Carol has been reading Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, a new marketing book by Kevin Roberts, CEO of the renowned marketing firm Saatchi and Saatchi. Roberts says that we’re seeing the end of the dominance of brand names and brands. I believe there are brand names in religion, too: many of my co-religionists conceive of “Unitarian Universalism,” not as a religion, but as a sort of brand name.
Now, I don’t like to think of a religion as a brand name, nor of people in churches as “consumers.” But Roberts reminds me that you have to listen to the people you’re serving to see how they’re thinking and feeling. So in churches maybe we have to engage in two-track thinking. On the one hand, we want to move people away from thinking of church in terms of a consumer item or a brand name. On the other hand, we have to recognize that Unitarian Universalism is treated as consumer item with a brand name, by at least some newcomers, and by at least some people already in our congregations.
Indeed, lots of folks, both at denominational headquarters and in the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere, have been trying to think of Unitarian Universalism as a brand name. Denominational headquarters has been marketing Unitarian Universalism under the brand “The Uncommon Denomination”; the blogosphere has been talking about things like “the Unitarian Universalist iPod strategy.” But Roberts suggests we need to move beyond brands to a new approach to marketing. In the passage below, Roberts tells us why brands are finished — and I’ve included comments in square brackets about how the Unitarian Universalist brand is finished:
Brands are out of juice. They can’t stand out in the marketplace, and they are struggling to connect with people. Here are six reasons why:
1. Brands are worn out from overuse…. Making sure the flowers in reception conform to the brand guidelines just shows you are looking in the wrong direction…. [Just like making sure we Unitarian Universalists are supposed to mention the “seven principles” when we talk to newcomers.]
2. Brands are no longer mysterious. There is a new anti-brand sensibility [in religion, this may well be an anti-denominational sensibility]….
3. Brands can’t understand the new consumer. The new consumer is better informed, more critical, less loyal, and harder to read. The white suburban housewife who for decades seemed to buy all the soap powder [and run all the Unitarian Universalist churches] no longer exists. She has been joined by a new population of multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-national consumers [and we Unitarian Universalists are still marketing to the suburban white folks]….
4. Brands struggle with good old-fashioned competition…. If you’re not Number One or Number Two, you might as well forget it [and Unitarian Universalism isn’t even in the top twenty!]….
5. Brands have been captured by formula. I lose patience with the wanna-be science of brands…. Formulas can’t deal with human emotion. Formulas have no imagination or empathy.
6. Brands have been smothered by creeping conservatism. The story of brands has gone from daring and inspiration to caution and risk-aversion [and certainly risk-aversion and caution have been the hallmarks of Unitarian Universalist efforts to let the world know about us]….
That’s a quick summary about why we have to move beyond brands. In the next post: “Lovemarks” and intimacy….