Bringing Big Data to Your Park Programs

First Published on LinkedIN

Employees working in the Park and Recreation industry are faced with limits; limited budget, limited space, and limited staff. These limits frequently preclude professional market research and lead to gut marketing decisions on the part of park professionals. Frequently, individuals in charge of creating, maintaining, and removing stale programs use “little data” that they have painstakingly collected through informal focus groups (discussion with customers and non-customers,) contractors, user surveys, and other various activities.

In the past, obtaining positioning data on a current or possible product was not something exploited by parks professionals. It required contracting with companies like Nielsen who would provide trend analysis. This type of analytic analysis was expensive and difficult to understand. Google Trends has changed this drastically.

The term “Big Data” has crept into the parks and recreation lexicon as late, but is more of a buzzword than something a parks professional has access to. Who uses big data? Health officials use it to track outbreaks well before small data reaches their offices. Marketing professionals use it to know in what neighborhoods to target a new product. Police departments can even use it to help predict where crime will happen.

Google Trends allows anyone with access to a web browser the ability to enter search terms and view how many times the given terms were queried. The information is displayed as a line graph and also a heat map ranging from global to city wide. From this, the user can determine if the topic is trending up, down, staying the same, or has seasonality.Google has even provided a forecast option to attempt to determine future use.

Looking at Google Trends – Health Topics

Let’s pretend you are a public health official and you have seen an early spike in flu cases. Can you use Google Trends to determine where to focus your “wash your hands” campaign? Yes! It is a common thing for people to go to their computers and “Google” their symptoms or their personal diagnosis before scheduling a doctors appointment. By using the graphing function, you would see an unusual spike in queries leading into an outbreak and by adding the map, you may even be able to see where the early pockets of the flu are. These extra days may provide you with the time you need to hit an outbreak with public health notices before the outbreak hits pandemic status.

The colors on the graph relate to the colored bars next to the search terms at the top. You will notice a large spike in the blue “Flu Symptom” line 2009-10 during the swine flue outbreak. (Play with the example)

Improving Your Product Portfolio

By using what people are searching for, you can improve your chances of matching your product to demand. Again pretend that your park agency has blessed your recreation center with a new multipurpose space and you get to program it. You have the choice of art, dance, environmental, and fitness classes along with teen programming. You want to know what classes could be successful from a market position standpoint.

You go to Google Trends and compare the above options (example) and notice that forecast for fitness classes searches is aggressively trending up while art and environmental classes seem to see a slight uptick along with teen classes. Using this data, you determine that it may be a good start to offer some fitness classes and some teen classes as you feel that other demand is met by your current product offering.

It is time to dive into the data and figure out what specific products you want to offer.  Your next step would be to create another comparison with specific fitness classes (example.) You can also use the bottom “Related searches” function to drill into topics. Looking at teen classes from our example, a topic called “Teen Challenge” seems popular and is contributing to the rise in searches for the overall topic. This can help point the programmer to new programs.

Big data is not the end all, be all; it is a good place to look at the bigger picture of trends. As a parks professional, you should take the information gleaned and ask yourself “is there unmet demand for this?” It also helps to see what type of life cycle the product has (Style, Fashion, Fad  reminder,) and to see where product is in its life cycle. Overall, access to big data will continue to become more accessible to everyone, and you must be ready to use it.

Andrew Stephens currently serves as the Senior Manager of Marketing for Indy Parks and Recreation. He holds a MBA with concentrations in Technology Management and Marketing. astephen7@gmail.com

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