What Is Church Marketing?
For several years, my wife was a high school teacher in inner city schools. She believed that no student should graduate without the ability to write clearly, so she often gave writing assignments to her students. Invariably, the compositions she received fell far short of her expectations. At first she assumed that the students had not given her their best effort. After speaking with her students about their work and discussing the matter with other teachers in the school, she realized that her students had indeed done their best; the problem was, nobody had ever taught them how to write. Her students did not understand the basic principles and techniques of communicating through writing.
I had a similar experience not long ago. I was teaching an introductory course in urban planning at a university in New Jersey. Early in the semester, as a discussion starter, I asked the students to describe the services and design considerations (such as street patterns, building height limitations, and so forth) that they would adopt if they could plan a city from scratch. No takers. Assuming that my question was too convoluted, I rephrased it for them. Still no response.
After an extended, uneasy silence, I asked them why they would not answer a question that was so basic it was almost insulting. It turned out that my students had never thought of a city as a living organism that could be consciously designed and developed. They assumed that cities just evolved, without guidance or forethought. They were dumbfounded by my question because they lacked an understanding of the basic principles of urban development.
My students, and my wife’s students, had not failed to perform satisfactorily because they lacked the desire to excel or had an innate inability to master the challenge. They simply had no context in which to understand and analyze the problem. After the problem was identified and the students gained some perspective on the matter, they showed that they were capable of solving the problems.
When it comes to marketing, most local churches are in the same situation as the students I have described. Most churches’ inability to grow is not due to a lack of desire, or even a lack of resources. The truth is, we simply have not grasped the basic principles of marketing and applied them to the Church. The opportunities for successful church marketing are plentiful. All we as a community of believers need to do is gain a proper perspective on the Church and how it can be marketed effectively. Then new and exciting doors of ministry will be opened to us.
A Clear Definition
Many people have a bad impression of marketing. Why? Because many people consider marketing to be just a fancy word for sales. Even the term salesman may conjure up images of middle-aged men with greasy hair in plaid sports jackets trying to sell used cars for double their true value. Many people associate sales and marketing with high-pressure tactics, unscrupulous individuals, and illicit wheeling and dealing.
That is not what marketing is all about. In fact, sales is only one aspect of marketing. Marketing actually involves a broad range of activities such as research, product positioning, awareness development, strategic planning, pricing, advertising, public relations, and audience segmentation. Despite the recent advances in marketing theory and techniques, the basic thrust of marketing is simple: to coordinate related activities intended to make both the producer and consumer satisfied.
Although there is no single definition of marketing that is accepted by everyone, most marketers would feel comfortable with this description:
Marketing is the performance of business activities that direct the flow of goods and services from the producer to the consumer, to satisfy the needs and desires of the consumer and the goals and objectives of the producer.
Notice that marketing is a process a series of activities as opposed to a single event. The aim of marketing is to improve the standing of both parties involved. The consumer is helped because his need is satisfied; the producer is helped because his goals are fulfilled. Marketing, then, is merely the activities that enable a transaction to occur that makes both parties better off than they were before the transaction.
The “Four Ps”
To better understand what is involved in making this favorable transaction occur, let’s look to the words of some leading marketing educators. One of the pioneers in the marketing education field is E. Jerome McCarthy. In his widely used text, Basic Marketing, he describes the “Four Ps” of marketing (product, place, promotion, price).’ He contends that understanding and intelligently dressing the “Four Ps” is a necessary precursor to successful marketing.
Since my goal is to outline a contemporary perspective on how to market the Church, it is important that you understand the basic foundations of marketing. Without getting into an academic treatment of the discipline, let’s briefly examine McCarthy’s framework.
The first of the “Four Ps” is your product. The product is the entity you offer to consumers to satisfy their need. The word product may have connotations that do not do justice to the full range of marketable entities. For instance, a service life insurance or medical care is not a tangible item, but is a marketable product. The bottom line, then, is that a product is an entity provided to the consumer to satisfy his needs while enabling you as the producer to meet your goals and objectives.
To successfully market your product, you have to identify its prospective market. The key to market identification sometimes referred to as “target marketing” is to be as specific as possible in selecting the audience to whom you will market the product. By matching the appeal of your product to the interests and needs of specific population segments, you can concentrate on getting your product to your best prospects without wasting resources on people who have no need or interest in your product.
To use a simple example, it would be foolish for a hearing aid manufacturer to market its product to the entire adult population, even though that population represents 175 million potential buyers. The manufacturer should know its product well enough to recognize that the majority of the potential buyers will be over age fifty. Thus, by knowing the product’s market, the product itself can be developed to address the special needs of that segment, and the entire marketing effort can be designed with maximum efficiency.
