Tag Archives: Seth Godin


Mr. Crankypants was pleased to learn that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has been standing up for religious liberal values in the aftermath of the shootings during a worship service at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church back in July. It is the Right Thing To Do.

But Mr. Crankypants wishes to point out that taking out a full-page newspaper ad in the New York Times on Sunday, August 10, may not be the most effective way of standing up for religious liberal values. For example, here’s what marketing guru Seth Godin has to say about full-page newspaper ads, taken from a short essay titled “Why The Wall Street Journal annoys me so much,” from his book Purple Cow:–

“The Journal is the poster child for marketing old-think. Every day, more than a million dollars’ worth of full-age ads run in this paper — testimony to traditional marketers’ belief that the old ways are still valid.

“A full-age ad in the Journal costs more than a house in Buffalo, New York [Mr. Crankypants notes that the August 10 full-page ad cost the UUA $130,000]. Page after page of dull gray ads…. If you took 90% of these ads, and switched the logos around, no one could tell…. One morning, with time to kill at a fine hotel, I interrupted a few people who were reading the Journal over breakfast. I waited until they had finished the first section, and then I asked them if they could name just two of the companies that had run full-page ads. Not one person could….

“Finally, I asked them the million-dollar question (literally). Had they ever requested more information about a product because they’d seen a full-page ad in the Journal?

“You can probably guess the answer.”

Thank you for that insight, Seth.

OK, now here’s a quiz — and no cheating (which includes no texting your friends to ask them for the right answer):

(a) Did you read the ad in the New York Slime? Actually, did you even see the ad, let alone read it?
(b) If you do read dead-tree news publications, do you ever read the ads?
(c) If you had $130,000 to spend on anything relating to publicity around the shootings at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, how would you spend that money?

Mr. Crankypants awaits the appearance of your answers to this quiz in the comments section below….

Three pointers for success

Seth Godin offers three pointers on making a small business succeed his blog. Looking them over, I think apply equally well to small church success:

Small business success
Three things you need:
1) the ability to abandon a plan when it doesn’t work,
2) the confidence to do the right thing even when it costs you money in the short run, and
3) enough belief in other people that you don’t try to do everything yourself.

Quick thoughts on how each of these points can apply to churches:

1) Knowing when to abandon a plan: I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and I feel that part of knowing when to abandon plans that don’t work is having good data so that you can have some objectivity when judging a plan. Two examples: (a) A year and a half ago, we changed our advertising plan, cutting our ads in the big daily newspaper from weekly to every other week, and putting more resources into smaller weekly papers and shoppers, and the Web. Lots of complaints about the reduced number of ads from current members, but we noticed that the number of visitors doubled, so instead of abandoning our new plan we stayed the course — because we could prove that we were getting results. (b) We have an explicit goal of increasing worship attendance, and so we began to tweak our Sunday morning worship service to make it more celebratory and more fun. The worship service felt pretty good but attendance numbers didn’t budge, so we knew that we had to tweak some more. Then suddenly beginning last May we started to see our numbers rising by 20-30% — now maybe we’re headed in the right direction.

2) Do the right thing in spite of short-term cost: From my experience, I’d say the biggest example of this point in churches is — deferred maintenance. Any examples from your experience?

3) Believe in others so you don’t do everything:Given the rate of volunteer burnout in small churches, this last point may be a bigger problem than I had thought. Could it be that part of the reason small churches don’t grow is that we don’t put enough trust in potential new leaders? I’ll have to think about that….

Thanks to Carol for pointing out the Seth Godin post.

Worth watching

Peter Bowden of UU Planet sent me a link to a video of Seth Goodin talking to Google employees. Seth Goodin is the marketing guru who wrote the book Purple Cow. (I wrote about Purple Cow back on November 9, 2005.)

One of Goodin’s key points in the video lecture is that the whole landscape of marketing has changed in the past twenty years. It used to be that the way you did marketing was first to come up with a whole bunch of money. Then you took out as many ads as you could, trying to grab people’s attention to tell them about your product. When you made a profit, you poured that money back into advertising. Goodin calls this approach the “TV-Industiral Complex.”

But a new way to do marketing has emerged. First, you create “something worth talking about,” and “if you can’t do that, start over.” Next, you find people who want to hear from you, and you tell them about that “something worth talking about.” Then those people tell their friends about that “something worth talking about” — you don’t tell people about that something worth talking about and you don’t spend lots of ad dollars promoting yourself — you rely on enthusiastic users, not on ads, to tell others. Then there’s a last key step: get permission from those first people to tell them about whatever new things-worth-talking-about that you come up with.

Goodin’s second approach to marketing should be easy to use to spread the word about Unitarian Universalism. Unitarian Universalism is something worth talking about — it’s a religion that provides all the wonderful aspects of a warm religious community, but it’s also a religion where you don’t have to swallow unswallowable doctrines or creeds. We have something worth talking about, and Unitarian Universalists do tell their friends — “No, no, you have to check out my church, it’s this cool religious community where you don’t have to believe in God unless you want to.” Thus while other churches are losing members, Unitarian Universalism is slowly growing, because we Unitarian Universalists are willing to talk to our friends.

