That Nasty Word, Marketing

The use of the word “marketing” continues to
be unacceptable to many in the mainline because they identify it with
manipulation and commercial exploitation.
(I am posting a series of thoughts on the disengagement of the mainline denominations from mainstream media over the past thirty years that results in the absence of the mainline voice from the public dialogue. This is the eleventh installment.)

By the year
2000…advertising
and public
relations will
no longer
be dirty words
for mainline
churches.
General Secretary
Roger L. Burgess
United Methodist
Communications
1990

Unfortunately, Roger, they still are. And so is marketing, and branding. The lack of strategic planning for integrated messaging takes shape in many ways. Research and strategic planning are sometimes denigrated as catering to the lowest common denominator, betraying a prophetic mission, or simply caving in to the whims of the audience.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of marketing afoot inside mainline groups. Marketing and branding are viewed as manipulative tools of commerce lacking theological integrity. We have the gospel, I was told recently, we don’t need marketing or branding. However, marketing can be informed by the gospel. When conducted properly, marketing is a relationship built on listening, identification of needs and problem-solving.

David Wolfe (Ageless Marketing) says that the vision of marketers must change from being hucksters to healers. He tells marketers that the future will be disorder.

I would add that we are experiencing disorder as institutions don’t serve us well; government is unresponsive; politicians don’t lead; some religious folks behave scandalously; and some corporate executives are greedy beyond belief.

Wolfe says enlightened marketers today describe their role as “healers.” Rather than pitching unwanted goods or services they listen to their customers and offer solutions to the problems they identify. Sometimes, however, I think it’s futile to press this explanation on some mainline folks.

The use of the word “marketing” continues to be unacceptable to many because they identify it with manipulation and commercial exploitation. which are antithetical to the gospel. Too often, this results in messages that are not as relevant as they might be and not delivered in a focused, integrated way to greatest impact. This mutes the voice of the mainline.
I wish, for example, that instead of turning away from the country music audience the mainline denominations had addressed addictions, healthy family relationships, money management and civics for the common good from within the culture of the music instead of merely critiquing it and diminishing those who seek some relief in it and through it.

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