Welcome to the Golden Age of Data

Examples from a brave new world of personalisation

We’re living in rapid data evolution, the type of which the world has never seen before.

Not only are we constantly collecting data about everyone and everything, companies are constantly finding new and exciting ways to use this data. With emergence of AI (Artificial Intelligence), we’re seeing data work harder and faster than ever before. Just watch AI build an entire website wireframe in real time from drawings on a whiteboard.

Data’s no longer just about numbers in spreadsheets.

It now encompasses a huge range of different mediums, especially as we’re becoming an increasingly digital world. When all your images, videos, text and audio can be compressed to a series of ones and zeros; everything becomes “data”. And this data can be used for a lot more than displaying your bank balance.

An increasingly common phrase is, “every company is a data company”. And with the huge amount of supporter data charities have at their fingertips, it’s important to ask ‘How can we best ride this data wave?’

This is something the NSPCC has been thinking about a lot recently, so we’ve had a look around the charity and private sectors for some inspiration on what can be done.

Fighting poverty with data

One great example of a charity using data to improve the supporter journey was highlighted in the Commission on the Donor Experience report.

VSO is an international development organisation committed to fighting poverty by sending skilled volunteers to work with local communities around the world to bring about long-term, sustainable change.

Their main programme for recruiting regular givers is called ‘Volunteer View’. The concept is to give donors a “view” into the real life and work of a VSO volunteer. The organisation decided to use data collection in a new way to create a wonderful donor journey to ensure that supporters felt engaged, valued and involved in the work overseas.

So how does ‘Volunteer View’ work?

When the donor is first approached about donating to VSO, by a face-to-face fundraiser for example, they’re told that as a regular giver they have the opportunity to be linked to a volunteer in the field. They’re given the choice between three volunteers, each working in one of VSO’s key sectors: health, education or livelihoods. Donors tend to choose a volunteer based on a range of factors; the type of work (if they’re a teacher themselves, they’ll probably be interested in education), or the country the volunteer is working in (the donor may have specific interest in an area already) or the part of the UK the volunteer hails from (to hear from one of their own).

Once the donor signs up to a regular gift and chooses a volunteer, they’re given a small thank you booklet, which tells them more about the charity and shares some volunteer stories. They also get a profile card explaining more about their chosen volunteer: problems in the country they’re working in, solutions they’re bringing, etc.

A thank you communication from the supporter’s chosen volunteer, Judith.

From there on, donors receive personalised letters from their chosen volunteer detailing how their work is going, as well as thank you messages for their donation from their chosen volunteer.

Importantly, the content is human. It doesn’t just talk about the work which they’re helping to fund, it gives an insight into their volunteer’s life with anecdotes like what they miss most from home or how they prepared for their trip.

Every update is also linked to a blog, which donors love! Many leave messages of encouragement and support in the blog comments.

A stewardship letter from Judith.

Geotargeting to match the weather

Early this summer there was a radio ad mocking the British summertime weather. This is nothing new. Every summer, companies like Ryanair or even insurance companies use the ‘unreliable’ British weather as a punchline. What made it ineffective this year was that we had one of the hottest and driest summers on record.

It might be safe to assume that this ad didn’t exactly have the intended effect, but obviously it’s hard to factor the weather into any traditional marketing plan. That’s why Spotify’s latest campaign with The North Face is so clever. They are using weather-based geotargeting to promote the release of a new waterproof coat using a new branded song on the Spotify app only in areas where it is raining.

The campaign uses location-specific capabilities to stream the song and gives users a way of engaging with the brand that ties directly into the reality of their lives in the here and now. You can read more about this campaign here.

The North Face’s Seek No Shelter campaign.

Imagine what charities could do with geotargeting. From promoting local events, to appropriate outdoor challenges, relevant local volunteering opportunities and everything down personalising bake-sale images based on local delicacies to promote fundraising.

All we would need is the data.

Making it personal with video

Whilst using data to personalise email content isn’t anything new, many brands are now looking at video as the next frontier for personalisation.

Last Christmas, Argos used personalised video in their Christmas advert where individuals could submit a photo to become the main protagonist of the advert. Once a photo had been submitted and verified, the individual would become the elf who goes above and beyond to ensure a present is delivered. A neat, personalised touch with the aim to give a personal connection and drive engagement, allowing Argos to stand out among its competitors in a period already saturated with advertising.

You can watch the video here, how would you feel if your face was included in this advert?

Similarly, you may also remember this viral video of President Barack Obama giving a speech. To the naked eye, this speech was nothing special, but the catch was that the speech was completely fabricated. A group at the University of Washington collected speech and visual data and by harnessed the power of AI and massive cloud based computing they managed to “recreate” a speech that was never made.

Is this the way that advertising may go? Will we see increased personalised advertising on social media, emails and websites be using photos and videos of ourselves?

And how might the charity sector use this technology? Imagine a social media advert where an individual appears to be crossing the finish line at the London Marathon as a way to encourage them to sign up. Or an email with an included video showing the individual in a classroom, a refugee centre, or a hospital encouraging them to volunteer. What other ways can you imagine this power being harnessed by the charity sector?

Data is at its heart about numbers and measures, but the power and influence of data goes far beyond the realms of spreadsheet or simple databases. And where will this data wave eventually deposit us? It would be foolish to guess, but what we do know is that there is a lot more to come, and this is just the beginning.