The most common marketing mistake

I’ve been reading Startup Guide to Guerrilla Marketing: A Simple Battle Plan for First-Time Marketers by Jay and Jeannie Levinson. It’s an excellent one-volume summary of basic marketing for smaller organizations. And it is worth reading if for no other reason than when you get to page 207, having gone over all the most basic and most effective marketing tools that exist, the Levinsons admit what anyone who’s worked in sales and marketing knows instinctively:

We hate to admit this in public, but… mediocre marketing with commitment is far better than brilliant marketing without it.

Then, in case you didn’t listen the first time, on page 208 they say:

You should know that a mediocre marketing program with commitment will always prove more profitable than a brilliant marketing program without commitment.

But alas…. Congregations are notorious for lack of commitment when it comes to marketing. Too many congregations think marketing consists of gorgeous advertisements and sexy PR, and a Web site makeover, once every two or three years. Not true. When you realize that neatness, telephone demeanor, and an honest interest in people are all marketing tools — that effective email, marketing calendars, and writing a benefits list are also all marketing tools — then you begin to realize that marketing involves constant, even obsessive, attention to detail, not just every Sunday, but every single day of the week, for years and years. Very few congregations have that kind of commitment.

And, not surprisingly, very few congregations are growing.

5 thoughts on “The most common marketing mistake”

  1. I don’t think marketing, good or bad, is the reason for lack of growth. Retention is the problem. We can get people to come ONCE- it’s the second visit and joining where we fail. Other churches have a very high percentage of their Sunday School kids stay in the church for life- we do not. If we stopped worrying about how to get people in, and looked at why they leave instead, we’d start growing.

  2. Right on, Joel, except I’d amend: If we stopped worrying about how to get people in, and instead focused on producing a product they’d stay for, we’d start growing.

  3. Joel @ 1 — Well, actually, as someone who has done sales and marketing for a living, you never take a customer for granted, and you’re always directing your marketing at existing customers. In fact, for certain kinds of businesses, much or most of your marketing is done for existing customers.

    One of the commonest mistakes made in the UU world is the notion that marketing only involves getting people in the door. First you get them in the door; then you close the first sale; then you ask for permission to continue to send them marketing materials (e.g., your newsletter); then you use marketing to continue to build a relationship with them, trying to turn them into customers for life. That’s what marketing is. Once you buy a Toyota, I can tell you from experience that you are on the dealer’s mailing list for years thereafter — they already got me in the door, they already made one sale (and it was only a used car), but they are not going to let go of me after just one sale.

    If you really think that marketing just involves getting people in the door, I urge you to read Startup Guide to Guerrilla Marketing.

    Christine @ 2 — You might be interested in reading Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow, in which he advocates developing a product that has built-in marketing. I think Godin’s notion is eminently applicable to Unitarian Universalism.

    And again, please please understand that marketing is not merely about getting people in the door for the first time. Please do read some of the literature on marketing, especially some of Godin’s earlier books, and many of the books by Jay Levinson.

    Perhaps this is another reason why congregations mostly aren’t growing — because too many congregations believe marketing is only about getting someone in the door for the first time.

  4. The lesson I learned in the business world is not to confuse marketing with content or product. No amount of ongoing marketing will retain a customer not satisfied with the product. Sooner or later, you must deliver some substance- and that’s where so many fail.

  5. Joel @ 4 — Very true. But in today’s climate, if you don’t do marketing, you can easily fail even with a great product. Even in the nonprofit world. Look at the Philadelphia Orchestra for a perfect case study of a great product, with a failure to market the product appropriately to existing and new audiences. Then compare and contrast with the Metropolitan Opera.

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