Mobile Enhancing the Performing Arts Center
Company: Verizon Wireless
Brand: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Inc.
“Marketing over the mobile channel has put some real swing in our outdoor dance program. Getting people to cha-cha-cha requires flexibility and fast action, all delivered through our text messaging program,” says Nan Keeton, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Inc.* Lincoln Center is the world’s leading performing arts center, located on 16.3 acres in New York City and hosting over 5,000 performances annually. In the Summer of 2007, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Inc. launched Lincoln Center’s first mobile marketing platform as part of the promotional campaign for the summer outdoor dance series Midsummer Night Swing. This pilot text messaging program featured a Text Alert Program )The Midsummer Night Swing Text Club) and a Cellular Voting Competition )The Mad Hot Midsummer Dance Off). The purpose of this article is to review Lincoln Center’s first foray into investing and experimenting with mobile services.
First Steps in Launching Cellular Marketing at Lincoln Center
To launch this pilot program, Lincoln Center forged a promotional partnership with the New York Metro marketing department of Verizon Wireless. Verizon Wireless absorbed all the program’s costs in exchange for brand exposure via Midsummer Night Swing marketing channels. This partnership’s structure enabled Lincoln Center to test these mobile marketing platforms without a financial investment.
The internal education of Lincoln Center’s staff played an important role in spurring the launch. The Verizon Wireless marketing department invited Lincoln Center staff members to attend various cellular events around New York, showcasing mobile principles and possibilities. Verizon Wireless also worked with Lincoln Center to integrate a fun cellular raffle into an all-employee Lincoln Center staff meeting.
Choosing the Right Program -- Midsummer Night Swing
The Lincoln Center series Midsummer Night Swing, a summer dance series taking place on the Josie Robertson Plaza, provided an ideal set of events for Lincoln Center’s first mobile integration. Comprised of twenty-five out door summer dance parties, the series has a demographic that skews younger than all of Lincoln Center’s other programs, fitting well with American SMS usage patterns. Midsummer Night Swing also reaches a vast audience, with roughly 70,000 people attending the events per year, either as ticket- purchasers or as a spectators.
Mobile Initiative #1 – Text Message Club
Billed as “The Midsummer Night Swing Text Club,” this mobile alert program offered patrons the opportunity to opt-in on their phone and receive exclusive offers and information via text message. To join to the “Text Club,” patrons were prompted to text the phrase “swing” to the cellular short-code 22699. Ten promotional text messages were sent to the growing member base over the course of the season. These “texts” included general promotional announcements, up-to-date rain alerts, a win a free margarita promotion )redeemed by showing a text message at the event’s concession stand) and a 2 for 1 discount )redeemed via an exclusive online promotion code).
Mobile Initiative #2 – Cellular Voting Competition
Incorporated into a single Midsummer Night Swing event, this mobile dance contest featured cellular judging by the event’s attendees. Professional judges from Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance selected a set of finalists from the dancers attending the concert.
The crowd then judged the final round via text messaging by “texting” the bib number )worn by each contestant on their chest and back) of their favorite dancing couple to a uniform short-code. Instantaneous voting results were tabulated wirelessly and projected on a large screen above the stage. Vote-making also entered patrons into a cellular raffle and four winners were sent a “you’ve won” text message with redemption instructions at the end of the night.
The Text Alert Program was launched on May 1 and ran through the entire Swing Season )June 19 – July 21). The platform remains active to increase membership for future cellular initiatives for Midsummer Night Swing 2008.
The Mad Hot Midsummer Dance Off was part of the Midsummer Night Swing July 3rd event, which featured the Todd Londagin Big Band.
All Midsummer Night Swing events took place on Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza. The expansive plaza, located around the iconic Lincoln Center fountain, is in front of the Metropolitan Opera House and adjacent to the sides of the State Theater and Avery Fisher Hall.
Service Providers: Verizon Wireless )New York Metro) and their vendor, Vibes.
Promotional Channels: Opt-in language for the text alert program )accompanied by the Verizon brand) was promoted via various marketing channels. These channels included the Lincoln Center website, Lincoln Center email blasts, print advertising in New York publications and via palm sized flyers that were distributed at select swing events. The cellular dance competition was advertised through email and on the Lincoln Center website.
Text Messaging Alert Program
Text Alert Members: 500 Opt-ins )as of August 15)
Number of Messages Sent: Roughly 3000
Response Rate for Free Margarita Promotion: 4 Redemptions )200 members at the time of promotion)
Coupon Redemption Rate for 2 for 1 ticket promotion: 5% )450 members at the time of offer)
Cellular Mad Hot Midsummer Dance Off Votes: Over 100 unique voters
Press Coverage: The cellular aspects of this program were covered in the New York Times Urban Eye Newsletter and featured in a segment on MSG television.
Phone Prize Redemption Rate: 100%
The intention of this trial was to explore mobile mechanics and to identify future mobile marketing avenues for Lincoln Center. Both SMS integration platforms were successful at achieving these two goals. Lincoln Center learned key lessons about mobile programs, while also identifying ways to perfect and expand its cellular efforts.
