Discover more from Len Wilson
2023-11-09 Invite Champions Weekly
Friends, this week we are blessed by some thoughts on the confluence of marketing and Christianity from one of the premier ad men in the world: Mike Elms.
An active Christian, Mike has more than 40 years’ experience in business, marketing and advertising. As UK CEO of two major ad agencies, Ogilvy & Mather and Tempus Group plc, he has worked with a wide range of blue-chip companies at C-Suite level, including Unilever, Nestle, Ford, Mercedes, Chrysler, DHL, Shell and Guinness. He learned the craft from the original Mad Man and Father of Advertising, David Ogilvy. You couldn’t ask for a more knowledgeable perspective. Read his entire bio here.
Mike is also an Invite Press author, with his first title slated for spring 2024 release. I am thankful for his witness. I hope you are encouraged today. - Len
First, let’s get this out front and central.
I’m an adman.
And a marketing guy.
Does this make me a son of Satan?
Well, that’s your call.
Bur hear me out first.
I’ve scanned the 10 Commandments and I can’t see ‘Thou shall not market goods or services’ listed.
Nor can I see ‘Thou shalt not advertise.’
But I can see ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’ and I’ll return to this later.
Whether you cast me as saint or sinner will probably depend on your view of what marketing is all about.
So, that’s what this piece is all about.
You may have a lawn in your back yard, or out front.
Lawns are made of grass and, as we all know, grass grows. And grows. And grows.
We could pray for God to stop the grass growing…
…or we could use the lawn mower God has blessed us with to do it ourselves.
Like the lawn mower, marketing is a tool. A God-given tool.
It is used widely as a commercial tool. But it is also used as a charitable tool, a political tool, and a social tool.
It has also been used as an evangelical tool. We’ll get to see some Biblical examples later.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s get back to what marketing is all about.
And, just importantly, what it isn’t all about.
Here’s the first takeaway headline (I know how Len likes these)
Marketing is about helping people to buy.
It’s not about offering seductive, false promises of efficacy (we can leave that to snake-oil sellers).
And it’s not about brainwashing (that’s the job of propagandists).
It’s not actually about selling: that’s the job of the salesforce, or the retail outlet, physical and digital.
Nor is it just about advertising. That’s part of the marketing process for sure, but it is by no means the whole enchilada.
What marketing is about is providing people with the truthful, trustworthy information they need to make a purchase, to cast a vote, to donate to a charity, to believe in a cause.
(Please note ‘truthful’: I said I’d return to ‘not bearing false witness’).
The best marketing seeks to create a relationship based on honesty, trust, and transparency.
Fundamental to that is understanding the customer, donor, voter, supporter.
Really understanding them.
Not as a set of target audiences, or demographics, or market segments.
Or any other kind of label.
But to understand them as people. Real people. Their wants, needs, dreams, desires, beliefs. The way they live their lives.
Traditional qualitative and quantitative research methods provide flashes of insight, but often only scrape the surface superficially, and fall short of a full, in-the-round understanding.
Which is why marketers have added ethnographic research to their armoury. Extended face-to-face interviews in the interviewee’s own environment.
Some ethnographic studies have seen the researcher live with a family for a week or more.
Literally coming alongside their audience, enabling the consequent marketing to do the same.
Armed with this understanding of the audience, the marketer then needs to be equally diligent in interrogating the product.
Objectively and honestly.
Does it deliver?
Does it meet the customer’s wants and needs? Does it live up to their dreams, desires, and beliefs?
Does it? Or doesn’t it?
That is the question. To misquote Hamlet.
If the answer is ‘no’, it must be sent back to the drawing board.
The old adage says that ‘you may be able to sell a bum product once, but you won’t sell it twice.’ In these days of social media reviews you’re unlikely to be selling any of it ever again.
Marketing is an expensive process and using it to try and paper over the cracks in product performance will see a lot of money flushed straight down the drain.
So, back to the key questions the marketer must ask of the product or service: Does it meet a need? Does it solve a problem? Does it offer a benefit?
If the answer is yes, yes and yes; the issue then is how that can be communicated creatively, persuasively, distinctively, persistently.
(That’s a whole different topic, worthy of its own thought-piece).
But to stick to the topic of this one.
Marketing is about helping people to buy.
To do that, it needs to stand in its audience’s shoes, to see things: their world; their needs; the product; from their point of view.
Because here’s the second takeaway:
Marketing looks from the outside in, not the inside out.
Marketing looks at the product, the service, the company, the charity through the customer’s eyes.
It realises it needs to position the product, service, company, charity in their minds.
(That too is a whole different topic, another worthy of its own thought-piece).
Marketing understands the imperative of matching a real product benefit to real customer needs; not trying to create a set of fictional customer needs to match an underwhelming product offering.
So, there you have it.
Job done. Thought-piece finished.
Well, no, actually.
Because now I’d like you to go back and re-read this whole piece but substituting the word ‘faith’ for ‘product’, or ‘service’, or ‘company’, or ‘charity’.
And then reflect upon it.
As you do so, you’ll maybe find yourself standing in Paul’s shoes in Athens as he delivers an evangelical marketing masterclass.
Or slipping into Jesus’ sandals as he weaves his Parable stories and preaches his sermon on the Mount.
Paul conducted his own ethnographic research exercise before making his address. He spent days wandering the streets of Athens, observing the people, soaking up the culture.
He found a gap in the market, the unknown God, and positioned Christianity perfectly to fit into it.
It didn’t float everyone’s boat, but he did get an invite for a return gig. The second sale!
Jesus went a lot further. He spent over 12,000 days, 33 years, on his ethnographic research.
In Jesus, God birthed himself into his own creation. Much as an artist may draw herself into her own painting; an author write themselves into their own novel.
The Son looked at the Father through human eyes and so made a new covenant.
And he came alongside people telling them stories, parables, which conveyed eternal, spiritual truths in the form of temporal, everyday stories.
He could do this because he made the effort and took the time to understand us, really understand us – our hopes & fears, ambitions & inhibitions; certainties & doubts.
Here’s a question: how might Jesus preach to us today?
Would he focus on the Gospel, tell us what is distinctively different about it, the unique benefits it offers, the way in which it perfectly matches our spiritual needs?
Would he do this creatively, persuasively, persistently? Tell us some 21st century parables maybe?
Yep, for sure.
Because he gets us.
Would he apologise for his apologetics?
Nope, for sure.
He’d just get on with helping us buy into him.
Invite Resources has a Mission.
To invite people into the Kingdom.
By publishing and marketing books that attract people, attractively.
Inviting resources that help them buy into Jesus.