When the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta needed to figure out why attendance was flatlining and revenue was dropping, it went to V. Kumar, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Excellence in Brand and Customer Management and director of the Ph.D. program in marketing at Georgia State University. As detailed in a recent case study in Harvard Business Review, Kumar and his team used data about the aquarium’s most frequent and highest-spending visitors to create demographic profiles that allowed them to better target marketing and advertising efforts — resulting in a 10-percent increase in attendance and a 12-percent increase in revenue. Recently Convene talked to Kumar about what any “experience-based business” might learn from that approach.
What was it that interested you about this project?
Three things. One is they said that the entire aquarium industry was going down in attendance and revenue for the past five years. That was one thing that was bothering them — is this going to be the case in the future? Can somebody turn the tide? The second challenge was, they have the largest aquarium in the world — they were the largest, now Singapore has overtaken them — and being the largest and the best, why are they not able to attract more people? What is the mystery behind it? The third is whether they are attracting [visitors] from the right pond, the right kind of people with the right kind of resources.
Are organizations in this position often sitting on a lot of data that they’ve been collecting but aren’t really making good use of?
I think so. Take trade shows. They all have [information about] attendance — who is registering and where they are coming from and so on. That data is sitting there. I don’t know if they are not mining it the right way, but they could do a lot more to see where people come from, what value proposition they are seeking, and aligning what they offer as a value proposition to what [attendees] are seeking to boost attendance.
How should planners who want to increase attendance at their meetings or conventions be looking at their data?
There are [so many] different types of trade shows across the industry. In a given year, you have data across these trade shows, and then over [the course of] years you have both cross-sectional and time-series data on these trade shows. Which is really rich to understand across trade shows what is happening, and over time what is happening within a [specific] trade show.
What are some common mistakes that experience-based organizations tend to make when it comes to their data?
I don’t know whether it’s a mistake, but it’s more myopic, I would say. They’ll say, “Typically we get visitors from this region,” so they’ll do [attendee marketing] at a macro level or an aggregate level. It’s not a targeted campaign. So the first thing they have to do is to really find who the people are and do a very targeted campaign.