Thursday, July 9, 2009

Marketing: A Lesson of Faith

Marketing is a funny thing. We love to hate it. Marketing seeks to sell product and drive behavior by reshaping the consumer's perception of needs and wants. If I can convince you that you want something, then I have a chance of selling it to you. If I was already looking for a solution to my ever-frustrating garlic pealing conundrum, then your Robo-Magic Garlic Peeler would be heaven-sent, and then all the marketing had to do was inform me of its existence and steer me to a retail outlet. 

But, thing get more insipid when I didn't already lament my pain of garlic extraction. What if I was perfectly happy with my peeling solutions? Then the marketer has to convince me that they are sub-par and are causing me pain. Stinky fingers? Risk of impaling yourself on that chef's knife? Gosh, I hadn't thought of that... maybe I should get a Robo-Magic! 

Worse, what if I don't eat garlic? Then the marketer has to convince me that I would eat that healthy stuff if only peeling weren't an obstacle. Tired of italian food without the pizazz? Garlic is missing - but you fear it, you poor dear. Here.. have a RoboMagic! Lower your cholesterol with more flavor!

I was reading my friend Rutherford's blog entry today, and commented that religious organizations can teach us a whole heck of a lot about marketing. Most people don't fret over their eternal salvation at a young age, but at some point, it becomes ingrained, either due to a youthful spiritual education or some live-changing event in which they confront their own mortality. The decision to subscribe to a faith occurs at some point, but truly, this is an ongoing decision that occurs with every sunday of football missed for church, or every bite of pepperoni pizza given up in the name of kosher laws. A religious organization is asking its congregents to make ongoing "purchase decisions" in compliance with the teachings of the faith. 

Setting aside the truth or falsehood of major and minor religions, this is a huge marketing problem - and one that, to a greater or lesser degree, has been mastered by all major faiths through thousands of years of experience. We have a lot to learn from these folks. 

With precious little in the way of Sham-Wow demonstrations of product effectiveness (though, some rather compelling demos are used in some groups), purchase decisions are made every day. How?  

  • Buzz. The hype-o-meter in religious circles is always high, since the community talks about - well - itself, the latest sermon, the upcoming holiday, etc. The people maintain the hype for the church/organization. It is as though the company's brand was included in 10% of all tweets. Fantastic. 
  • Viral Marketing. Evangelism and missionary work deploy unpaid folks to sell product for the organization. Teams of these people, who are the religious equivalents of GreenPeace activists, are deployed, often informally on college campuses and formally in third world countries to spread the word. 
  • Low Early Commitment. Everyone knows you can't sell a product that requires the user to make a huge early commitment. Best to try before you buy. One sermon. One Shabbat dinner. We'll even feed you. There's cake. Just try one... 
  • Embrace and Extend. Microsoft knows that the best way to .. er.. gain traction in a new market is to embrace what already exists and extend it in a way that benefits the company itself. So, Jews for Jesus - everything you love about being jewish - with a twist! Don't go koshering up your entire kitchen.. but maybe give up pork? Little steps that feel comfortable and familiar. 
  • Frequent Follow Up. The LDS church is a master of this (Shout out, Mormons!). Every week you get a visit from another church member. It's organized. It's free. It makes sure you stay in the fold (and are doing well, and aren't dead in a house full of cats, and aren't starving, or suicidal or anything). Every sales guy knows you have to maintain customer relationships, not just drop in once a year to do a Christmas upgrade. Hey, while I'm here, maybe you can come to church on sunday? there's going to be cake! 
  • Habit Forming. The real kicker in any marketing plan is to become habit forming. Not really in a tobacco kind of way - more like, in a post-it note way. If I took away your post-its, how peeved would you be? So, I can't imagine a wedding without a huppah. You can't imagine Christmas without midnight mass. Over enough time, it just becomes "the way things are." 

It may seem.. skewed.. to look at religion as a template for ideal marketing. But then think - what would it take to make your collateral relevant in 200 years?


Priya said...

if you define marketing as the practice of getting people to willingly part with scarce resources in pursuit of something they are told they should desire, it makes perfect sense.

excuse me, i have to go save up to buy a papal indulgence now.

rutherfordl said...

Lilac, first thanks for the shoutout to my blog. Based on the comment you made in my neck of the woods, I knew your post on this would be sensational and it was.

You've boiled down the "religious marketing campaign" to all its proper elements. So the question remains, how do you account for non-believers like me. Am I just a "hard-sell"? Or perhaps the judeo-christian marketing campaign hasn't focused on my wants and needs? For example, I kinda like that promise of a bevy of virgins. Who knows, maybe Islam is more my speed? ;-)

Lilac - Like The Flower said...


hmm. I would wonder - did you not grow up in it? otherwise, you need intervention of marketing during a trying time... often times marketing is about timing and message. So, if the message wasn't there in the right time, you might miss it entirely. Like cereal straws. If I were 10, those might be compelling. at 31... they are.. laughable.

rutherfordl said...

Now you've really stumbled upon something! Religion is best sold to the young (like cereal straws) because once you're older a lot of it can be potentially laughable.