Marketing for a Higher Cause (Part II)

Should religious leaders utilize marketing mix models to satisfy humanity’s hunger for a “Higher Cause” or should they separate themselves and their institutions from its variegated employ? The fact of the matter is that the Church has always been involved in varied forms of marketing (See Part 1: “Mad Men of Holy Heralds”).  Consider Jesus’ description of the disciples as “fishers of humanity” challenged to cast nets of word and action (Matthew 4:19).  Marketing can, unquestionably, be appreciated as another image for “casting” evangelical nets to help humankind “satisfy” its primordial hungers for love, community, personhood, and God. In a world where individuals spend billions of dollars every year searching for a way to gratify the rumblings of the heart, contemporary religious anglers can and should hurl the tackle of appropriate alternatives. They should do so, however, with sincerity, expertise, and prudence!

 

“Spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst . . . You got to change it on the inside first to be satisfied”

Van Morrison

Can hunger alter identity? Is it possible to actually become someone else – lose your personality simply by being deprived of a chocolate candy bar? Snickers, a brand name confectionary of Mars, Inc., the third largest privately held company in the United States, has based its most recent marketing campaign on this exact premise. Dubbed, “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry!” the global promotional scheme is grounded on the insight that hunger does, indeed, have the power to modify personality, performance, and perception.

Awarded numerous professional accolades for creativity, the rich-media advertisements developed by the renowned New York-based marketing firm of Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV), ingeniously position celebrities in commonplace roles currently occupied by people who are hungry. When the ill-placed celebrity is offered a bite of a Snickers candy bar, the face of the original character miraculously returns. In so doing, the company illustrates how their product can satisfy to the point of actually “bringing back” an individual’s authentic self. By substituting characters whose personalities clearly do not belong in a particular context, Snickers humorously demonstrates how chocolate covered roasted peanuts, caramel, and nougat, can restore lost and dysfunctional personalities by simply satisfying their physical hunger.

 

snickers-adThe “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry!” campaign has rejuvenated the 80-year old international Mars brand across 58 global markets. Based on the classic “4-P” marketing mix of product, place, promotion and price, the extremely successful strategy has impressively increased the company’s value sales by 6% in one year helping Snickers retain its position as the world’s most popular chocolate candy bar.

Notwithstanding its lucrative impact, the inventive marketing venture illustrates the regrettable use of universal urges and human sensibilities for the sole purpose of swaying targeted consumer response. Aside from providing a virtual arena for creative expression and vigorous competition among merchandise and service providers, the “4-P” marketing mix does not have a virtuous reputation among many consumers. Characterized as merely a framework for deceptive allurement, the marketing mix is often abridged as a framework for wily advertisement that employs bright colors, popular personalities and catchy jingles to promote misleading pan-ultimate promises of health, wealth, and exultation through the consumption of feeble temporal products.

One such example is the American owned shoe company Skechers that once used the fashionable Kim Kardashian to endorse its Shape-up Sneakers, claiming that one need only “tie his or her shoes to lose weight.” The Federal Trades Commission (FTC) disagreed, forcing the American shoe company to pay a $40 million settlement to consumers. The ruling was poignantly announced one year after Reebok made a similar promise that its Easy-Tone Shoes and clothing automatically contributes to weight loss. Not withstanding its claims, the German owned subsidiary of Adidas was fined $25 million.

Most consumers innately realize that the outlandish banter of novel banner ads promising instant wealth creation, weight loss, youth, and personality restoration should be regarded with ample suspicion. However, assurances emanating from more familiar product and service brands are unfortunately routinely regarded as putative. In light of the aforementioned, questions and concerns pertaining to the suitability of employing marketing strategies to promote the message, ministries, and services of Faith-based institutions are, most certainly, vital and germane.

Should religious leaders utilize marketing mix models to satisfy humanity’s hunger for a “Higher Cause” or should they separate themselves and their institutions from its variegated employ? The fact of the matter is that the Church has always been involved in varied forms of marketing (See Part 1: “Mad Men of Holy Heralds”). Consider Jesus’ description of the disciples as “fishers of humanity” challenged to cast nets of word and action (Matthew 4:19). Marketing can, unquestionably, be appreciated as another image for “casting” evangelical nets to help humankind “satisfy” its primordial hungers for love, community, personhood, and God. In a world where individuals spend billions of dollars every year searching for a way to gratify the rumblings of the heart, contemporary religious anglers can and should hurl the tackle of appropriate alternatives. They should do so, however, with sincerity, expertise, and prudence!

