Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Kennedy Center Offer

I am a member of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and I received direct mail and direct Internet e-mail offers to renew and upgrade my membership (see Kennedy_Center_Upgrade). The Kennedy Center presents plays, ballet, National Symphony Orchestra performances, and various workshops. Additionally, it has the Gift Shop and restaurant. I have made it a focal point for entertainment with friends and family when in DC. Ticket sales do not cover the Centers 3,100 stage performances a year and its ambitious educational activities; hence the need for members (donors), and its annual tin-cupping.

The offer has the price, my annual renewal at the current donation, a time limit (my current membership expires every August), no express guarantee or breakdown of use, but as Haigh and Gilbert (2005, p 108) note:

“Brands provide a guarantee of origin and quality;”

So the Kennedy Center brand is my guarantee that the money will be used to support the activities, and provide the benefits suggested. My first contact with the membership office was a phone call from them during which they sold me my membership initially. Here they did give a guarantee. The Kennedy Center representative gave me his personal, direct line to answer any questions or smooth out any difficulties I had with any benefits.

In the Internet e-mail, they give me the option of renewing with a phone call, or on-line. For the postal mail they also provided a return envelop. In neither case are mobile form factors considered. They do give me an option of upgrading my membership. The benefits are for higher levels add new perks to the benefits at lower levels. Here is the roster:

The additional benefits are an incentive but so too is identity congruence, the trait that “consumers’ behavior is often affected by what others [do]” (see Shang, et al, 2008, pp 351-2). Social influence is particularly effective in the case where the benefits of a transaction are ambiguous. The Kennedy Center appears to be using such incentive here.

Simonson (2005, p33) relates that including options in the offer can result in up-selling. This depends on the stability of consumer preferences and their insight into those preferences. I believe that donors fall into Simonson’s Category 3, those having stable preferences but lacking insight into those preferences. This is how the Kennedy Center is presenting the offer. No customized recommendation, although they have substantial demographic data. Customized offers can backfire with Category 3, as Simonson notes:

“Consequently, these customers may mistakenly accept customized offers or choice criteria that do not really fit their preferences, which leads to dissatisfaction.”

To explain why I place donors in Simonson’s Category 3, an understanding of the audience needs to be developed.

The Audience
Spiller and Baier (2005, p 97) admonish us to do market research to “determine consumer needs and wants.” Included here then is a study of charitable behaviors published in the Journal of Marketing. Reed, Aquino, and Levy (2007, p 189) found that individuals with high organizational status, low moral identity contribute money to high moral value organizations. Individuals with high moral identity want to contribute time but are chinchy with money. Here is a chart of their findings:

High moral identity is associated with idealism and low moral identity with pragmatism. A money donor’s high organizational status drives their time pressure.

A Syracuse University study furthers our understanding about the nature of donors. McNesby (2007, pp1-2) cites Who Really Cares by Arthur C. Brooks about charitable contributions. His findings are that contributors tend to be religious and conservative. Additionally, this religious and politically conservative cohort is 24 times more likely to contribute to charity than secular idealists.

Although it is an organization of artists, the Kennedy Center has an intuitive understanding of their donor audience that is reflected in the pragmatic appeal for donations (see Kennedy Center, 2008, p1) that lacks both do-goodism and change-the-world slogans. Here is their appeal instead:

"Generous support from Members like you enables the Kennedy Center to bring the finest performances to Washington D.C. and maintain its presence as the nation’s leader in arts education. "

Why Category 3? Kennedy Center donors have well defined preferences but with work and a busy schedule they do not have the idle time to actually think about these preferences.

Improving the Offer
The Kennedy Center does not customize the offer it presents to me. Based on the audience characteristics of donors who donate money as opposed to time, I have argued that their donor profile is what Simonson (p 34) categorizes as Group 3. He informs us that this group is prone to misunderstand customized offerings leading to dissatisfaction. Therefore, I would not try to improve the response with customized appeals to upgrade.

The nature of the offer’s creative appeal also seems to be an effective balance for the audience. As Spiller and Baier (2005, p 92) tell us, an emotional appeal targets the member’s wants, in this case an appeal to the noblise oblige of social status. However, a maudlin tone does not emanate from the offer, a reflection of the conservative nature of the audience. Neither does the creative appeal present opportunities for improvement.

