What Queensland Ballet is doing to step up its data-driven media play

Marketing leaders shares the latest work to understand first-party data sets to improve advertising effectiveness and reach

Bespoke by Queensland Ballet. Photo by David Kelley
Bespoke by Queensland Ballet. Photo by David Kelley

Identifying the connections between ballet students, performance attendees and donors is in the long-term sights of Queensland Ballet as it embarks on the journey to better unify and comprehend customer data.

Queensland Ballet recently partnered up with media agency, Audience Group, to build out a more comprehensive data-driven picture of audiences in order to improve media and advertising efficiency and reach. Head of marketing – artistic, Erin Core, told CMO the partnership was about making data usage processes more sustainable and efficient across the group.

“We’re keen to enhance the mapping of data connections across our portfolios to even better connect with members, students and ballet enthusiasts,” she said.

Core said the partnership complemented a wider commitment internally to build out a CRM platform. It’s also indicative of what she described as the performing arts organisation’s appetite for digital and technology-fuelled innovation.

“We talk internally about ourselves as a 60-year old startup, given our appetite for trying something new,” she said. A content-led illustration of this is Queensland Ballet’s Bespoke annual program, which pairs up new choreographers with technology, such as augmented reality and projection, to create more multi-sensory live experiences.

As the COVID-19 crisis hit and live performances were postponed, there’s also been concerted effort made to bring online classes, digital subscriptions and on-demand services to improve the way audiences, supporters and dance enthusiasts experience dance virtually, Core said.

One such example to celebrate the institution’s 60th year is ‘60 dancers: 60 stories’, which sees 60 shortform new ballet performances by its company dancers debuting virtually during the month of June.

Audience Group managing director, Tom Evans, said operationalising first-party data in media buying is key to improving Queensland Ballet’s marketing strike rate.

“This is about Queensland Ballet understanding more about the data available to them and how that can be utilised to better inform media buying, both from a tracking media performance, as well as understanding how it can be used in audience media buying in the future,” he said.  

With the death of the cookie, many of the mechanisms digital advertising has been reliant on are set to become irrelevant, Evans said. “As brands, we need to stop relying on third-party. But also, first-party is the best data you can use - it’s not just about telling you what a customer looks like, but shows you what they look like,” he continued.

First steps to data-driven media buying

At Queensland Ballet, the first step has been leveraging ticketing information. To do this, Audience Group collaborated with the Ballet’s ticketing platform providers to build out new data collection points that it can combine with real-time ticketing data. The idea is to not only gain richer information to understand, segment and target different groups of audiences, but also attribute the effect of media spend upon conversions.

“We connected that [data] back to that first-party transactional data so we can follow the customer all the way through that journey. Then we can use that to model future audiences,” Evans explained.

“Your CRM initially is extremely valuable, and you can do segmentation from that. But not all individuals in your CRM are going to be worth the same from a future media prospecting perspective. We can use [ticketing data] to start to immediately understand in a media environment who are we prepared to pay the most for, and what is my return likely to be over a period of time.”

In addition, Evans pointed out CRM may not illustrate audience nuances across Queensland Ballet’s program of performances.

“Our historical sales data shows attitudes towards a show vary dramatically across segments,” Core said. “For example, with a show like the Nutcracker, which is in its seventh year, we are much more likely to bring in and access someone who is new to ballet and use this as an entry point for engagement.

“Whereas with some of our smaller, boutique or first-time works, we know annual ticketholders are much more likely to take a risk and come and see something new. Identifying those segments even across a single channel like tickets, is important.”  

By connecting real-time transaction data to CRM data, the team can look for what’s consistent, versus what is specific to one show. “And new segments may present themselves. If it’s a new show, I haven’t got historical data to identify those potential new audiences at first. So I want to add that into my media prospecting as quickly as possible,” Evans said.   

Core said Queensland Ballet historically used segmentation to communicate with customers highly engaged with its offerings, such as members and donors. The work with Audience Group is the first opportunity to be more data-driven across all current and prospective customers.

She also saw the latest initiative as a way to help build out prospective audiences for Queensland Ballet’s nascent offerings, such as its online dance academy product.

“What’s exciting is we’re in the early stages of using all of this to map what our average lifetime value and stages are, where are the overlaps in audiences, and identifying where we’re engaging with people across their lifetime,” Core said.

“For example, you could have a family with a young daughter or son in dance classes, and that wider family may attend a show. Then you’re likely to see a parent or grandparent involved in a donor or supporting capacity. What we haven’t been able to map yet is the connections between these people. That’s what we’re hoping to do now.

“So instead of having you on eight lists, we could recognise you are the same people, so we can start to be more intelligence about how we target and promote messaging, shows and offerings to you.”

Digital innovation

In the COVID-19 environment, digital engagement and behaviour raises a new set of insights into audiences. As Core noted, it’s broken Queensland Ballet out of physical geographic limitations.

“While our ticketing and donor database is massive, in the past, the people who have been attending our physical classes and that database have been restricted by geography as they were coming to the studio. Now with our ‘Dance Anywhere’ product, we have been able to broaden that reach,” Core said.

Evans said the team has been able to segment and profile those who look like they’ve engaged initially with the adhoc product then eventually gone on to become part of Dance Anywhere.

“It’s starting to provide us with a more informed view of the media audiences who we haven’t seen before,” he said. “CRM is great until you have a completely new product and environment. Literally, you then have nothing to model from.

“What we’re starting to do is use some initial data collection points to build that profile. It could be as simple as initial engagement in an ad unit that demonstrates we might be talking to an audience that might be interested in a product, to eventually going on and providing a response.”

Core said the opportunity in the longer term is to bring insights from its media efforts together with audience research being undertaken by Queensland Ballet. “We’re excited to pull all these insights together to gain a better and more comprehensive lens of our customers,” she said.  

Shorter-term metrics to gauge progress include engagement onsite, sign-ups through the platform, and maintaining reasonable reach relevant to the product, Evans said. At a more strategic level, Core's team is guided by sales in terms of revenue; attendance and participation in classes or other training products.

“Beyond that, we’re building in brand measures and in the process of putting in brand tracking as well, which will allow us further insights into behaviour,” she added.  

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