Now along comes the new marketing campaign from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The UUA is buying print ads in Time magazine, which is probably a waste of money, because the old marketing approach of spending lots of money on ads just doesn’t work any more. But the UUA also came out with a cool ten-minute video. It captures who we are — it captures that warm feeling you get when you go to your Unitarian Universalist church — it captures that lack of creed or dogma — it makes you feel good about being a Unitarian Universalist, so you want t o show it to your friends to help them understand who you are. You can get a DVD of the video to give to your friends so you can sit there and watch it with them — or you can tell your friends to watch it on YouTube.

Plus, without being heavy-handed, the video captures the cutting edge of who we are — we care about the environment, we welcome gays and lesbians, we have racially mixed churches (OK, maybe your church isn’t racially mixed, but ours here in New Bedford is, and yours could be someday soon). This new video is worth talking about! And some of us are already talking about the video, and showing it to our friends. And maybe — just maybe — we need to do lots more new media, because I suspect the future of our religion has to add a new-media component to our traditional face-to-face churches.

That what I got to thinking about as I watched the Seth Goodin video. There’s lots more food for thought there. Definitely worth watching. Link.

So that’s what we’re doing here…

As I noted on November 9, Seth Goodin is my favorite marketing guru at the moment, and now I’ve started reading his blog. In a post from November 30 titled “Welcome to the Hobby Economy,” Goodin tells us why he keeps a blog:

Economists don’t know what to do about it.

It’s hard to measure, hard to quantify and a little odd to explain.

More and more people are spending more and more time (and money) on pursuits that have no payoff other than satisfaction.

“Why should you have a blog?” they ask. “How are you going to make any money?”…

Of course, economists don’t really worry about this. They understand perfectly well that economics is able to easily explain that human beings pursue things that satisfy them.

“Hobby economy” sounds a little pejorative. Still, I think it’s a good concept that could also be applied to religion. Most human beings pursue religion because it satisfies them. You don’t have to make money at it. I happen to make money doing religion (although if I went back to sales, I could make a lot more money than I do now), but I do things like keep this blog, which brings in no money at all.

When we think about marketing religion, all too often we only think about hiring an ad agency and developing a major media campaign. That’s thinking of religion in terms of the business model of marketing. If we start thinking about religion in terms of the hobby economy, how would we do marketing? We’d invite people to join the regular meetings of our hobby group. We’d do things like keep a blog to promote our hobby, or have conferences to entice new people into our hobby. Any time anyone asked about our hobby we’d talk about it with passion and enthusiasm.

Not that we should abandon the ad agencies and the major media campaigns. Not that religion really fits into the “hobby economy” model. But it’s getting me thinking about marketing in new ways….

Purple cows

Peter Bowden, who writes the blog Live from UU Planet, came out to New Bedford for lunch today. Peter and I are both talkative and pretty intense, we are both interested in innovation, and we both happen to care a lot about Unitarian Universalism. We had a great lunch together.

We both think that Unitarian Universalism is far smaller than it should be. I would also say that we both think that much of Unitarian Universalism is, well, stuck in mediocrity. Those two thoughts are connected. Those two thoughts relate to a hypothesis that goes something like this: “If you try something and it doesn’t work very well, don’t keep trying it. It doesn’t work well!”

The basic unspoken motto in Unitarian Universalism for the past few decades has been, “Don’t rock the boat.” (How ironic that we count among our religious heroes someone like Theodore Parker who rocked the boat so badly we realized we needed the new boat he had designed.) We try desperately not to offend anyone.

Peter gave me a book on marketing titled Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable,” written by Seth Goodin. A “purple cow” is something truly remarkable and life-changing (Theodore Parker was a religious purple cow). Goodin looks at the success of companies like Starbucks and Amazon.com, and says the way to succeed in business these days is to develop remarkable products. What’s the opposite of being remakable, asks Goodin? –being very good.

Goodin offers this case study in his book:

The French subsidiary of McDonald’s recently subsidized and publicized a report that urged the French not to visit fast-food outlets like McDonald’s more than once a week. The report caused a worldwide uproar, and the U.S. parent company professed to be “shocked”!

Is this a bad strategy? Perhaps by being honest (and very different) when talking to their customers, the French subsidiary is building the foundation of a long-term growth strategy…. By acknowledging the downsides of the fast-food experience, prehaps McDonald’s France is reaching a far larger audience than they could ever hope to reach the old way.

What would happen if you told the truth [in your marketing]?

In the spirit of being honest with “customers,” let me tell some truth about Unitarian Universalism:

Contrary to popular belief, when you join a Unitarian Universalist congregation, you cannot “believe anything you want.” You must believe, with all your heart and soul and mind, that love can transform the world. Contrary to popular belief, it is not easy to be a Unitarian Unviersalist. If you are a Unitarian Universalist, you will care deeply about making this world a better place for all persons, to the point where you devote your whole life to that end. Contrary to popular belief, Unitarian Universalism is not a comfortable religion that asks very little of you. Unitarian Universalism requires you to give substantial amounts of your time — like fifteen to twenty hours a week spent in spiritual practice, doing sabbath with your family, participating in worship and small group ministries, reading and study and reflection, using your gifts to help your congregation thrive — and substantial amounts of your money — like twice the amount of money you now spend each year on movies, electronics gadgets, and Starbucks coffee combined. And it will make you happy to give that time and money because your will be transforming the world with love.

You know, if we told these truths about our faith, we would upset some people who are now in our congregations but we would also probably grow like crazy. And thanks, Peter, for getting me all jazzed up about our shared faith.

Link to new series on marketing churches.