The rain alert program, a theoretical cellular customer service feature, proved to be difficult to manage. The delivery of accurate weather-based information was unrealistic, given the allocated resource of a single staff member eyeing the weather on-site. For example, the first rain alert )“The rain has stopped. Put on your dancing shoes and come to Lincoln Center.”), was followed by a severe thunderstorm 10 minutes after text club members received the message. Given the fickle nature of weather, this mobile platform would most likely require a more advanced integration with digital weather reports.
Lincoln Center also learned how important short-code visibility is in cellular voting contests. During the Mad Hot Midsummer Dance Off, many crowd members were unable to see the contestant’s bib numbers )the cellular shortcode worn by the dancing participants). Therefore, the pool of potential voters in the audience shrank dramatically and limited the number of participants. In the future, Lincoln Center plans to project the dancing couples onto a large screen for viewing across the Lincoln Center plaza.
The two most exciting results were the acquisition of 500 members for the text club and the redemption rate of 5% for the mobile coupon. The willingness of 500 passionate swing dancers to opt-in )in spite of the typical 15 cent receiving cost of text messages) is an indication of the level of patron excitement about this new media channel. It was also valuable to learn that the mobile delivery of discount offers )redeemed via promotion codes on Lincoln Center’s website) could be an effective way to stimulate ticket sales. Observing that a mobile platform could work in conjunction with the newly increased functionality of Lincoln Center’s website, LincolnCenter.org, was helpful in the imagining of the center’s mobile future.
For Verizon Wireless, this partnership with Lincoln Center proved to be extremely beneficial as well. “As a premium carrier we are thrilled to partner with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, a premium brand that is both well-respected and multi-cultural,” explains Matt Pyra of the Verizon Wireless New York Metro Marketing Department. Especially exciting to Verizon Wireless were the mentions of the Midsummer Night Swing cellular initiatives in Spanish newspapers and on Telemundo, one of New York’s premiere Spanish television stations. “It was a mutually beneficial partnership on all levels, but particularly in respect to inventive channels of brand exposure,” Pyra continues. Along with Lincoln Center’s marketing channels, Verizon’s logo appeared on a projection behind the performers during the Mad Hot Midsummer Dance Off and Verizon Wireless brand ambassadors mingled with Lincoln Center crowds, educating patrons in person about “texting” technology and how to further use their wireless device.
In addition to Lincoln Center, Verizon Wireless has partnered with other non-profits around the city. Verizon Wireless aims to integrate SMS messaging as a mobile marketing platform into more arts-based organizations in NYC, providing them unique cellular tools to market and educate their patrons.
“We’ll definitely keep mobile marketing for the upcoming season. Particularly in a fast-moving pedestrian city like New York, it’s working,” says Nan Keeton about the pilot Midsummer Night Swing mobile marketing program. Midsummer Night Swing is just one of Lincoln Center’s seven presentation series, which also include Lincoln Center Festival, Great Performers, Mostly Mozart, American Songbook and Lincoln Center out of Doors. However, unlike Midsummer Night Swing, these programs traditionally attract an older and therefore less theoretically adaptive demographic for text messaging. A future challenge for Lincoln Center will be determining the right strategy for integrating mobile platforms into its other series, which include classical music, Broadway, dance, and opera.
Within the past year, Lincoln Center also began the distribution of podcast content over the internet. Lincoln Center’s first Podcast series, named “Vocal Cords,” features artist interviews and sound bytes from recorded performances. Whether it be for revenue generation, education or marketing, the distribution of this type of content over the mobile channel holds many possibilities given the strength the of the Lincoln Center brand.
Campus-based applications for mobile platforms exist as well at Lincoln Center. The Midsummer Night Swing mobile pilot program came on the heels of Lincoln Center’s launch of a campus-wide free WiFi network. Donated by Nokia, Lincoln Center’s new WiFi network allows anyone to surf the web on the plazas with a laptop or handheld mobile device that supports the internet. This WiFi network will give Lincoln Center the capability to deliver exclusive cellular content across the 16 acre campus.
After more than four decades of artistic excellence and service to its community, the nation, and to the world, Lincoln Center is also embarking upon a major transformation initiative to fully modernize its concert halls and public spaces, renew its 16-acre urban campus, and reinforce its vitality for decades to come. A part of this new landscape will be integrated digital information technologies aimed at enhancing the visitor experience. This new digital façade will give Lincoln Center more potential terrain for patron interaction via the mobile channel. Going forward, Lincoln Center will have to also evaluate whether to invest in mobile software with the capability to activate large-scale interactive mobile programs for the campus.
The next steps for Lincoln Center will be continuing to grow the current mobile program for Midsummer Night Swing, while discovering ways to use mobile platforms for its other programs. Plans are already in the works to incorporate a text messaging platform into American Songbook, an annual series of Broadway, bluegrass, country, rock, R&B and soul. Looking ahead, Lincoln Center will continue to explore ways to integrate the mobile channel into the promotional and physical landscape of the performing arts center.
* The Lincoln Center complex is comprised of 12 Resident Organizations, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. is one of those 12. The 11 other organizations are The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Juilliard School, Lincoln Center Theater, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and the School of American Ballet. For the purposes of this article Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Inc. and the campus that it manages will be referred to as Lincoln Center.