Marketing by Numbers:
Why Creatives Need to Do the Math

Painting by numbers

Image by eleanor.black

Admit it. You hate math. Algebra gives you chills. Statistics makes you queasy. Calculus makes your blood run cold.

In college I took Calculus for Non-Science Majors. It just about killed me. I was in the math lab every day begging the graduate students for help. Advanced math befuddled me. I sat through class thinking, “When am I ever going to use this?” As I started getting into internet marketing, however, I learned that numbers do have real value.

It all started with Google Analytics. My very first website was running for some time before someone told me, “You really need to stop using a hit counter on your site. That’s just tacky.” I installed Google Analytics on my site and voila! Suddenly (like, over the course of a year) I was a data wizard. I knew how many people were visiting my site. I knew how they got there, how much time they spent, and what they clicked on. Numbers suddenly became very interesting to me, because the numbers told me how to make money.

Numbers Sell More Art

Whenever I’m speaking to artists about their marketing plans they invariably ask me, “What’s the best way to market my work?” To that I always respond, “Experiment and measure.” Artists have a habit of throwing their art out scattershot and hoping something works without sitting down to analyze it.

I met a painter who had spent thousands at art fairs and didn’t realize she was barely breaking even until she sat down and looked at her finances. She changed her focus and moved her work online. She’s now selling more.

A photographer I spoke to let his prints collect dust at a coffee shop for six months without knowing how many people had seen them. He didn’t sell a single print. He focused on his website and his sales doubled in the first year.

Another painter looked at her web traffic data to find out what her most popular paintings were. She moved them to her home page and immediately saw a spike in sales.

An artist who was chronically ill spent thousands on expensive medical treatments and years doing research on her condition. No one had an answer. She then spent three months recording her daily health status and activities and found a pattern. She’s now back to being a productive artist with lots of energy.

Any of these sound like you?

Simple fixes like taking some time to look at your numbers can save you heart ache, money, and lots of time.

How to Read the Numbers

Don’t Be Scared

College math was complicated. Website statistics are not. Just look at how many people are visiting your site, what they’re looking at, how much time they’re spending, and whether they bought something. Each of these pieces of data will give you something you can do.

If you know what part of your site people are clicking on and how much time they’re spending, you’ll know what your most popular content is – and what it’s not. For example, on my blog, I track my blog posts over time to see which ones get the most traffic. If some become more popular than others, I will often write follow up posts, going into more depth on a particular topic.

Google Analytics is free and is one of many similar software solutions that will track this data for you. You can also use CrazyEgg to see a visual overlay of where people click on, and even mouse over, your website.

Measure Just One Thing

If you are overwhelmed by data, try counting just one thing. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn just by tracking, for example, the number of people who buy something whenever you send out an email announcing your new art for sale (you do this, right?).

I use MailChimp.com to manage my email newsletter. It tells me how may people opened my newsletters, and how many clicked on the links to my websites. You can also use it to do something called A/B testing, where you send one email to part of your list, and the same email with a small variation like a different subject line to the other part of your list. This lets you test various ways of marketing so you know which ones works better.

Get Help

The artist who had a chronic health condition invited her friend who was an actuary over to help her make sense of three months’ worth of tracking data. The actuary showed her how to find patterns in just a couple of hours. Enlisting the skills of your left-brained friends is a good idea.

Using Google Documents to track the patterns that she found in the data, this artist was able to speak to her physician about her condition and provide additional insight that the doctor then used to make small adjustments to her treatments and medications. These small adjustments made a major difference in her quality of life.

I still hate calculus – but I really like data.

What Numbers Do You Need to Track?

What about you? What do you measure in your creative life?

What key metrics do you already measure in your business?

What other figures could you benefit by measuring?

About the Author: Cory Huff is an actor, director, and blogger. He teaches artists why selling art online isn’t all that scary at TheAbundantArtist.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @AGoodHusband.

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Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. It’s data that separates those in forward-motion and those running in place. If you don’t know where you’ve been, then you don’t know where you’re going.

    I love the story about the artist tracking her health condition, which aided in her recovery. More on her please!

    This is an excellent piece. I plan to share this with my counterparts.

  2. Great article,

    Will definitely be looking at Crazy Egg.

    I’ve got a soft spot for maths but will always put off doing the number crunching side of things, usually ebcause I’ll crunch until the cows come home once I get going.

    What’s brilliant, is most resources, like the ones you’ve recommended do all the crunching, so understanding the information is so much easier and less time consuming than most people think!

  3. Thanks for the info!

    I’m from the world of nerdy engineering so numbers don’t seem strange to me. In fact we were taught that “what you measure is what you get”. So if you measure your traffic, clicks, pageviews, bounce rates, you would definitely have some demographics for analysis.

  4. What about you? What do you measure in your creative life?

    The number of useless posts I read on blogs.

