Not for profits have a ‘Brand Promise’ too……

As a restrained Brit, it’s hard to get a severe reaction from me, but our local NPR station, KQED, managed to do that at the end of last year. I was driving home and heard the announcer state that they would if the event occurred, interrupt the normal scheduled program to ‘go live to the execution of Saddam Hussain’.

It evoked a visceral reaction in me, making me wonder why anyone would wish to listen to that. And what it said about the sort of station KQED was becoming. Report by all means – this is a matter of some interest to the public, but going live? I have always held NPR in high regard and it shocked me that they would take this ‘tabloid’ approach. It was enough to get me to comment to guests who were staying with us. They didn’t seem excited….

I resolved to stop my regular monthly ‘ongoing membership’, but hadn’t got around to doing anything about it. It’s pledge week now, and in the mail this week I got a pleading letter from the General Manager of KQED. The opening line talked to the type of radio that she didn’t want to hear. It got me thinking – she described exactly how I felt about the Saddam incident.

They use evocative words like ‘member’ freely but when I thought about what that word means to me I came to realize how much of a gap there is between the Brand Promise and the User Experience. So I did write my letter. I obviously feel more strongly than I thought, the first draft was barely lucid!

When I thought more about it, for me at least, ‘member’ implies being a part of a community and that in turn implies some form of relationship. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me. KQED don’t treat me as a member. They treat me as a ready source of funds to build their empire – it may be a benevolent empire for the most part, but an empire it is. There is little communication, no involvement, and certainly no relationship.

In fact, most of the marketing makes me – the ‘continuing member’ who coughs up month in and month out – feel like a second class citizen. I assume that I’m amongst the most valuable of assets (other than the multi-million dollar donors). – a regular, low cost to maintain, funder. Instead the marketing is focussed at obtaining a one shot payment by ‘bribes’ of nice gifts and bonuses. So how does that encourage (and make the suckers who do pay monthly, feel) the annuity income that is, presumably more desirable? It encourages the very behavior that is undesirable (though not quite as undesirable as not contributing at all…).

Instead, how would it be if I felt like a member, including communication with (not at) and treated, really treated, like I was a valued part of the KQED community? It wouldn’t take much, just a few strokes now and then. Information about what is going on, that I’m valued, nice to have around. Just like a real relationship! Instead, the only time I hear from KQED is a demand for money. Oh, there was the time last year when they wanted me to vote to remove the membership voting rights, as it was “too expensive” to have members really participate and we should let the management (including the board of directors) decide issues and elect directors.

So, I have done what I advocate often. I’ve voted with my credit card and stopped my subscription. And I wrote to Jo Anne Wallace to express my views. I’m not holding my breath, as the traffic (communication) is one way and predictable. I have not the faintest idea if the proposal to stop members voting passed. I can find nothing on the KQED web about it. In searching I came across the forum area. The Northern California news contained items from 2003! And these were the latest items, of no more than 15 threads.

Community? Relationship? Members? I find all these clues quite telling. And I’m betting that no-one in management ‘gets’ the points I’m talking about.

Sad really, because much of the content, the presentation – and I’m sure the people – is good, sincere, and the sort of stuff I’m keen to support. But it only takes a moment to ‘shift the mood’. Having made that shift, I looked more deeply and the more I looked, the more I doubted. It started a chain of events that led to me withdraw my subscription – and taking the trouble to write and say why. How many more simply evaporate without comment – or never make the commitment at all.

So what’s my point? I think this analog applies to many businesses. They are largely of good intent, with well intentioned – often committed, enthusiastic – people who work diligently to run the organization. But running the organization is NOT the primary purpose, satisfying customer needs is. And yes, I know, as a professional marketer, that the word profitably should be at the end of that last sentence. But revenue, and profit, are both consequences of satisfying customer needs. Get that right – and I do mean RIGHT and the rest follows.

So KQED have become that typical radio station – they are about providing broadcast content to an audience – not about their members.

{Brand, Marketing}

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