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The Core Problem with Church Ministry Marketing

Marketing problem

Marketing is a funny word that gets tossed around a lot to mean different things. What does marketing even mean, why are Christians getting it wrong and why should ministry leaders care?

The American Marketing Association (AMA 2013) offers the following definition of marketing: ‘the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.’

I’m convinced that the core problem with church ministry marketing is that we don’t know what marketing is. We watch annoying (though sometimes pretty cool) advertisements on television and they pop up when we browse the internet and say “this stupid marketing!”. Okay, that’s slightly exaggerated, but you get the point: we don’t get the point of marketing.

For example, when a ministry leader asks someone to do marketing for an event, they’ve usually asked someone to do advertising. This is a problem! We’ve totally misunderstood what marketers spend (at a bare minimum) 3 years studying. Marketers are not trained in advertising – they are trained in marketing.

In general, there are three levels of marketing that are helpful to distinguish between. We can use the example of a youth group evangelistic event, but remember that marketing isn’t a static thing – it’s a process.

 

1. Executive 

At the executive level, the marketer’s job is to understand, refine and communicate an organisation’s vision and mission. The marketer spends his or her time selling not to the market, but the organisation itself. They promote customer orientation up to top management and encourage market-orientation down throughout the organisation. Here is where the marketer clarifies what the organisation offers and why.

For a youth group event, the marketer should begin to:

  • state purpose – to communicate the gospel to our youth and their friends
  • relate vision/mission – fulfilling the great commission and one of our main goals as a youth group
  • develop sales proposal – youth should come to this event to find out more about the difference Jesus makes to your study (or something related to the topic)

 

2. Strategic

This middle level is where the marketer coordinates how to accomplish the executive marketing goal. They must undertake market research and understand the various types of people in the market. He or she appoints a marketing team (if appropriate) and delegates roles, brainstorming creative approaches to making all this happen, such as a main promotional approach.

Again with this example, the strategic marketer would:

  • understand highschool study culture – market research isn’t that fun, but the insights are necessary and sometimes actually cool
  • formulate central promotion concept – the idea will be that “Jesus is in and out of study” related to the main message that Jesus is Lord over all including study, yet study isn’t enough for Jesus… or something weird like that
  • internally communicate promotion concept – up to head leaders (often receiving feedback) and down to everyone else running the event, getting everyone on board and motivated with the look and feel of the event
  • delegate promoters – choose gifted people to create promotional material or verbally ‘sell’ the event such as print advertisers, promotional video editors, or announcement givers, setting clear goals and guidelines

 

3. Operational 

The lower marketing level is not less crucial, being the most over-emphasised area of marketing. Here the marketer should have a set of objectives to reach, an understanding of the potential customers involved and the overarching selling proposition.

Here the marketer must:

  • reach objectives – those set by your manager such as 30% increased awareness of event
  • create and promote – e.g. design flyers that communicate the promotional concept and event details, distribute over the internet, letter-box dropping and person-to-person
  • allow conversation – don’t just disseminate information, talk with prospective customers to gain some qualitative insight that executive or strategic marketers can’t get to

 

All this to show that marketing isn’t as simple as most people think, more than just advertising. The next time you ask someone to ‘do marketing’ for your ministry or event, think about what you’re asking them to help you with. Do you want them to ‘do marketing’ at an executive, strategic or operational level? Communicate their role clearly, and know that if you’ve given them a lower-level position, they need vision, objectives, responsibilities and guidelines.

This isn’t meant to be a complaint, but rather an introduction to Christian Marketing based on my personal struggles in ministry and work. I hope to write more on this subject in the future!

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