Dear CMO:
I couldn’t think of a controversial topic, so let’s talk about faith-based marketing. First, a clear and open admission. I’m not a faith-based marketing expert. Never gone down this path. Not once. But there’s a story to tell here, so stick with me.
Here’s my first impression. Marketing through faith-based channels has got to be fraught with peril. I would think you’d have to ask yourself if you’re really doing “good” according to whatever definition of “good” feels right to you. Let’s face it, we react one way when we are exposed to a marketer’s message at the supermarket and another when we come across it at the opera. Naturally, one must be prepared to defend why your product or service belongs in a context where the audience’s defenses are down and thoughts are turned towards a less secular purpose. And yet there are countless brands pushing their wares through faith-based organizations.
What gives you the moral authority to push your message through faith-based channels? Hell if I know (oh, sorry). But here’s a likely short list:
1. I am a member of a faith-based organization and therefore I market through a social group that makes sense to me and to my audience. Buy your new car from me because I’m like you; we’re both members of this church. This is an example of “liking” as a means of social influence.
2. I am benefiting a cause or non-profit that makes sense to a faith-based audience. This could be a cause-related promotion benefiting an institution that also benefits from a faith-based organization or something similar. Again, a good example of “liking,” with this one connecting the two via a shared interest in a third entity.
3. I am promoting something that is of great interest to a faith-based audience. You do $350 million at the box office with your foreign language, graphically violent and R-rated movie (called Passion of the Christ) when you promote it heavily through faith-based channels.
4. I am promoting a service that dovetails in with a faith-based entity’s priorities. What are the priorities of a faith-based organization? What value-add to they bring to a community? For those who attend church, many see religious leaders as important members of their personal support system and someone they’d go to in times of great stress. Do you offer a product or service that genuinely helps people who need help?
I don’t know how many of you fall into any of the above four examples, but I’m working with a client today that falls into the fourth group and this is leading me to begin to understand the mechanics of “spreading the word” (lower case “w” in this case) through a vast community of highly involved members who usually have no formalized means of communication. This isn’t like tapping into Radio Shack’s satellite training every Monday morning. I hope I find out that the Southern Baptist Convention does this, but so far, I’m not sure they do. I’m aware of organizations like InService America, one of the key players in promoting Passion when it was released and a few others, but when you’re a start-up, you don’t often have the option of moving in such circles.
We’re pursuing our launch through the counselling arm of the various church groups we’ve been working with and moving forwards with a face-to-face, pastor to pastor warm hand-off approach at each stage. So far, so good. The story holds up well, which is the real litmus test of any marketing effort, and we’re comfortable starting modestly and growing organically. Yes, of course, I’d like to grow as quickly as the message can be assimilated and embraced. We’ll see what this means as we move forward.
Thank you to those who have provided extremely good advice on this subject (Kem, that would be you, as well as Lora, who is blog-less), and I’d welcome insights from anyone else who has gone down this path, as well. And while I try to keep my current projects fairly abstract in my blogging, feel free to take a look at how helping people at the bottom of the pyramid can make sense.