A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to speak to a group of seminary students on the topic of what churches can learn from business. While I’m the Communications Director for a large suburban church in New England, the bulk of my 20+ years of professional experience is in marketing in the for-profit world – specifically in the technology and financial services industries. I was invited, along with our Executive Pastor at the time (a former partner at a Big 6 consulting firm), to share some insights from our years of experience in business with these future pastors.
I presented some fundamental ideas of how businesses go about planning and executing their marketing strategies. I touched on a variety of topics, from why a brand is important, to tips for writing copy, to digital marketing basics. I walked in thinking this kind of overview would get the future pastors excited about marketing, and they’d be on their way to being more effective at drawing people into their ministry.
Three minutes into my talk, it became apparent that nothing I was saying was connecting at all. Yet I stammered through it, and in the post-presentation panel discussion, didn’t have a single person ask me a question.
I was left discouraged, and haunted by the nagging feeling that I’d missed the mark. What did they need, what were they ready to hear, that I didn’t mention? Should I have talked more about social media? Helped them with a basic startup church marketing plan? I reviewed my presentation. It all still made sense; everything I presented was sound, fundamental marketing advice.
Then it hit me: there was something I had completely missed. I’d started with the premise that churches and non-profits operate like under-resourced businesses. I had assumed that what these seminarians needed to hear was a simplified, executable version of what I had done all these years in the marketplace.
I had it all wrong.
Not only was I wrong, I was backwards. The reality is that a lot of companies are starting to market like non-profits, and especially churches, have all along. They’re telling stories of how they are making the world a better place. They ask people to engage with their brand, not just buy their products. They’re building communities of followers who act as brand advocates.
When Coca-Cola’s VP of Global Connections Ivan Pollard talked about his favorite campaigns at Cannes Lions, he said that “brands must increasingly be and do before they earn the right to say.”
Companies no longer just want customers, they want converts. And the only way to get them is through being the right organization and doing the right thing to earn the listening ear of the customer.
I was so busy telling the seminary students all about what companies do with market segmentation, media channels, and branding strategy, when I should have been telling them to leverage what they already do: building community, being creative, attracting new people.
So while I use my years of experience in the marketplace in what I do working for a church (well, most of it anyway), this blog is a chance for me to share what I’ve learned about marketing in the non-profit and church world with anyone who faces the challenge of marketing a mission-driven organization. I hope you find it helpful.