Christianity has long understood both the need and inherent dangers associated with the redress of humanity’s sundry appetites. Long before corporate Mad Men stumbled upon the linkage of hunger and consumption, the Church was already offering spiritualized alternatives for the satisfaction of the most basic of human cravings. However, while Jesus’ famous conversation with a thirsty Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and the miracle of feeding of 5,000 people illustrates the rank of satisfying physical needs (Luke 9:12-17), the Galilean was likewise intent on inspiring individuals to look beyond their concern with earthly provision, position, and prosperity to solutions of a more critical spiritual sway.

Neil Borden coined the term “marketing mix” in his 1953 American Marketing Association presidential address. The idiom was actually a reformulation of an earlier concept used by his associate James Culliton, who in 1948 described the role of the marketing manager as a “mixer of ingredients.” In 1960, the prominent management scholar E. Jerome McCarthy, further refined the marketing ingredients by proposing a “4-P” classification of product, place, promotion and price.

Although McCarthy’s classic four-part model has since been used throughout the world, current modifications include an important additional ingredient, namely “purpose.” The current “5-P” mnemonic arrangement clearly reveals a valuable capacity for religious leaders who are so inclined to fearlessly refine its framework for use within their respective institutional contexts. While a brief review of the process follows, each of the five marketing ingredients will be more fully examined in subsequent issues of Frankly Speaking.

 

The “5-P” Marketing Mix

Product: Product refers to the unique and primary mission of a business or non-profit enterprise. Product connotes a service or item that consumers perceive to either need or want. It includes a careful examination of market conditions, production costs, quality assurance, brand name, functionality, styling, safety, packaging, warranties and accessories.

Accordingly, the product (offerings) of the Church includes the messages, ministries, and services that extend the gift of Salvation (Ephesians 1:13; 1 Peter 1:9). Christian institutions should, therefore, shift their marketing focus from vague pronouncement and platitudes to specific descriptions of opportunities they may provide for personal development, service to humanity, safeguarding creation, and for experiencing the love and forgiveness of God.

It should here be emphasized that integrity requires religious leaders to honestly describe the flaws and imperfections of their respective offering, ministry and/or service, as there is nothing more distasteful than discovering that that the local Faith-based community, promoted as loving, faithful and obedient to the exhortations of the Gospel, is, in truth, splintered into politically-charged variegated groups and, thereby, on the verge of implosion!

 

Price: Price refers to the established value/cost of a product or service. Price/cost should not be restricted to monetary conditions but understood as also expressing the exchange of time, energy, or attention.

Contrary to popular belief, the primary offering of the Church – Salvation – is not free! While accessible to all, this “priceless gift” presupposes an extraordinary “covenantal exchange” between the Donor (God) and the recipient (humanity). While this “exchange” should never be defined in terms of an equitable swap inaugurated by stewardship pledge, donation, or annual membership levy, it nonetheless should be honestly described as an intimate relationship that entails a life-long process of crucifixions (sacrifices). By challenging adherents to “deny themselves,” to “take up their crosses” and “follow Him,” Jesus clearly indicated the high “cost” of faithfulness (Matthew 16:24-26). Consequently, although each should never compare their personal offerings against those of others, in its most rudimentary form, the “price” of Salvation includes an ever-increasing level of commitment to Christ, and to the primary provider of His Gift – the Church.

The following partial listing of services and ministries offered by the Catholic Church in America underscores the value of their their societal impact, and the high cost that the public would be compelled to subsidize should the institution, for one reason or another, be prevented from continuing its mission. Today, one out of five people in America receive their medical care at a Catholic hospital. The Catholic Church teaches 3 million students a day, in its more than 250 Colleges and Universities, 1200 High Schools, and its more than 5000 Catholic grade schools. Every day, the Catholic Church feeds, clothes, shelters and educates more people than any other organization in the world.

Understood in such a fashion, church activities (worship, education, fellowship, philanthropy) should all be honestly promoted in terms of their significant societal value/impact and the price/cost in time, effort, and expertise required for their sustainability. The days when the local religious community was the primary source of social, intellectual, and culinary satisfaction are long past. As such, contemporary religious leaders should recognize the price/cost associated with conventional and extraordinary ministry and outreach strategies and make certain that the perceived value/benefits of these “offerings” remain high. Likewise, the purpose and/or benefit of so-called “complimentary” events should be clearly communicated, otherwise potential participants may chose to not “spend” their time and resources in such a way.

 

Place: Place customarily refers to the methods and/or locations used to connect product to customer. This category typically includes decisions concerning distribution channels, inventory management, transportation, warehousing, and competitive differentiation.

For churches and other faith-based institutions, place includes worship services, sanctuaries, hospitals, schools, fellowship buildings, electronic outlets, and varied ministry programs. Like Jesus who frequently traveled to make Himself accessible to differing regions and people, attention should be given to designing religious distribution channels that identify and leverage the “charisms” (talents, resources) that differentiate one local community from another to reach the “hunger” of non- as well as nominally-religious individuals.

