By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal, June 30, 2017
Does a lack of funds, expertise, or strategy have you feeling left out of the Big Data explosion? You may be overlooking the untapped value of the “medium data” right in front of us.
Small business owners, nonprofit leaders and other execs are surrounded every day with high-value data points from networking events, email blasts, events, webinars, and trade shows that can go untapped.
We generally utilize about 10 percent of any application, service or platform at our disposal. Typically using only those functions that we see at the top layer.
And the layers you have to dig down for are where the really good stuff is lurking.
First, be a little more curious and get to know the integrations that are available for the applications or services you use. An integration is a bridge that allows one application to exchange data with another. This significantly extends the capability of one application without adding time for you.
For example, a contact form is an essential component of your website. Someone who is proactively reaching out to you is a treasure trove of possibilities. But what happens to that information? Perhaps you’ve set it up to send you an email or text, or to automatically populate a spreadsheet or database.
Digging down into your form creation tool, you will likely find a integration to email service providers like MailChimp. Adding that person directly into your mailing list is a good step, but an an incomplete one. For one thing, they don’t know you did it and by the time you send out your next email, you may be just a distant interaction.
But with a bit more digging on the email side, you will likely find the capability to add autoresponders, automatic emails that go out when triggered by a particular event (such as a new subscriber) or after a certain number of days have passed since a communication, event or interaction.
Autoresponders, like any other content in mass emails including eblasts and newsletters, can also pull personalized information from your subscriber database. Most email services require only three pieces of information: First Name, Last Name and Email. But don’t stop there. You can add a plethora of fields to a subscriber form, including company name, industry type, job title, and specific interest areas that relate to your business. Any field in your subscriber database can be merged into email content, enabling much more personal communications starting with something as basic as using the subscriber’s name in text, to customizing emails to their particular interests or needs.
That requires a little bit of data gathering. The best way to do this is not to do it; let the subscriber do it.
A client with a retail store invites new subscribers (through an autoresponder) to identify preferences in fashion designers. When new styles come in, emails are sent to customers who indicated a preference for a particularly designer, along with an offer. With some services (MailChimp is one), you can set up merged-and-templated content that can get triggers from your website and initiate these emails without you having to do a thing.
Events – networking, educational, social, conferences, meetings, lunch and learns – are great opportunities for data gathering, but they’re often not worked to the fullest advantage.
There are many event management platforms but probably the most well-known and often used by small businesses and nonprofits is Eventbrite. It also has a very robust feature set.
Start your data collection with the order form, which gives you the opportunity to ask a number of standard questions or add specific questions of your own. You can even add branching logic. The responses populate a database you can download as a spreadsheet or integrate with your email marketing system.
Despite all the technology advancements, most events I go to involve checking in at a table where a few volunteers check names off on printouts. I don’t know where all those check off printouts go after the event is over, but I have a pretty good idea.
But check in and attendance status, can be a useful datapoint giving you another reason to communicate. To facilitate that, use a mobile app (available for all flavors of smartphones) that lets you check guests in and immediately update their status in the event database. With the data, event attendees can get a thank you email; registrants who didn’t attend could receive an email with some key takeaways from the event.
Synchronized to your email marketing service or CRM, events become more than a closed system; they become a stepping stone to a next call or next contact.
Admittedly, it’s not as exciting as artificial intelligence and Big Data, but the potential to significantly extend client contacts and communication using tools you already have can be a more fulfilling step on the data trail.
Oh, and finally, every function mentioned in this column is available at the free level of these services.