    Ha ha ha, don’t worry Cory, this was not one of them :-D

    I found your post interesting because I am at the opposite end of the spectrum to you: I’m a scientist by day, Photographer and Blogger by night, and I often find myself thinking WAAAAAAY too much about the numbers, and not enough about the words. For some time now I’ve disconnected from the statistics and concentrated on writing content I’m proud of. Visits to my website have gone up, so maybe I’m doing something right.

    I recently (within the last 2 weeks) set up an online photo gallery to sell prints of my photos, which is a whole ‘nother beast as far as marketing goes. The techniques I used to spread the word about my website ON photography will not necessarily work to promote my website ABOUT MY photography, and sell prints. To begin with, I need to attract a very different demographic: Art buyers vs photographers.

    Looks like I’ll be going back to those statistics soon. It’ll feel like coming home :-)

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I found you through a tweet by @copyblogger and, as almost always with his tweets, I’m glad I clicked on the link. Your post accurately sums up some of what I’ve been thinking about lately.

    I got my M.F.A. in Creative Writing a few years ago and couldn’t have disdained math more. I had no use for it. Shortly thereafter I moved to Maine, where the jobs are scarce and I found myself running a bakery in Blue Hill, right on the Atlantic coast. As I poked and prodded various different recipe measurements I started to enjoy math more, and began to see its functionality. Then two years ago I moved back to my hometown d got a job at an IT company, where I was placed in charge of monitoring our, and our clients’, analytics. Since then, math has become a new language in which I am happy to become proficient.

    Thanks for distilling a few of the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head.

    I look forward to reading your blog often.

    • Joe, I love bakeries! There’s this little place up the street from my apartment that I frequent 3 – 5 times per week. Bread, cookies, pastries – I have to work out an extra 20 minutes after thinking about that place!

      Glad to know there are more creatives out there counting away.

  6. Thank you for this. This is yet another piece of the puzzle I’m putting together. I don’t really sell anything, but I *do* was traffic to my site because people are interested in my content.

    You’ve put some great help and insight together for me.

    Thank you!

  7. Lubinrho says:

    My boss is a math guy who is comfortable in his realm and habits. I am the upstart creative who finally got his attention in regards to the company site. This post just gave me a better way to prove that what I am doing, upstart that I am, is actually driving traffic from new areas. Thanks for this.

  8. Bakeries are good for the inspiration, good for the heart, and the best way to get you to exercise. While I do love my new job and where I’m going with it, there are some days when the fog rolls through my bedroom’s windows at 4 in the morning and I wake up with a grumbling belly when I do miss working with my hands.

    Well, at least I type. :)

    Thanks for the post. I’ll be looking out for more posts from you.

  9. Great information …thanks

  10. I generally keep it to the bare essentials so I don’t get caught up in the numbers:

    Visitors
    Search visits
    Popular posts
    Comments

    With these 4 stats alone I can see how many people are looking at various articles and help craft my next post around those. If a particular post went over very well, I’ll do a follow up. If something is laking, I may try to figure out why it didn’t go over so well and improve it next time or drop it all together.

  11. BarryMac says:

    Good post, as an artist I certainly would like to increase sales and I agree measuring is important.

    However I think perhaps you need to be careful with your maths.

    “A photographer I spoke to let his prints collect dust at a coffee shop for six months without knowing how many people had seen them. He didn’t sell a single print. He focused on his website and his sales doubled in the first year.”

    2 x 0 = 0

    BarryMac

    • Oops. I meant to say that he didn’t sell a single print in the coffee shop, but his print sales doubled overall…but I think you knew that.

  12. BarryMac,

    You made me laugh. thanks. :)

  13. I use clicktail, it helps me know what is happening on my site and its heatmaps and videos show me i can increase my conversions

  14. I just started all this and I just learned about all the tools that google provide, analytics one of them. This is essential but perhaps a little depressing in the beginning when you have just started and you are as impatient as I am. :)

    With a little different angle on this, I keep track on my meditation and physical exercises.

    If I don’t do them the difference in attitude, energy and emotions are like night and day. Missing one day might be ok but it often reverberates over a few days. The more I practice the more “addictived” I become to these practices because they support my life and art in ways that I see more and more obvious when I DON’T do the practices.

    Missed days of meditation seems to result in a few days of bigger self-pitty and procrastination.

    Cheers!

  15. I admit it: I hate math! Actually, I don’t hate math. I just hate the way they used to “teach” it in school. It even sucked in college.

    But that being said, I am learning every day how much I need it for any marketing efforts. Math is key to marketing.

    CrazyEgg looks like a great service. Maybe a little expensive for my taste at the moment, but I definitely see the value. Thanks for the tip.

    This article is very helpful to me. You can read about this stuff all day, but it becomes perfectly clear when delivered in a well-written, sincere case study.