For effective long term results look to the church

by Jimmy Hernandez on October 26, 2010

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First of all a couple of disclaimers (what political correctness is leading us to, or at least me!):

1. This is not an exercise in criticism of religions or their institutions, but an applause to a job well done and a demystifying look at some younger players that have “emulated” their way into pop culture and success.
2. I have the distinct feeling I could have used any church as the example, but for the sake of comfort and confidence I will be using the one I know best, the Catholic Church.

Now let’s see if I make any sense or am just raving mad!
I believe the Catholic Church is one of the true communicators, not of our time but of all time, and that by analyzing how they operate we can learn that even though the tools might have changed, the principles still hold true and are just as effective today as they have been for centuries.
Let’s take a look at some examples. Probably the most obvious would be the use of symbols, a given iconography and a systematic “ownership” of color.
The cross is probably the most widely recognized symbol in the world and even though the Catholic Church did not create it, it did elevate it from a descriptor or identifier to representing something with a whole world of meaning behind it. Now think of the Mac apple, or the Nike swish, or the Harley Davidson badge, or Ferrari’s “cavallino rampante”, they are all more than what they are, they are not just a part of a brand’s iconography, they provide meaning beyond the product or category…not very different really.
Ferrari is red, Harley is black, Apple is white like the church, and Nike? Well some emulate better than others.

Now let’s take a look at rituals and the value of repetition, how they help create a following and become a part of the community, how they help insure loyalty and retention.
Think of the ritual of Sunday mass, or the “fumata Bianca” of the election of a new Pope, now see Steve Jobs on You Tube once again presenting a new, enlightened and enlightening, life enhancing device (is this all coincidence?), or a pack of Harley drivers on their way to Daytona, or a Victoria’s Secret fashion show announcing the arrival of the new catalogue…they have all created, sponsored or fostered these ritualistic events that create a sense of community of shared values or at least passions…and the formula continues to prove it works.
Some might say it’s not the formula, but that these are sexy categories. But a computer isn’t sexy, a Mac is, a bra isn’t (not really) and four wheels that you can steer aren’t either. Avon isn’t that sexy, nor is Tupperware, but they have built their success around a ritual.
The Church has also proven that the proposition has the power of making the product sexy. Redemption, enlightenment, manhood, attractiveness, sensuality, youth, victory… that is sexy, and is another key learning; the real message is a promise beyond the product, beyond the material or functional, that elevates the return on what we are asked to do.
But let’s move on to message and a couple of more things to learn, for one consistency, stick to your story, yes it can evolve, yes it can be told in different ways, but stick to it. The Church proves that consistency provides reassuring constancy in an ever-faster-changing world, and it works.

As for single mindedness, “There is only one…” I guess Rosser Reeves did not invent the USP after all!
Then whose idea was it to have brand ambassadors? Who discovered brand influencers? Who first arrived at the conclusion (consumer insight) that we all want to be better and greater than we are, that we all want to be somebody else, if only for a while? I can assure you it wasn’t Victoria and her models!
Now take a Church and put it next to a Mac store, or Nike World, any differences? …They are not stores, they are places where the community can congregate, where they can reinforce their own commitment.
These are only a few areas where successful brands have followed in the steps of the Catholic Church…but think of missionaries and their role as the front line opening new territories, or how the church goes beyond it’s specific “spiritual” role, supporting, paying back and investing in its followers and so becoming a reference in the community. Still a lot to learn and a lot that can be done to develop stronger bonds with a consumer we dare to call less loyal or fickle!

Now, are these steps a guarantee of success? No, but I can tell you all successful brands have followed them in some way (and the more they follow, the more successful they are). We want certainty and guarantees of success, but the question should be are we putting into the equation what is needed for the outcome to be measurable, sustained success?

There is plenty more to be learned from a nearly 2000-year-old ongoing success story. If you have any doubt, look up in the Sistine Chapel (with advertising eyes) and see an outdoor campaign, unchanged for hundreds of years (which people come to see!) that with the sole use of image, makes clear both the benefits of using the product and the dangers of not doing so…simply brilliant!

Jimmy Hernandez

Jimmy is a Guest Contributor, leave him a comment below.

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