It’s not every day we have the chance to get involved in something truly world-shattering, ground-breaking and amazing. I for one haven’t discovered the cure for a deadly disease recently, or solved the worlds environmental problems. But there is something I do every day that is just as incredible and note-worthy, and it’s … Marketing.
Not what you were expecting, eh? Well, before you turn off and go back to your lives, I’ll explain what I mean.
When I’m writing in my blog, or speaking with friends, or doing my job, I’m marketing. When I’m thanking the checkout person, or ringing my parents, I’m marketing. Every thing I do and say is marketing. Not marketing a product, but marketing me – my ideas, my ideals, my beliefs and ambitions. Marketing, at its core, is about communication. I have something and I want you to know about it. That’s marketing in a nutshell.
When you think of it like that, it’s easy to see why marketing has changed so much recently. From the day-glo soap ads of the sixties, through the glamour of the eighties, the new millenium has brought a paradigm shift in the way that people do, and react to, marketing. Simply put, marketing has changed because people have changed. Nowadays (apparently) we want to know about the scientific benefits of the shampoo we use, we want to know whether our sausages can help reduce our cholesterol.
The TV ads are still as bright and brash, posters are still gaudy and loud, but as Western civilisation we’ve changed our views of a lot of things. And, just like the current fixation with “reality” shows proves, many of us want something that is a little more heartfelt, a little more down-to-earth, more gritty and real. So no wonder that the modern World Wide Web, with its blogs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog) and personal picture galleries (http://www.flickr.com), is the foremost media for this new wave of communication which has been called Neomarketing. As this article says (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2005/08/you_are_a _marke.html), we are all marketers, whether we like it or not. Everyone’s marketing something, and your only choice is how you do it.
But you don’t have to have a degree in graphic design, or be a Pulitzer prize winner to be a Neomarketer. The good news is that the balance of power is shifting, from The Company with its big-business marketing budgets, to the users with their blogs and their feedback. From the marketing consultants pushing tacky pamplets at you, to the friend who says “have you tried this?”. From the corny, false, shallow advertising hoardings to the passionate, real and authentic believer.
The ever helpful http://thesaurus.reference.com relates marketing to “business”, “buying” and “dealing”, which is to be expected, but also “scattering”, “sharing”, “spreading” and “exchange”. And it’s the sharing nature of modern neomarketing that is making the difference to the emerging church. We are not a faceless conglomerate trying to force our goods onto our subservient world market, we are now a group of friends wanting to share our message with equals.
That’s part of what makes the emerging church different, not necessarily what our message is, but how we communicate it. Billboards saying “Repent! the Kingdom of God is Nigh!” are sooooo last-season, but there are still people who stand on street corners shouting at the embarrassed “sinners” who walk past. They’ve just gone to town to do some shopping, not for a religious pummeling. Is that type of marketing going to work? Not for me, it isn’t.
Our methods are different: they are primarily conversational, authentic, using word-of-mouth communication, grounded in reality and truth. It’s no more or less than what Jesus did, and by all accounts he made quite a difference to this world. Not bad for someone without a marketing budget, without a team of brand-recognition experts, without focus groups. All he had was his message, a message he was passionate about. And that’s the key, this message is something we can get – and should get – passionate about. Passionate enough to speak to friends, neighbours, work collegues. Not to sell them anything, but to share what we have with them.
Last week a knock came at our front door, and as I got there I saw a man disappearing out of the gate. On the mat there was a leaflet that said “This is important!”, so I read it. It was a leaflet explaining about Jesus, sin, the cross, and judgement, of the kind I’ve seen many times before. But just before I put it in the bin I noticed something that horrified me. On the back, where the publishers had put “For more information, contact:” and left room for the contact details of the church who left the leaflet, there was nothing. Just an empty white space staring back at me.
Perhaps that leaflet will have elicited a response from someone, somewhere. I hope it does. But that blank white space isn’t the way to reach out to people. And that, I believe, is what the emerging church has the great opportunity to do – fill the blank space between the world and God. Whether you call it marketing or evangelism, we have a message that we must share. Your choice is not just whether you share it, but how you share it.
Chris Taylor develops software for the web deep in the bowels of Yorkshire. He is happily attached to his partner Katharine, and they have several thousand children between them.
He can be found online at www.stillbreathing.co.uk