Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Learning from marketing in unlikely places

I'm going out on a bit of a limb here, so please bear with me and give this idea a chance. One strategy that I strongly advocate is that we should learn about marketing from every source available. Sometimes ideas come from businesses, other times they come from Psychology literature, while other times they come from non-profit organizations. In fact, we can often learn from marketing in unexpected places. Today, I want to discuss what we can learn from church marketing. Now, I'm specifically not getting into any discussion of religion or advocating any one religion or another, but there are some lessons we can glean from what's going on in modern churches.

The marketing of churches crops up in the news all the time, and it's as controversial (if not more so) as in the library world. There's actually a blog devoted to the topic called Church Marketing Sucks. In doing some reading on the site, I found that there are a lot of similarities between church marketing and library marketing:

  • Like libraries, churches are often trying to expand their reach in their communities to draw in non-users.
  • Monetary profit is not the ultimate measure of success for libraries or churches and there is usually no direct cost for services
  • Both libraries and churches are "selling" what is, for some, an unsought product.
Surely, there are more similarities, and plenty of differences, but overall we have enough in common to learn from one another. In fact, take a look at Church Marketing Sucks' definition of marketing and see if it doesn't strike a chord with libraries. I especially like this definition:
"Marketing is the study and practice of better, faster, cheaper and friendlier. "Making things go more smoothly," as I put it to my students. The product or service a company provides is the "what" of its existence. Marketing is the "how."'
Also, under the section "Is Marketing a Dirty Word?," the author argues,
"Likewise, the process of marketing happens no matter what. We can either realize that and make sure our marketing doesn't suck, or we can ignore it and live in ignorance."
"Remember that the goal here isn't to introduce slick and polished business marketing that ruthlessly targets pockets and cashes in on souls. That's marketing that sucks. Lousy clip art and typos are just as bad as glossy photos of people prettier than your congregation. The goal is being authentic and effective."
The blog is well worth taking a look at for the marketing discussions and analysis that takes place. Again, librarians can find marketing inspiration anywhere and everywhere, so keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to look at marketing in different lights that enrich our own points-of-view.


EmilyC said...

What an interesting take... I like that parallels you draw between the two. One thing that I think we librarians can always bear in mind is that we are in about the most interdisciplinary profession I can think of. Looking for inspiration outside of our immediate field is not only helpful, but necessary. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

Jill said...

Thanks a lot, Emily! I guess I'm preaching to the choir a bit here (no pun intended) with my recommendation of taking a wide view of marketing. I like your point about how librarianship is one of the most interdisciplinary professions out there, so looking outside the field should come naturally. It's really interesting to read some of the discussions on that church marketing blog and in the news articles and how they mirror our own within the profession. I hope you find them to be useful too!

Dox O'Ryan said...

I share your view about being open to seeing great marketing wherever it exists and I'd welcome your thoughts on my blog, doxstop.blogspot.com. To keep folks from clicking away from here, my recent look at this is:
Personification as Marketing...in Religion

I heard a very cool lecture about play called Phaedo written by Plato about his hero, Socrates. Wait, wait, don't check out yet. It turned out to be a great story. Socrates is the star. He's about to be killed for annoying the politicians and he has a couple of groupies hanging out with him. They can't figure out why he's so happy. So he tells them. And along the way builds a story about being completely sure that good and evil are linked to some sort of consequences in the afterlife. The story is simultaneously fantastic as pure relaxing entertainment and, yes, thought-provoking--even if you're trying to avoid thinking and just focus on the story.
Anyway, Socrates is sure that there must be consequences for whether you pick good or evil while you're alive. It dawned on me that if you lived in Socrates' time and believed him...and if you wanted to "market" that idea to the masses, you'd be far more successful if found a way to personify that good/evil/consequences thing. (Certainly more successful than Socrates who was put to death for his trouble.) This had an obvious link to some earlier thoughts about personification of the Republican and Democratic parties. To personify good and evil, you might want someone to be behind the scenes matching actions to consequences. And this is, after all, pretty much the definition of God's job in most faiths (well, after you get past creation of the universe, stars, planets, plants, animals, mankind, etc.). Unless you want God to be simultaneously good and evil, you might also want a Satan, but there could be a lot of disagreement on his role. As abstract a concept as God is, it would certainly be dramatically more concrete than just "good and evil." That might work for a few thousand years. But you know humans. They eventually get jaded, so as a good marketer you need to make the concept more concrete again. You'd want to bring the authority figure down to earth, figuratively and perhaps literally. So you need Jesus. At least initially appearing human, but by all accounts, pretty stand-offish. So you know where this going, right? Over time, you need to get more concrete. Hey, instead of an esoteric son of a carpenter, how about building on a trader, business person…even a military leader? Like, say, Mohammed? This is a crude storyline based on only one dimension of persuasion. And I certainly don't know the true role in the universe of these influential entities/deities. But it's staggering to me that at even such a superficial level you can derive the origins of Christianity and Islam from the simple words of an old, dead Greek guy and one good marketing rule of thumb.

All in all, if you agree that it's compelling to personify the idea you want people to accept--and there's plenty of modern proof this is true--it's a short hop to use Socrates' ideas of good and evil to derive the need for a more concrete being with which to identify good, that is, God…and then Jesus…and then Mohammed…and others who in recent centuries have tried to put themselves in that pantheon. It's like all of religion since the Greeks can be interpreted as marketing for Socrates' view of absolute good and absolute evil. This is a lecture…and story…not to be missed.