Regarding the offer price, I think there is an opportunity to expand the revenue structure by extending the price segments to include a $60 donor level to either lapsed members or as a reach to potential donors. Spiller and Baier (p 95) instruct us that price elasticity is a critical aspect of offer pricing. Interested parties might be more inclined to become new members if it were easier to give and also a little easier on the wallet. Such a special offer can be made to them without undermining existing donations by using an emerging technology and exploiting our database.

Demographics of mobile phone SMS text users is younger and better educated. New technical venues may extend the reach of the Kennedy Center appeal for donations. Given the pragmatic and conservative nature of donors, my gut feeling is that a simple text message would have good effect. This hunch is supported by a web site, and an article on the Everyday Giving Blog. As Carr (2008, p 1) concludes “Making a donation by sending a simple text message is convenient. This convenience is available to the 250 million mobile phone users in the United States alone.”

This is an avenue for the Kennedy Center to economically extend its reach for donations to candidates with mobile technology. The donation is added as a charge to the cell phone monthly bill. The campaign is then to select appropriate audience of conservative, religious pragmatists from organizations like AllMedia.Com, and send them a simple text message much like the Center Generous Support statement above through a service like

In addition, QR Codes can be used to integrate Kennedy Center print materials with its online assets. QR Codes are a special type of barcode that is optimized for use by mobile devices. Smith (2008, p 1) echoes the view of many. He observes that QR Codes and mobile form factors link print media with the Internet. By strategically locating QR Codes, mobile readers of Center print media can link to the Center Web site, getting pod-casts, steaming audio and video, Mobile Web pages, and other entertaining or informative communications.

Center print materials for the gift store will have QR Code to link to always up-to-date reference materials on the music, play, dance, or on the artists. By also forwarding users from the Center Web site to associated blogs, and community sites further information becomes available and communities of interest can be accessed from print materials.

By using a QR Reader, possibly a mobile phone, one can jump from the print world to the online world. This is unprecedented value for the customers of the store.

Say and Southwell (2006, p 262) notes that one key success factor with text messaging direct marketing is to guide actions with testing and evaluation. They take baby steps with an idea in a test, and through a comprehensive evaluation decide how to implement it. Permission is another critical success factor. They have devised a series of techniques for garnering permission (p 263). They caution against the temptation to treat mobile marketing as a “silo” or isolated channel. Integrated channel planning unleashes the full potential of mobile marketing.

Their article explains how First Direct was able to gain permission for extensive mobile marketing activity. Initial usage of text-messaging was to provide a convenience to customers, at the banks expense. This created a foundation of trust and a new point of view by the customer. They can use their mobile phone to increase their control over their money (p 263).

The same could be done at the Center. An initial benefit of notifications of new shows, ticket availability, specific seating availability for those on wait lists and so on. The advantage of subscribing to the text messaging is first notification and right to good seats when they come open, to get tickets to popular shows on popular nights, and other conveniences. Once we have a database of subscribers, we can start the campaign for collecting donations.

Buchanan, Mark (2002). Nexus. Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Network. W.W. Norton, New York.

Carr, Roger (May 17, 2008). Will You Text Message Your Next Charitable Donation? Retrieved on March 14, 2009 at

Duncan, Tom (2005). Principles of Advertising and IMC. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Haigh, D. and S. Gilbert (May 2005). Valuing not-for-profit and charity brands — real insight or just smoke and mirrors. Int J. Nonprofit Volunt. Sect. Mar. Retrieved on September 6, 2008) from EBSCOHOST.

McNesby, Mick (January 13, 2007).Charitable Giving In America: Is Advocacy Of Government Programs A True Form Of Charity? Ezines. Retrieved on March 14, 2009 from

Reed II, Americus and Karl Aquino, & Eric Levy (January 2007). Moral Identity and Judgments of Charitable Behaviors. Journal of Marketing. Retrieved on March 14, 2009 at,Aquino,&Levy.pdf

Say, P. and J. Southwell (Jan-Mar 2006). Beep, beep, beep, beep, that’ll be the bank then – Driving sales through mobile marketing. Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice. Retrieved March 14, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Shang, Jen and Americus Reed, and Rachel Croson (June 2008). Identity Congruency Effects on Donations. Journal of Marketing Research. Retrieved on March 14, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Smith, Shawn (April 8, 2008). How QR codes could save newspapers from obsolescence. Retrieved on March 14, 2009 at

Spiller, L and M Baier (2005). Contemporary Direct Marketing. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

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