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Cultivating customers. One way an organization connects -- and markets -- itself to customers is by fostering identification, which encourages a customer to say, "This is part of who I am."

"Harley Davidson, Ben and Jerry's, and Saturn have for years created identification for their customers," says C.B. Bhattacharya, SMG associate professor of marketing. "Museums and other nonprofits also create identification, but not as successfully. Since keeping a customer is significantly cheaper than getting a new one, it's critical that nonprofit organizations make that same connection with their members."

Recently, Bhattacharya and two colleagues from Emory University investigated member identification in a major urban art museum, where they found that members had an initial "honeymoon period," with identification leveling off over time. They also discovered that people with memberships in more than one museum identified less with each. "Memberships identities don't stand alone," he says. "They compete with each other, and weaken the bonds in each relationship."

On the positive side, high-level members felt more connected to the museum, perhaps because of the frequent and more visible contact with the museum they tended to have. "We also saw the greater the satisfaction with an organization, the more people identified with it -- and the longer they stayed part of it," he says.

"Managers of museums and other nonprofits can do four things right now to build a marketing strategy of identification," he says. They must develop communication strategies that incorporate both the tangible and intangible benefits of membership. More contact between member and organization -- which can be a simple monthly mailing, he notes -- must be created. And, raising the perception of the prestige associated with the organization will also be likely to raise a member's commitment to it.

"Finally, since many museum memberships lapse because people just don't visit that often and therefore feel they're not getting their money's worth, museums may consider developing a range of pricing options," he says. "For instance, de-emphasizing unlimited free admission, for people who don't visit frequently anyway, might help retain those members."

Genetic surprise. For many years identical twins, who grow from the same fertilized egg, were considered to be identical in every respect, down to their genetic makeup. Yet sometimes only one twin would develop a genetically linked disease, such as schizophrenia. Traditionally, scientists attributed such cases to environmental effects. They believed that although both babies might carry a genetic predisposition to the disease, only the child who experiences an outside "triggering" event would develop it.

Not so, says Cassandra Smith, professor of biomedical engineering and deputy director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology. Her work sequencing the genomes of identical twins has proven that there are differences in the genes themselves. "The differences between a set of twins' genes are less than one percent," she says, "but they definitely exist."

Smith traveled to Twinsburg, Ohio, this past summer for the annual Twins Convention, where she took a variety of genetic samples from more than 80 sets of twins. "Almost all studies so far have been done on blood alone," says Smith, "but in many instances blood cells migrate between twins in utero, resulting in a mixture of cells from both in the blood of each twin. Taking other kinds of samples gives us a more accurate picture."

Smith is working on a simple diagnostic tool to test for genetic differences in twins. It will provide valuable information in organ transplant cases as well as insight into fundamental questions about twins and their biological relationships.

Most important, looking at genomic differences in twins where only one has developed a disease such as schizophrenia will provide vital information that may enable scientists to quickly locate -- and ultimately repair -- defective genes for a host of genetically linked diseases. "Identifying the cystic fibrosis gene took more than 10 years and cost more than $120 million," explains Smith. "Methods have improved since then, but this work may be key to a faster, far less expensive process. By looking at twins and identifying and sequencing only the areas where the genome doesn't match, we've simplified the process by more than 90 percent."

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
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