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Marketing Religion and Faith
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By Linda Walton
 
I was born and lived next to Donald and Mickey. Moved to Edgemont 1st Ward in 1962. Now live in Highland 23rd Ward, near the Point and on SR 92 – the Loop – which leads past Bob's house and heads south on University. As you come into town you'll note the Tabernacle is being transformed into a Temple and Moroni is greeting all visitors.
 
English? Yes. Note the following translation from Western/Utahn/Mormon.
 
I was born in Orange County, California and moved to North Provo, Utah in 1962. I now live in Highland, Utah, which is near the natural landmark left by Lake Bonneville that divides Salt Lake and Utah counties. The Alpine Scenic Loop takes you past Robert Redford's house and Sundance Ski Resort. University Avenue is the main north/south road through Provo, and the former Provo LDS Tabernacle, a regional meeting house open to the public, is being redesigned because of a tragic fire, to be the new Provo City Center LDS Temple, a sacred place for specific members of the church to perform various sacred ceremonies. The Angel Moroni is a prominent statue on the top of all LDS Temples.
 
English? Yes, but not Mormon as a Second Language (MSL).
 
You are probably familiar with English as a Second Language (ESL), a successful language training program available to immigrants.  I began teaching MSL several years ago, making one presentation at SAC (SDA Communicators) in Albuquerque, and being used by local civic leaders who have designated me the "friendly Gentile," (LDS say anyone not LDS, including Jews, are Gentiles – FYI).      
 
I have a unique line of work(s). I am an accredited Fellow of the Public Relations Society of America, a commissioned Minister/Chaplain of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the local director of Adventist Community Services, have served as adjunct faculty in communication and philosophy at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, chair of the Utah Valley Ministerial Association (38 faith groups represented), and I own The Walton Group, Inc., a marketing and media relations firm.   
 
Over 60 percent of the new businesses in our area fail within the first year of operation. The main reasons for failure are no market research and no strategic planning.
 
They don't speak the right language. They open another Chinese restaurant when the neighborhood already has eight that are doing well!! And there's not a good Italian restaurant in 50 miles!
 
Several years ago, one of the local mayors called me into his office. Can you go to Michigan for me? Why? We have a potential new business for the area, but they are afraid to move employees to the area because of Mormons. Sure.
 
I only had to answer a few questions: NO, they don't have horns, NO they don't get married in the nude, NO they aren't polygamists. REALLY? It's hard to believe bigotry. By the way, the new business is in town, currently with 50 employees and they are expanding to 700! Not one employee has had a problem with the local culture.
 
What language does your county/city/area speak? Do you have a translator to smooth the way from one understanding to another? A friendly Gentile?
 
Can you imagine the confusion a visitor to one of our congregations experiences when terms including: Pathfinders, 3ABN/ABC/GC/NAD, Mrs. White, work bees, the Red Books, the convocation/camp meeting, Andrews, footwashing, or the Great Disappointment, are used in sermons, meetings, and conversations, not to mention news coverage, web sites and other advertising?
 
We need ASL classes!
 
What are the demographics of your area of responsibility? What are the psychographics? In case you're not "up" on psychographics, they include: personalities, values, opinions, attitudes, interests and lifestyles.
 
It's important to know the population, the gender mix, ages, education levels, incomes, politics, nationalities/languages/cultures, religions, and other specifics like homelessness, mental health, recreational activities and forms of government.
 
Some of you are curling your toes when I use marketing in the same sentence as religion. Sorry.
 
When I started in the marketing business we would "hit" someone with a message 4 or 5 times before it would register and they would make a "buying" decision. Because of the changes in media and "the times" it now requires about 20 "hits" before a message sinks in. Yikes. The days of communicating to the general public are gone. Everyone must now pick market segments, determine the demographics/psychographics, and translate their "product" into that group's language.
 
You have probably noticed that 17-year-old boys are different than 42-year-old women. Any language. I rest my case.
 
So, how do you eat this elephant?
 
1.   Get demographics – available from Chamber of Commerce/government
2.   Get psychographics – available from medical, non-profit, faith, university, club and other sources; or you can do your own research.
3.   Determine overall goal
4.   Determine secondary goals
5.   Determine strategies for all goals
6.   Outline 18-month tactics for each goal
7.   Designate funding/staffing/other resources needed
8.   In 18-months, do a survey to determine success
9.   Tweak, repeat
 
This will work for a Chinese or Italian restaurant, congregation, school, ACS group, conference, event, etc.
 
Again, to those curling their toes about marketing religion – the difference between marketing business or other secular groups and religion is that, hopefully, God is involved in religion. God gives us wisdom and sends the Holy Spirit to fix things that we didn't know were broken. The really good news is that God can be involved in business, too – I've seen it happen over the past 38 years.
 
Someday we will all understand "the language" of Heaven. Communication will be perfect. Demographics and psychographics will be irrelevant. An 18-month plan will be dwarfed by eternity. Let's get fluent in HSL – Heaven as a Second Language!
 
Linda Walton is a member of the Provo, Utah church, president of the Walton Group, a university chaplain, and a community services leader