Digital Works #3: Robots, humans, segmentation and investment

Author: Ash Mann

Digital Works is our programme of events which brings people from across the arts, cultural, heritage and creative sectors to share best practice around digital. We hear stories of success, lessons learned from failure and discuss and debate new and emerging techniques, services and products.

Digital Works was born from of my observation that the best conversations at conferences come, often, not from the speakers themselves, but triggered by questions asked to speakers or between the delegates during the coffee break or in the pub. There was also a frustration that digital folk in the arts, who are all-too-often lumbered with a head-spinning array of things they’re expected to be experts in, are rarely given the opportunity to come together and discuss things.

Digital Works #3 was held in the, frankly ridiculous, Prince of Wales room at the Royal Albert Hall. A beautifully restored antechamber-like space, with walls covered in art by Dutch painters.

And this guy…

Individual Giving

Indigo’s Sarah Gee kicked the day off by sharing some of the research she has been carrying out into audience segmentation.

Looking more widely at people’s motivations (e.g. how they spend their leisure time, which newspapers they’re reading, the type of charities they give to) has allowed her to build a broad framework that splits people into one of three categories.

The ‘traditional’ model of audience development sees people moving along a linear path towards ever more ‘challenging’  cultural experiences (a fairly patronising way of thinking about things in and of itself…but that’s an argument for another day), however Sarah’s research has shown that (mostly) doesn’t happen (certainly not over the short or medium term).

"If they've been to The Nutcracker, why don't we flog them some contemporary dance?"

Most people (Sarah’s research says around 85%) fit within just one of the three broad categories (a very small number overlap) and have no real desire or intention of ever changing that. And that’s fine! We should acknowledge this reality and work with the situation as it is, rather than as we wish it to be. This doesn’t mean you can’t programme particular works, it just means you shouldn’t be naive about who is going to attend that work, and therefore who the likely audience is.

Sarah Gee's segmentation applied to classical musicSarah’s approach applied to classical music

Once we have acknowledged how our audience splits and what this means about their preferences, how they view their interaction with us, and so on, we can begin to meaningfully engage with them in terms that are meaningful and effective.

Rather than either hitting everyone with the same message, in the same way. Or pursuing naive approaches based on nothing more than wishful thinking. By treating our audiences, visitors and stakeholders as actual people and talking to them in appropriate and tailored ways we can begin to build meaningful relationships (and have realistic and appropriate expectations about those relationships).

These insights would allow you to build messaging, membership schemes and fundraising campaigns in a way that reflects your audience’s actual motivations and interests.

See Sarah’s slides here:

There was a feeling that whilst much of this work has been started (or at least considered) on the marketing side of organisations, there is still a way to go with development departments, and also to a certain extent with artistic programming.

With this sort of agreed approach underpinning the way in which an organisation thinks about and interacts with its audience you would (hopefully) achieve a far more consistent, appropriate and cohesive user experience regardless of the channel or activity with which the end user was engaging.

Key observation: be realistic about your audiences and their motivations. A sensible framework can yield real benefits across all areas of your activity but only if it’s founded in reality.


I had seen the Science Museum’s Will Stanley talk about their (successful) crowdfunding campaign to ‘rebuild Eric‘ at CultureGeek earlier this year so I was really pleased to be able to involve him in Digital Works.

Having worked in-house at a number of organisations I’m more than familiar with crowdfunding suddenly being identified as a silver bullet and there being a pressure to engage in a crowdfunding campaign without too much discussion about whether or not it’s the right approach, and what is actually involved.

Will shared his insights on running a crowdfunding campaign for the first time. Spoiler: it involves a lot more time and thought than you might think.

Everything really seemed to hinge on having a compelling story, and telling it well. Obviously things like choosing the right platform, and a number of operational and logistics-related considerations come into play (being aware of things like you can’t claim gift aid on crowdfunded revenue).

But it really seemed that Will’s success was rooted in having chosen the right project to crowdfund, and being able to communicate it in an articulate and compelling way to the right people. It really came down to the story and how it was told.