The second of McCarthy’s “Four Ps” is the place related to marketing. This concerns distribution, getting the product to the right place for the right audience. In other words, you have to identify where, when, and by whom the product will be transferred to your consumer. Your responsibility is to develop a means of distribution that will provide easy, consistent, and cost-efficient access.
The third “P” is promotion. Communicating the nature and availability of the product is essential for marketing success. There are many ways to promote products, and technological breakthroughs steadily create new options. The most common methods of promotion are mass-media advertising (radio, television, newspaper, magazine), direct marketing (mail, telephone), personal recommendations (word-of-mouth), coupons, and trial offers. Without effective promotion, your product does not stand a chance of succeeding, because your target audience will either remain unaware of your product or will not have compelling reason to evaluate or try your product. Promotion is the way in which you persuade people that the product is available, worthy, a good value, and the way you explain how to acquire it.2
Last, but certainly not least, is the element of price.
Determining the price of a product is a complex task, since that decision incorporates an understanding of the actual production, distribution, and promotion costs; the profit margin you need to make the project worth your time and effort; market competition; and the level of consumer demand for your product. Ultimately, the price charged should bring you a fair and reasonable return on your investment and make the product financially accessible and equitably valued for your target market.
Successful products have blended the four aspects of marketing product, place, promotion, and price into an effective mix. If you achieve the proper balance between these elements, you stand a good chance of having a successful marketing experience.
An Orderly Process
One of the beauties of marketing is that it is an orderly process. It is not a series of random, spontaneous actions that magically result in profitable enterprise. Whenever marketing has played a significant role in an episode of business success, that success can be traced to the fact that all of the marketing activities were systematically undertaken in accordance with a preconceived idea of how to approach the opportunities inherent in the environment.
Marketing, then, is a systematic series of active responses to existing conditions that is geared toward reaching specific goals. Although experts differ in their description of the steps in the marketing process, I want to outline a six-step agenda that we will later examine in greater depth.
The initial step is to conduct research that focuses on the consumers’ attitudes and behavior. Research might reveal how the consumer might react to a new product, what kinds of consumers have the greatest interest in a particular product, which unmet needs a new product might address, how to most effectively reach and communicate with a specific segment of the audience, and so forth.
The reason for conducting research is to reduce the risk involved in marketing. Research allows you to “get close to the customer.” This process, as noted in In Search of Excellence, is one of the traits that distinguishes excellent companies from those that are less than excellent. By providing the marketer with objective information about needs and potential responses, research gives solid direction to the marketing process.’
Armed with objective data about the marketplace, the marketer can then develop a vision, the second step in marketing. Vision encompasses decisions about what audiences to market to and what kind of product will be developed and offered. Vision is the step that weaves together the factual and creative ends of marketing. Research, the fact-finding process, is creatively analyzed to formulate a perspective on how the company’s resources and people’s unmet needs can be merged to achieve the company’s business goals.
If the product does not already exist, the production phase is the third step. The production process provides the marketer with a product that can be brought to the target audience.
But before the product is released, the marketer must have a marketing plan. The fourth step outlines not just the marketing team’s goals and objectives, but also the strategies and specific tactics by which they will satisfy their goals. The marketing plan is a comprehensive report on the timing, costs, assignment of responsibilities, and methods for assessment related to marketing the product. The marketing plan is the Bible of the marketing game; everything that happens in the life of the product occurs because the plan wills it.
The best plan in the world is worthless, however, unless it is fully implemented, which is the fifth step. If the product is to be a success, it must receive the full attention and treatment designated by the plan.
Finally, because marketing is an interactive, flexible process, it has to allow for feedback from key sources such as dealers, agents, consumers, and competitors. The underlying concept is that the life of the product can be extended if the marketing is sensitive to market changes and consumer reactions. Once feedback is received, it needs to be processed quickly and accurately, with resulting modifications in the entire process.
These six steps represent the basic marketing activities, which, of course, encompass a variety of strategies and tactics that must happen if the product is to be marketed satisfactorily. The procedures, as a systematic series, are the same whether you are marketing a household product, a church, or a jet airplane. The strategies and tactics would undoubtedly be different, but the basic process is constant.
NOTES: 1. E. Jerome McCarthy and William Perreault, Jr., Basic Market¬ing (Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin Books, 1987), pages 37-40.
2. Philip Kotler and Alan Andreasen, Strategic Marketing for Non-Profit Organizations (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Publishers, 1987), pages 47-49.
3. Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr., In Search of Excel-lence (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1982), page 14.
The above article, “What Is Church Marketing?” was written by George Barna. The article was excerpted from Barna’s book Marketing The Church.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”