Data capture – Are we mugs?

I recently did a study looking at aggregate (‘BIG’) data from over 200 UK Arts venues, and one thing that struck me was how little of our data we have permission from customers to use. We found that on average, UK venues were only capturing data for 1 in 4 of their walk-up customers, and only getting permission to contact 6 out of 10.

In a separate piece of research with lapsed and infrequent attenders, we found that one of the biggest reasons they give for not attending more frequently or recently was that they simply ‘didn’t know what was on’ at that venue.

With the ability to only market to 1 in 5 of our customers, it’s not surprising, that in order to fill the many seats we have to fill, venues resort to over-communicating with customers. Once that happens, we’re in real trouble – as our communications eventually get ignored, deleted, or the customer unsubscribes – and they we can’t talk to them again. If we could vastly increase the number of customers who give us their permission to talk to them, we could be more targeted in our messages to people, knowing that we had enough customers to target, without mailing everyone about everything too many times.

When I look at my own experience of buying products on other websites, more often than not, the data protection option is an ‘opt-out’, or at least a pre-ticked ‘opt-in’ box. And we know that if we were to do that, our data permission rates would be much higher – as most customers simply follow the easiest path offered to them.

Below are 3 examples from websites I’ve visited just this week – all offering an opt-out rather than an opt-in.


Karndean Flooring

Ryan Air

However, most arts venues continue to insist on an ‘opt-in’, requiring customers to take an additional action to tick a box in order to give their ‘informed consent’. I KNOW that this is seen to be good practice, but there are plenty of other things that are best practice too, which we, as an industry choose to ignore. Booking fees, for one. It’s surely best practice NOT to add on a booking or transaction fee, creating a further dis-incentive for customers – and although we’ve all tightened up on how we do this – most venues still do it, because needs must – we’re in a difficult funding climate, and it’s one of the best ways to generate income.

So let’s be real. Needs must on data collection too. We NEED as much customer data as possible, and this is a very good way of getting it. Why should we be the saints and deprive ourselves of the ability to market to our bookers, when it’s (currently) completely legal to offer an opt-out as many reputable companies do?

I’m not suggesting by any means that we trick or delude customers – we need to be clear and transparent about why we’re collecting their data and what we intend to use it for. But we can do that by carefully drafting our data protection notices to ensure that the customer is clear how their data will be used and by whom.

Here’s what the Information Commissioner’s Office currently says on their website:

Electronic mail marketing

The most important thing to remember is that you can only carry out unsolicited electronic marketing if the person you're targeting has given you their permission.

However, there is an exception to this rule. Known as the 'soft opt-in' it applies if the following conditions are met;

  • where you've obtained a person's details in the course of a sale or negotiations for a sale of a product or service;
  • where the messages are only marketing similar products or services; and
  • where the person is given a simple opportunity to refuse marketing when their details are collected, and if they don't opt out at this point, are given a simple way to do so in future messages.

For my money, this covers most Arts venues – so let’s stop being the martyrs here and get on with it!

Katy Raines
Founder & CEO

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