In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed how marketers can learn a thing or two from the techniques of televangelists and how religious institutions like Willow Creek Community Church have successfully adopted secular marketing tactics. Now comes the June 13 Wall Street Journal, which discusses how U.S. churches are acting like global brands. To wit:
- The 8,000-strong Flamingo Road Church operates four locations in Florida and virtually through a location on Peru. The church seeks to grow to 50 locations and 100,000 members, not unlike a multi-national corporation. And, just like a global brand, the church uses its own logo, visual identity, and music at all its locations. Church leader Rev. Troy Gramling told The Wall Street Journal he seeks to copy the success of Starbucks and wants to develop “the look, the feel, the branding idea, of what Flamingo Road is.”
Sounds like a CEO talking! But I have some free marketing advice for the reverend: if you really seek to build a global brand for your church, lose the name. Flamingo Road Church is named after its Florida address. But I’m thinking Sin City.
Some might find it distasteful for a religious institution of any denomination to so nakedly embrace marketing. But religious institutions are no different than secular organizations that seek to attract and retain members: they need to make themselves known if they’re going to succeed. And like secular organizations, they can choose any manner of tasteful or obnoxious ways to spread their message through marketing. For instance, Rev. Gramling of Flamingo Road maintains The Potential blog where you can have a conversation with him. Opening up a dialogue in the blogosphere is a natural and smart move. But on the other hand, “prosperity minister” Mike Murdock uses a website and TV appearances to grovel for cash and make vague pronouncements about achieving wisdom. I have no idea what his message is except that he wants your money.
Regardless of whether you share their beliefs, you can see some marked differences in how they use marketing: Gramling being forward looking and conversational, Murdock employing the tired old approach of talking at you.
One cautionary note: for many years Willow Creek became the model mega church of smart marketing by offering people a vibrant, show-biz style alternative to the church-going experience. But Willow Creek focused too much on attracting members with contemporary music, skits, and other forms of experiential marketing. The church didn’t put much thought into keeping its “customers” after they’d joined. The church failed to customize its approach, and now it’s been reeling from a membership exodus. Let’s now see how a religious institution adapts its marketing and “service” approach.