Marketing Lessons To Learn From Religion

Politics and religion both are taboo subjects for marketing writers to discuss. Neither institution wants its members to know that at their core, they are two of the strongest examples of successful marketing in our society. They are so successful because most don’t even consider the fact that they are marketing.

By me even broaching this topic some of you are already shifting in your chairs.

Why? Because you probably subscribe to some sort of political belief and some sort of religious belief. Politics are often discussed openly, however today I would like to discuss religion from a marketing perspective as I have not seen that done nearly enough.

Religion is concurrently the most successful, yet most ignored example of the efficacy of marketing. If you are offended by me talking about religion as marketing, then the point has already been proven.

Think about it:

  • Countless religions the world over have packaged a compelling story which has been improved and edited for generations.
  • Religious leaders wrap their story in messaging and jargon that feels legitimate to many people.
  • Religion offers both tangible benefits (community) and intangible benefits (promise of afterlife) at both a monetary and time cost to you.
  • Religion successfully rallies people the world over to publicly brand themselves as subscribers and work without any compensation as word of mouth marketers to attract new members to their religious brand of choice.
  • Religions have logos.
  • People gather at their religion of choice’s physical location with frequency.
  • People celebrate during established days during which they devote time, make purchases and give resources to their religion of choice.
  • Other viewpoints and even science are told to be wrong, because questioning truth has been blocked by design.
  • Religion fights change to keep itself relevant by updating or changing its messages, its appearance and the manner it spreads.

Much of the business and marketing world clearly has taken cues from what religion has done successfully for centuries.

It would be naive of us to ignore that our species is open to manipulation by messages during early stages of development. This is where religion grows its roots in influencing culture. It is passed as an idea virus from parents to children, and is instilled from a young age while kids do not have defenses to form their own opinions and make up their own mind.

The most amazing part to me is that religion succeeds in a big way even though it is purely based on spreading ideas without any evidence backing up their claims other than circular logic.

What I have learned by observing religion from a neutral and objective perspective:

  • People crave a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves
  • Large numbers encourage greater participation
  • It has been defined as a societal norm to believe and socially deviant not to believe
  • The media and much of popular culture reinforce the systems in place
  • Stories and larger-than-life promises are effective marketing tools, especially if reinforced again and again

The lessons for marketing:

Build a following

Religion has existed successfully in many forms for centuries mainly because people desire to belong to something.

Digital tools allow you to easily build the same following for yourself. And, you have the opportunity to do so in a collaborative, positive and thoughtful manner embracing truth.

Be open to suggestions/feedback

Many of the current religions and large businesses are already relics in the mind of the next generation.  They aren’t part of the future in their current form because the new generation rejects them (and with good reason).

The successful businesses of tomorrow will not be the ones that mimic the monolithic religious institutions and businesses of the previous generations with a pure top-down approach. The way moving forward is to incorporate ideas from all your stakeholders into the mix – include everyone, especially your customers and front-line workers.

Kill the circular logic

You are not great merely because you say you are.  Prove yourself in tangible formats. Just like I have written on how your resume is meaningless, so are your marketing messages unless you can back them up with case studies, testimonials, tangible proof, etc.

Challenge the status quo

Look at the success of the flying spaghetti monster. They are parodying the ridiculousness of much of religion, and for it they are popular.

From Wikipedia:

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is a character created as a satirical protest to the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution. The FSM is the deity of the parody religion The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, founded in 2005 by Bobby Henderson. Since the intelligent design movement used ambiguous references to an unspecified ‘Intelligent Designer’ to avoid court rulings prohibiting the teaching of creationism as a science, this presumably left open the possibility that any imaginable thing could fill that role.

Have a look at their Wiki entry to see just how far this idea has gone and how much influence and success they have had (they have made a significant impact).

Find your own way to create a flying spaghetti monster, as there is almost always a wealth of people interested in supporting the opposite end of something popular yet questioned.

Don’t be intrusive

Part of what makes religion unappealing (and part of its eventual downfall) is the fact that they are so intrusive and forceful into the lives of many people and continuously try to dig deeper. If they were permission-based organizations and allowed whoever wanted to opt-in to their messages and viewpoints do so in a less aggressive manner they wouldn’t be viewed so negatively.

Trying to force yourself/your brand on people by knocking on doors and forcing your beliefs into areas they don’t belong does hurts your reputation and will backfire long term (you don’t need to look very far into history or even at current events to see how religion consistently paints a negative image for itself).

Study sociology

The best marketers have a strong understanding not just of business and playing the corporate game, but more importantly of our culture and the bigger picture of how society functions. Studying everything in our world, from religion and politics to popular culture will help you be far more effective in creating strategic communications.

Learn what makes ideas spread and learn the content archetypes for ideas that stick and apply it to your own marketing solutions.

Conclusion

No matter what your belief, religion is an undeniably powerful marketing force.  My goal with this post was not to offend you, but make you think. Think about how religion has used marketing as a vehicle to shape the very direction of our society. Think about how religion packages their messages and stories in ways that resonate with masses of people.  Think about how they use their powers negatively and positively, and how you can use some of the positive aspects for yourself (never take the negatives from religion, it’s a slippery slope and doomed to backfire).

Your thoughts?

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