As Will said, there are probably easier ways that the Science Museum could have raised the equivalent amount of hard cash, but the ‘soft’ benefits of the campaign: greater engagement with audiences, building relationships with new people, being able to talk about the work of the Museum in new ways, better inter-departmental cooperation and communication within the Science museum itself likely wouldn’t have been present with a more ‘traditional’ approach to raising the money.

People shared their experiences of there being a desire to crowdfund ‘anything’, regardless of whether or not it was an appropriate approach for the project in question.

As we talked it seemed to become clear that crowdfunding is as much a communications and engagement project as it is a fundraising tool. The time, effort, research and focus involved – as well as the inherent risk of this approach (some platforms will only release the funds to you if you achieve your target) – mean that whilst it can be a hugely rewarding and successful exercise, it shouldn’t be pursued without serious consideration of what’s involved, it’s certainly not ‘the easy option’.

You can view Will’s presentation below:

Our discussions also considered, in a non-museums context, what might be an appropriate project to consider for crowdfunding. Will’s success seemed to relate to the fact that the goal was a very specific, tangible thing (the rebuilding of a robot) for which there was an existing audience. They weren’t looking to fund the whole exhibition, or raise money for activity that they should perhaps be undertaking anyway. It was a specific, focused goal.

Most of the popular crowdfunding platforms are focused on products and experiences and unless you can present your project in those terms you’re likely to struggle.

There are charity/cultural-specific crowdfunding platforms (although in searching for links to some of the ones I was aware of from a couple of years ago it’d seem they’ve all ceased to exist…which probably tells you how effective they’ve been) but they inevitably have many times fewer users and much less profile than something like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

Key observation: Successful crowdfunding campaigns are a lot of work and rely on a compelling story (i.e. why should people care?!). The benefits can be big and exciting but it is not a valid approach for everything. 


The RA’s eCommerce Manager, Emma Forward shared the progress she’s driven over the past 3 years.

The RA now takes tens of thousands of orders through their online shop each year, however achieving this hasn’t just happened. It is the result of serious investment and a complete overhaul in how the shop is delivered online (technically, in relation to the development agency doing the work, the team at the RA and the 3rd party tools that the RA now uses).

Emma has looked to focus her efforts in areas with a tangible ROI. Continually optimising the site (with a not-insignificant investment in ongoing development) and carefully utilising tools such as abandoned basket emails (sent 1hr, 24hrs and 7 days after the abandonment), affiliate programmes, customer reviews and recommendation engines.

It was immediately obvious how many of these techniques could be (and are being) used in a ticketing context. By continually improving the online user experience, and adopting smart, dynamic approaches to everything they do, the RA have seen a remarkable uptick in the effectiveness of their online retail operations.

You can view Emma’s slides here:

Key observation: a successful and growing ecommerce offer is only achievable through continual focus and investment. You need to have a transparent and ongoing relationship with your developers. Also don’t be afraid of looking at 3rd party tools to deliver elements of your activity, but be selective.


The thing that seemed to come through in all of the areas we discussed was that a user-centred approach is key. It may seem obvious, but approaching things in a way that makes sense and are appropriate for your specific audiences is the only way you’re going to see success, whether that’s in asking them for donations, asking them to fund a specific project, or selling products to them.

Allowing assumptions or egos to drive the decision-making process is just going to result in frustrations and wasted time, effort and money and probably, ultimately, in failure (and not to mention unnecessary stress for everyone involved).

There was also a consensus in the room that everyone felt that they rarely had the opportunity to take the time to step back and look at ways of working in a smarter, more coordinated way. The levels of inefficiency that this must introduce into the sector is mind-boggling. It has long been noted that the cultural sector in the UK (and beyond) only really keeps going because people are regularly willing to overburden themselves to make things happen. But in working beyond capacity and never having the time to come up for air there are probably lots and lots of people spending much more time than they need to on things that may not even need doing.

Thanks to all of our speakers, and to everyone who attended and got so involved in the day’s discussions. I’m really pleased with how the events are developing, it feels like they’re filling a space and a need. Long may that continue.

We will hold Digital Works #4 in December, if you are interested in attending, speaking at or hosting the event then get in touch: