Segment-Marketing: Piecing Together the Patron Data Puzzle

Today’s guest post is written by John Kollmer, Client Service Representative here at Patron Technology.

We’ve all done it before—ripped the plastic off the new puzzle we just bought, dumped all the pieces onto the table, and then stared at the chaos wondering, “Now what?” Step one, of course, is to look at the box top and begin committing the finished picture to memory, using it as a guide while we sift through all the pieces and pull out the edges. Most of us go after the edge pieces first because they are the easiest to identify; one of their four edges is smoother than the rest. Then we start to put them together, fitting edge piece to edge piece until we finally have the frame of our finished image and a smaller pile of chaos in the middle.

In many ways, we practice similar methods when parsing out patron data for marketing. We observe successful marketing strategies from other businesses and try to replicate them. We look for the easiest way to set our patrons apart, sometimes focusing on the patrons who gave us their email address, or came to our last show, or donated to our Annual Fund. As in the example of the puzzle, we set the frame and leave the chaos in the middle. But when we look at the puzzle box top, we see that the picture does not comprise the edges alone.

The same can be said for maintaining information on, and marketing to, your patrons. Yes, it is important to know who buys your tickets and who donates every year, but your patrons give you so much more information about themselves with every interaction. Each piece in the inner body of the puzzle fits with those around it to make a fuller, more complete image. After we set the edge pieces in place, we can see that they are blue; but without the interior pieces to give us more information, we don’t know if they are part of a sky over a landscape or the waves of an ocean.

It is also important to know who your patrons are as members of your organizational community, because when you reach out to them as people—as friends—they are more likely to respond in kind. Imagine you are not a member of the arts industry; you are instead a college student. You attend a Saturday night performance of Guys and Dolls at the local theatre and take advantage of the $5 student rush deal to see it before it closes. When you buy your ticket, the box office staffer asks you for an email address, and you give it. It’s a first-come, first-serve opportunity, and the theatre squeezes you into an aisle seat with a semi-obstructed view. You enjoy the show, you go home, and a few weeks later you get an email from that same theatre proclaiming that the next season is soon to be announced and “Leap of Faith”-style season subscriptions are being taken. You delete the email. A week later you receive another email, this time telling you to hurry and subscribe to secure the best possible seats. You delete it after reading the first paragraph. A month goes by with a new email about subscriptions coming every week, and by now you’re just hitting the delete button (or worse, the spam button) without opening the emails. Why? Because you are the wrong audience for this marketing campaign.

The theatre staff stopped at the edges when looking at their marketing list, and all they did was check that you gave them an email address and that you bought a ticket. Instead of digging into deeper segments of their data to send you a more personal approach, they left the middle of their puzzle a messy pile. What sort of information could they have gleaned from your purchase?

Well, you bought a student rush ticket, and that tells them your age demographic and that you are a student. You purchased only one ticket and did so at the window, so subscriptions are not your thing. You paid the rush price, so discounts are important to you; but you came to the show near the end of its run, so deals on tickets before the shows are announced are probably not going to interest you. Finally, you bought a ticket to a musical; unless their entire season consisted of musicals, it’s a harder sell that you’d come to every play in a season.

These are just a few important details that this local theatre can take advantage of when targeting you for a campaign. Using this information, they could have built an email campaign that reached out to you more clearly and increased their chances of getting you to return for a show in the next season. For example, offering you a buy-one-get-one deal might get you to pay full price for a ticket, as opposed to last year when you paid only $5.

There are many other examples of ways you can use patron information to your advantage! While it can be difficult to give scenarios that relate to your particular organization, I’m going to lay out a few other general ways you can segment-market.

Let’s look at that ever important Annual Fund—it happens every year; and for many non-profit organizations, it determines just what sort of programming can be offered down the line. Many organizations start sending out mass mailings/email blasts to their entire patron database. Sometimes this can result in new donations from patrons who haven’t given before, but many times it results in your custom letterhead going out with the recycling.

How can segmenting your data help in your Annual push? Well, for one thing you can separate your patrons into groups and target each with its own campaign. For example, donors who have given annually for the past five years in one grouping; patrons who have donated in conjunction with a ticket purchase in another; and perhaps a third for patrons whose donations have been more sporadic. Once you know who you are talking to, you can better form the question you want to ask them.

The approach is crucial in fundraising, and asking patrons who have supported you in the past to “continue their generosity” is better than a generic “it’s that time of year, come support the theatre!” pitch. Researching the donation histories of your patrons and using them to craft your campaign(s) is the best way to use segment-marketing to your advantage.

Let’s switch gears and look at something many arts organizations deal with—class registration. Students are similar to your ticketing patrons in that they give your organization money in exchange for a product you offer. Unlike your ticketing patrons, however, your students are usually being asked for a larger amount of money to cover space and the teacher’s compensation. Your students are also expecting more than just a night of entertainment; they want to grow.

How can segment-marketing tactics help with your classes? Start by identifying former students, then break them down based on the classes they took. Sending your writing students an email trumpeting a new class on directing for film isn’t likely to result in many sign-ups. Look over your data and see which classes have had the highest attendance—but don’t stop there. Dig into those students and see what they are taking; a student who has taken your Introductory Acting 101 course twice might be interested in a higher-level acting course, and for that matter is more likely to sign up if he or she is made aware that it continues the training from last semester. Similar to how you target your ticketing patrons, remember that your students are people, not just dollar signs; use your data to help you approach them as important members of your community and you increase your chances of getting a positive return.

And of course, every opportunity you get to save more data on your patrons means you have more to work with when targeting them for marketing or development campaigns.

Keep in mind, the pieces of information that patrons provide your organization are powerful tools in your dealings with them. And in the words of Uncle Ben (Spider-Man, Amazing Fantasy #15), “With great power comes great responsibility.” Be wary of crossing the line with your patrons by abusing the information they provide you. There is such a thing as misusing your well-segmented data—just ask Target. Just as sending too many emails with no focus can annoy patrons into hitting the spam button, it is also possible to scare them by sending marketing materials that show just how much data you have been collecting on them.

Take that last paragraph in stride as you move forward with segmenting your patron data. Look over the pieces of your patron puzzle and start fitting them together. Before you know it, your marketing data will be far from the chaotic pile we started with and will look more like a beautiful landscape with the sun setting in the distance. Or a kitty… We like puzzles of kitties too.

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One response to “Segment-Marketing: Piecing Together the Patron Data Puzzle

  1. Some wise words here, John. So many of the people I work with are so excited just to get the list of attendees for a particular show or class, that they don’t look beyond that for the sort of subtleties that you mention to segment their lists. I like your puzzle analogy, and I’m going to be thinking of the “blue” bits or the “edge pieces” next time I pull a report of ticket buyers.

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