauman says, "Want to get into trouble? Concentrate on new audiences" - so we'll come back to that), but about how you should approach your new customer acquisition.

Just marketing to exisiting customers is a non starter - old customers go away or die and if you didn't replenish the existing customer pot, you will soon run out of people to sell to. Remember, your existing customers were new customers once.

Part of the problem is that we think of marketing as a cost, something we have to spend money on and as such something to cut when times get tough. Marketing, done properly, is an investment. You are using some of today's money to generate an income stream in the future. And that is the key and like all investments it needs analysis and decisions.

It is not enough to compare the cost of a sale to an existing customer to one to a new one. On a campaign basis that is always going to lose. What we need to look at is the lifetime value of a customer and use that information to identify the best source of future exsiting customers.and what ongoing activity is going to maximise the return. So get out those spreadsheets and start looking at your best existing customers and where to get more like them.

Lifetime Value is the key to good new customer marketing.
... oh, so I was talking about marketing to existing customers after all

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

My newsletter's not SPAM!: 5 things to remember

One question we keep getting asked is "how do I stop our newsletter being thrown into the junk mail box?". If you are involved with email marketing, and I include newsletters in that, then this is obviously an important consideration. Avoiding the waste basket has been the goal of direct marketeers since direct mail started and the advice for email marketing to a large extent is very similar.

The easiest way to avoid the junk mail box is to get the recipient to mark your emails as safe/not junk. A lot of this centres around showing the recipient you know them, what they are interested in and in return you are interested in what they have to say.

1. Be personal: first of all address the recipient as an individual. Try to make sure that you know whether they like to be addressed by their first name or more formally. Do they know someone in your organisation? If so, can you send the email from them? Are they members of your friends scheme? Then send it from the membership manager - it just reinforces the relationship.

2. Divide and Conquer: What do you know about your recipients? Do have any purchase history? Have they told you what they like? Do you know what links they have taken previously? You probably have a vast amount of information available so use it to segment your lists and send them information they would be interested in. Do you have a group of large value contributors? Then give them special treatment. Are there people who are just not interested? Then don't email them and try to find out why they aren't interested - quality not quantity counts.

3. Communicate: don't just instruct - "our next performance is on ....", "new products in the shop..." - encourage your recipients to communicate. Ask for their feedback, direct them to places where some feedback has been published already, direct them to your facebook page and twitter account. Let them converse with you in the medium they are most comfortable with.

4. Test, Monitor and Analyse: Email marketing should not be fire and forget. Keep looking at you stats. What do people click on? Which articles have no interest? What is the best time of day to send your newsletter? Which layout works best?

5. Get the technical stuff right: Deliverability and legalities. using a trusted mail server and using a verified sending address is a great help in getting your email to the intended recipient. Make sure that you include a simple way for a recipient to unsubscribe in every email; treat you email as any other communication from your organisation and include your physical address; Don't mislead in your subject line.

If you want to get started then take a look at Masque Mail, our low cost emailing solution or get in touch.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The press is dead, long live the press!

"It's not a good time to be talking about press and public relations" says Heather Maitland in the opening salvo of the latest JAM(1), but then goes on to do just that. And quite rightly too.

The problem it seems is over saturation (read competition) and it has always been thus: proprietors were complaining of an over saturated market in the early eighteenth century when there were 5 newspapers, decades later when there were still only 15, and on through the 60's (when TV was the fall guy).

However, the problem has changed. It so much the quantity of titles that is their problem but the drop in readers of traditional newspapers. In the USA the number of readers fell by 20 million(2) in 20 years.

Do we read the news less? Of course not. We consume more and more of it. It is a while since teh BBC didn't have a news bulletin becuase there was nothing to report! It's just we access it in different ways. The top 20 US newspaper had 13m readers in print but more than 60m online. Sounds good, but no one has yet come up with a business model to make the most of this. One issue here is that we have come to expect that stuff on the web is free (it's not, but it feels as if it is, but that's another blog).

Also, how news is distributed has changed - now everyone is a reporter. But the traditional papers have the edge here in that they are probably more trusted.

A fascinating subject. Get your copy of JAM to read Heather's article and see how leading thinkers and practiioners view the future of the press.

(1)JAM - The Journal of Arts Marketing, published by The Arts Marketing Association, "The end of the newspaper" (issue 40, October 2010)

(2) capcodetoday October 2006