Let’s be real. When you work at a library, the process of collecting and analyzing data on your marketing initiatives can be messy, tedious, time-consuming, and boring as hell. I speak from experience. I am a data-collection freak but I just spent three weeks analyzing the numbers from six months of email marketing. I’m tired. My eyes are crossed. If I have to do any more math, I’m going to lose my mind.

I do this long-view analysis twice each year and about halfway through, I find myself caught in a serious case of what I call “dashboard envy.” I wish I had a program to do the calculations for me, like big brand companies. I go to one big conference every year–Content Marketing World. Their expo hall is filled with an amazing variety of marketing technology companies, peddling a number of products to make everything easier for marketers, including data collection. I almost never go to any of the booths to talk to the reps, but I do sometimes stand off to the side and watch them pitch to big companies. They’ve all got solutions for easy data collection and analysis and I am very envious of anyone who can afford them. Sigh.

It would be SO EASY to just chuck the analysis. I am so dang busy. I’m running email promotions, creating a strategy, writing for publications, taking phone calls, running meetings… etc. And I hate math. I mean, I really hate math.

But I do it. I make myself sit down and I go through all the data points, carefully and thoroughly, to analyze everything we’ve done with our email marketing, which is our most effective and most wide-ranging marketing tactic. I do it because it’s necessary and because the results always reveal something that guides my strategy for the next six months. It is so important to take a long-view look at what you are doing. Without data analysis, I am blind to the trends that emerge in my cardholders’ behavior. For instance, this round I’ve discovered:

I can send emails any time of day EXCEPT 7 a.m. to noon. We’re getting horrible engagement on emails.

Emails sent on Friday and Saturday TANK so no more sending on those days. When I discovered this fact, I immediately went into our library’s email calendar and changed the dates on five upcoming messages to avoid sending on Friday and Saturday.

About a year ago, we were really focused on sending messages to tiny audiences–less than 1,000 cardholders. The data showed that smaller audiences led to better the engagement. Now, we’re noticing that we get the best engagement with audiences of about 10,000 cardholders! That’s quite a shift and my theory is that we’re doing more promotion of services in our emails, which is of more interest to a wider range of cardholders. I also think I’m doing a better job at creating segments or clusters and matching their interests to the email (practice makes perfect!)

There are a couple of branches in our system that I won’t be sending email to anymore on a regular basis because their cardholders do not open, click, or act on anything… even special offers. We’ll be working on different ways to engage those cardholders.

Knowing how my cardholders are reacting to messages and how those reactions change over time makes the work we do more efficient. That’s why data collection and analysis, no matter how painful, is totally worth it. So now, I want to share with you some pointers for making it through the data-analysis process without losing your ever-loving mind.

Keep meticulous records of data as it comes in. If you start documenting rudimentary data after every campaign, as soon as the campaign ends, you won’t have to spend a bunch of time going back into your email system or into your social media platform dashboard or whatever you use for insights. I have a Word document for every email I send where I record the date, time, and number of cardholders who receive the email as well as the results–if it’s a circulation-based email, I record the number of books put on hold or checked out and if it’s a program promotion email, I record the number of attendees at the event.

Clear your schedule and set manageable time expectations for yourself. I calculate results of individual email campaigns monthly and then I schedule a six-month trend analysis. I schedule both of these tasks in my calendar like I would a regular meeting. That ensures that time won’t get taken away from me and that I won’t be tempted to give it up for other tasks. I make sure that six-month analysis happens during a slow time of year and I give myself 2-3 weeks to complete it. I set aside time each day to do my calculations–maybe an hour a day over a week (or three, if you’re slow at math like me). I shut the door of my office and hunker down. It takes discipline but it’s really worth it.

Keep records of everything you calculate. I literally wrote out the formulas for calculating the results the first time I did it so I could replicate it six months later. I write out all my results in case someone wants to take me to task later over a decision I make based on those results.

Talk about the results with your colleagues and share your results with other departments. Transparency in marketing is a good thing. It helps your co-workers and administrators have a clearer understanding of what you do in your marketing department! And they may look at the results and find some new insight that you missed. More eyes are better, honestly.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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