To do so, religious leaders must boldly jettison and replace the parochial and insular with more incarnational ministry models that engage society and allow the message and ministries of the Church to extend beyond the traditional confines of geographic, ethnic and institutional boundaries. Only by authentically fostering the requisites of such outreach can contemporary religious institutions effectively provide more salubrious alternatives to the slick Snickers-based promises of personality, performance and perception advanced by Madison Avenue marketers.

 

Promotion: Promotion refers to the various ways of communicating the value/benefits of a particular product or service. Promotion includes the varied tactics of marketing communications. This category involves commitment, enthusiasm and respect in assuring that marketing messages reach a targeted audience. As information about the product/service must be communicated with the goal of generating positive customer response, promotional decisions will include the strategic use of advertising, public relations, publicity and media.

“Taste, and see,” insists the Psalmist, “that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)! This, in essence, is the Church’s evangelical imperative to promote the satisfying nuggets of God’s love, light and truth to a ravenous world. Through the effective use of appropriate promotional strategies religious institutions are given the opportunity to propose alternative answers to humanity’s deepest physical as well as spiritual needs.

Like the marketing mix ingredient of place, however, the Church can no longer reasonably expect current and future adherents to seek out the Yellow Paged locations of the nearest parish. Consequently, apart from more traditional mailings, radio and/or televised communications, effective outreach strategies must now include rich-media Twitter, Facebook, text and Internet-based messages that relate the message and service of the Church with relevant news and societal concerns.

Effectual promotion must, therefore, be carefully crafted and related to a target audience. Aside from accurately expressing the mission, vision, and most current aspirations of a local faith community, design and strategies of promotional outreach should also convey authentic concern for the suffering, lapsed and non-churched. In fact, one recommendation would be to set aside appropriate moments during liturgical celebrations when worshipers are given the opportunity and permission to text prayerful messages of love and concern to absent family members, friend and loved ones. Imagine the impact of receiving such a real-time message of sincere love and invitation!

 

Purpose: Speaking to the JRE Group of Institutions in Greater Noida, Japan (March 2013), Philip Kotler suggested that “purpose” be added to the classic marketing mix. “Purpose is the fifth ‘P’ of the marketing mix,” Kotler announced to a rapturous audience. “Purpose is as important, if not more, than the earlier four.” Explaining further, the Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management said that while the primary mission of most businesses entities is to increase revenues, “this is not enough. Every marketer must also have a higher purpose, namely, to make a difference to other people.”

The inclusion of “purpose” in the marketing mix provides the Church and its institutions an effective filter for safeguarding their divinely apportioned missions. By striving to make a real difference in the lives of people, purpose provides a Church-based marketing mix its unique and distinctive character. By using promotional strategies that emphasize engagement and service to the local community as the primary temporal context for its otherwise eternal focus, the Church can invite current and potential adherents to share in opportunities to love their neighbors, care for creation, and encounter the living God. Only by applying its pastoral and ministerial concerns in the advance of respect, dignity and worth of others in such a strategic fashion can Faith-based institutions begin to more effectively solicit commitments, approaches, techniques, and perspectives best suited to the needs of differing contexts.

The “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry!” campaign is a reminder that humanity has legitimate needs, desires, and aspirations. Apart from feeling the need to make a difference in the world, and/or be a part of something larger than themselves, most individuals hunger to discover their “authentic” selves. The Church should consider utilizing “5-P” marketing mix strategies to more effectively address these needs, thereby providing the appropriate motivation for further engagement and/or return. When religious leaders fail to connect with these needs, they produce institutional adherents who only attend for reasons of routine. However, when needs are met, people are willing to contribute their time, talent and resources to advance any cause.

An important caveat should here be underscored. Marketing principles start with the premise of meeting the needs of customers by first ascertaining what they want and require. While every spiritual gift responds to a specified need, this is, nonetheless, not the vantage point (human rather than Divine) from which to establish a firm marketing foothold for the Church. Saint Paul correctly warned religious leaders of his day to “seek and please God, rather than people” (Galatians 1:10). Marketing orientation geared to satisfying customer or user needs may be effective for business, but as Saint Paul concludes not the Church! The Church must, nonetheless offer her mission, message, and ministry in ways that express the un-changing truths of the Gospel in ways that also satisfy the “hungers” of body, soul and spirit.

Long before Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV) discovered the connection between hunger, inner emptiness, and personality, the Church understood how its sacramental provisions were capable of providing true and lasting satisfaction. As a result, throughout Her history, the church has masterfully “cast” its liturgical, pastoral and catechetical nets as the primary means for “bringing back” the authenticity of personhood. What could be more essential for today’s religious institutions than to appropriately employ the marketing mix of “5-P” strategies to effectively promote such life-satisfying messages and ministries to a morally confused and spiritually malnourished culture!

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Rev. Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS…
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