Data & You Part 1: How Data Can Help You Lower Visitor Acquisition Costs

Industry · March 28, 2018

So how do cultural institutions use data to create impactful and efficient acquisition strategies, generate revenue, and build better visitor experiences?

Data. It’s a small word but can make a big difference between a successful acquisition campaign or a waste of funds. So how do cultural institutions use data to create impactful and efficient acquisition strategies, generate revenue, and build better visitor experiences? In this article series, the financial and data analytics experts here at Guru have worked with museums, zoos and heritage sites to identify the ways in which data can alleviate the most pressing issues of a cultural institution and help meet goals. Let’s start with a question:

How does data help lower your visitor acquisition costs?

Museums, zoos, and cultural sites are built on a fundamental desire for knowledge. We can apply that approach to lowering visitor acquisition costs. Visitor acquisition costs (or VAC) are costs accumulated from advertising, public relations, community relations, or anything that is intended to engage audiences. Data comes into lowering VAC through learning more about visitors–specifically their demographic information, geographic details, and interests. We see a lot of the “spray and pray” method–for example, spraying a city with billboards advertising a museum by the side of the highway will guarantee high visibility. However, the messaging and audience of that billboard are so general and unspecific, there is no guarantee that the spray-and-pray method will inspire visitors to go to the museum, (hence the praying). Rather than painting with a wide brush through general campaign efforts like spray-and-pray methods, marketing and acquisition teams can use visitor data to target specific demographics and inform audiences of events, offers, and exhibits that they’re likely to be interested in.

Who are your visitors? What kinds of people are coming (or not coming) to your institution?

By learning more about the demographic details of your audience, you can identify audience disparities, capitalize on targeting opportunities, and get a more complete picture of the kind of visitors your institution attracts or doesn’t. Understanding who is more likely to engage in conversions–such as donations, memberships, and special events–will allow your marketing team to advertise certain features of your institutions where it will be received best. If your older visitors tend to sign up for more memberships, you can allocate resources to capitalize on that interest. If you see that middle-class visitors frequently attend special events, your acquisition team can put their efforts into communicating upcoming events to those visitors (and strategize differently for others). The more you know about your visitors will allow you to understand which campaign efforts will be most successful to which demographics rather than using a one-size-fits-all marketing effort with a smaller margin of success.

Where are your visitors coming from? How are they getting to you?

Geographic visitor data can illuminate key opportunities for marketing teams to invest in new and existing audiences. Understanding everything from where your visitors are coming from to how they are arriving at your institution can give you a better insight into where to focus your marketing efforts. If you notice a large portion of visitors coming from a neighboring state, you can focus your marketing efforts on those regions and tailoring the best possible experience for those visitors. Visitors from out of state might also require nearby food and accommodation, giving you an opportunity to partner with hotels and restaurants to encourage visitors into your museum, zoo, or cultural site. Do you notice a large amount of visitors that come from out of the country? Maybe it’s time to review what language options are available for those visitors to ensure a positive and accessible experience.

Compiling visitors’ geographic data can also shed light on an institution’s understanding about their local audience. Let’s say your marketing team believes local visitors are predominantly one income bracket or age group. If the data confirms your hypothesis, your acquisitions teams can have a better understanding of where to focus your resources and continue campaign efforts. If not, the data on your local visitors can give you a comprehensive idea of who you are attracting to the institution. The data can also inform you how to re-strategize your marketing efforts to capture a deeper interest in your nearby audience.

What do your visitors like to do? What are they passionate about?

Understanding visitor interests is key to leading targeted marketing campaigns and exhibition development to help reduce acquisition costs. This information can help you form an in-depth understanding of your visitors and what specific marketing efforts, exhibitions, and events will have the most success with which visitors. A visitor who does not frequent the contemporary art wing of your art museum will most likely ignore or be annoyed by an email notification about the latest contemporary exhibit. But if that visitor is excited by impressionist art, an email notification about an upcoming impressionist event or exhibition will lead to a higher chance of visitor attendance and spending. In a similar vein, knowing a visitor’s favorite animal exhibit at a zoo can benefit acquisition in multiple ways. Marketing teams can advertise special animal demonstrations, donation opportunities, or merchandise sales around that animal directly to the visitor.

Beyond specific museum or zoo interests, user data surrounding where and how visitors shop, dine, and spend their free time can paint a more complete picture of your audience. Is your visitor a foodie? Why not let them know about upcoming fundraising dinners provided by local food celebrities? Is your visitor an online shopper with children? Let them know about the educational tools and toys available on sale at your online gift shop. Is your visitor obsessed with fitness? Maybe they would be interested in participating in your institution’s fundraising run. By learning more about the visitor’s interests, institutions will be able to give their audience more of what they want, enhancing their experience and increasing likelihood of continuous investment and involvement in your cultural institution.

Putting the Pieces Together

Demographics, interests, and geographic information are all key components in understanding the visitor as a whole. For example, knowing your local, middle-class visitors tend to spend more time engaging in outdoor activities can a huge difference in building successful and targeted marketing strategies. Visitors who fit a similar description will most likely respond similarly to certain marketing efforts, giving your acquisition team a clear template for effective campaigns.

This data can also paint a fuller picture of the potential visitors who aren’t coming. Once all of this data is compiled, you will be able to identify the kinds of people that your cultural institution isn’t attracting. You may see large numbers of local seniors and retiree visitors but a lack of local middle-aged, high-income thrill seekers. The insights into which kinds of people aren’t coming into your cultural institution will be invaluable and allow your acquisition teams to develop targeting methods that will entice those soon-to-be visitors.

Data can give your institution the power to use marketing and content development resources in the most impactful and efficient way as possible. Once you build a better understanding of your audience and establish acquisition strategies off of those findings, there’s no stopping where your zoo, museum, or cultural site could go.

Guru understands the importance of visitor data to build and support your institution’s legacy. Guru’s data analysis and tracking systems can compile detailed information about your visitors as well as streamline your institution’s other vital data, such as membership, CRM and ticketing. Our comprehensive and easy-to-use visitor data dashboard offers both real time and monthly reports to establish benchmarks, flesh out opportunities and areas of growth to continue your institution’s success into the digital age.

Interested in how data can benefit your museum, zoo, or cultural institution? Visit our contact us page and see how Guru increased targeted merchandise sales 170% year-over-year. Let’s talk about how to incorporate data into your institution’s acquisition strategy.