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Marketing | Jul. 6, 2017

Honesty in Church Marketing

d2 design church marketing series

At d2, we use the term “church marketing” a lot. Over time, we have defined the idea of church marketing to mean something very specific to us. However, we know that many churches might have different views of marketing. In this blog series, we will unpack different aspects of marketing and consider how it applies (or doesn’t) to the church.

Marketing is officially defined as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” With this definition in mind, the very idea of “church marketing” feels inappropriate. After all, the church is not a business and doesn’t exist to sell products or services. If you look across the landscape of churches, there are both good and bad examples of church marketing. Marketing has been used poorly in the church. However, if used with purpose, marketing can be very positive for churches. Let’s define what we think marketing is when it’s done well. In other words, what should marketing be even if it rarely is?

Perception vs. reality in church marketing


Marketing is often considered synonymous with telling lies. It’s thought to cover the flaws in a product long enough for someone to make a purchase and discover the flaws for themselves. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Marketing
should be about aligning perception with reality. We think it’s communicating the truth about something, more than persuading.

Honesty in marketing can be powerful.


Meet Robert Townsend. In the 1960s, he was CEO of Avis. Instead of marketing Avis as the biggest and best rental car company, he chose another direction. He was honest. Avis wasn’t the biggest rental car company; in fact, they were #2. Instead of a slick campaign to convince everyone that Avis was the biggest, he highlighted how they weren’t in their slogan, “We’re number two, so we try harder.” The message made sense and it worked. As a result, Avis grew profits and built a message of honesty to which their audience could relate. This phrase served as the backbone of the company for 50 years. More recently, Domino’s ran an entire ad campaign featuring focus groups of people saying their sauce tasted like ketchup and the crust resembled cardboard. Domino’s embraced the fact that they were far from perfect. It worked. It was relatable. They listened, got better, and garnered trust in the process. Domino’s is now a case study in business transformation. (read more at Slate.com)

But neither of these marketing messages would have worked if they didn’t reflect reality. If the Avis service team didn’t actually work harder for their patrons, or customers didn’t start to see the quality improvements at Domino’s, everything would’ve fallen flat. What these messages did was open the door for people to listen to them when otherwise they may not have. These campaigns aligned the public perception with the internal reality within the companies.

Applying this to your church marketing strategy


Churches are not selling products, but they are certainly in the business of communication. Churches need to communicate well. Some don’t. Many don’t know how. Churches (and more specifically Christians) have the best message in the world, the gospel. Even more, this gospel needs no improvement or modification. All it requires is honesty. However, when we start to show the gospel in our community, it sometimes gets watered down. The core message gets lost among many other messages.

When thinking through how your church communicates, or “markets” to your community, consider this: how honest are you? How do you make the gospel the central message among many ideas? Are you clear in the way you communicate? How transparent are you about the weaknesses your church faces – do you try to pretend they don’t exist? Are you distracted by trying to appear as something you aren’t? Finally, how are you aligning perception with reality? Sometimes they are aligned and we discover that it isn’t the perception that needs to be changed… it’s the reality.

Marketing is not about fooling anyone. Honesty is powerful in a church marketing strategy. Think of ways that your church can embrace this.

Joel Townley President, d2design
Joel Townley Joel Townley President, d2design