What your brand should learn from Religion: Lessons 1–3

You will be making a mistake to dismiss religious movements as irrelevant in the world of marketing. After all, no agency can match the ROI and life-long brand loyalty of a typical Christian Church.

Marketing

It would be a mistake to dismiss religious movements as irrelevant in the world of marketing. After all, no agency can match the ROI and life-long brand loyalty of a typical Christian church.

In just 30 days you could go from a normal person to changing every aspect of your life; losing 15–20 percent of your salary every month to advance the mission of the brand; and making sure your children go to the right schools so they can continue doing this for the rest of their lives. How does religion do this?

You cannot dismiss it as brainwashing either. From homemakers to leading scientists, Christian evangelism has been incredibly successful throughout the last 2,000 years. I am the global brand manager for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, one of the most prolific religious brands in the world.

This is the first of a series of articles that will help you understand religious branding so you can easily add immense value to your own brand.

What is the value of the Seventh-day Adventist brand?

Five years ago we started the process of rebranding the Adventist Church globally. It is likely that you know very little about this denomination, despite the following global presence:

The global number of local restaurants/stores/congregations
  • There are more Adventist congregations around the world than all McDonald’s restaurants, Subway restaurants, and 7Eleven stores combined.
  • These 161,561 congregations are found in 208 countries and territories.
  • In total, there are over 21 million baptized members in the Adventist church, worshiping every week in over 1,000 languages.
  • 950 Adventist television channels and thousands of Adventist radio stations maintain 24/7 broadcasts that advance the mission of the brand.
  • Beyond this, there are hundreds of hospitals and clinics and just under 2 million students in the second-largest private school system in the world. Not to mention the food factories and many other services offered by the Adventist Church around the world.

Despite this enormous operation, regional capillarity, and tremendous brand loyalty, the actual value of the Adventist brand has never been measured and no one believes it would make the list of the 100 most valuable brands in the world. The main reason for this is the insane brand fragmentation generated over the last 40 years. But before we talk about where the brand failed, let’s talk about three lessons we can learn from when the Adventist brand excelled.

Lesson 1: Be clear about why your brand exists and stick to it

The Adventist Church started with a very small group of people who experienced the most disappointing event of their lives when Jesus didn’t return as they expected on October 22, 1844. The handful of desperately poor believers kept studying the Bible and eventually understood God was calling a movement to prepare the world for his imminent return.

Despite the fact that over 150 years have gone by and Jesus hasn’t returned, the movement has grown exponentially. Why? Because Adventists are very clear they were called by God to proclaim three very special messages from the book of Revelation, chapter 14. Adventists believe we are in the middle of a war with eternal consequences for loved ones and strangers alike. In other words, if I don’t warn my friends and family that Jesus is coming and they should prepare, it might not end well for them.

Many other religious movements have experienced decline precisely because they were not clear about their existence. Many Christian denominations have become very confused about their calling to evangelism. They started to focus on community projects as an end in itself, waiting for people to ask questions about their faith.

Their logic was: Our calling is to be good people in the community so people become so impressed with us that they will want to join us. That seldom happens so churches which have done that for the sake of being relevant are dying. Examples include the Anglican Church as well as all traditional churches in the United States.

You would expect community service and an emphasis on compassion to be more popular than Bible study, but that is what propels Seventh-day Adventists to be the fastest-growing denomination in North America.

If McDonalds started campaigns to encourage nutrition and healthy eating their brand value would actually fall because that’s not the reason they exist. Fast and cheap food is what they do. Apple isn’t going to release the cheapest phone on the market; Nike isn’t going to start selling food; Walmart won’t build VIP areas; IKEA will not focus on made-to-order furniture; LEGO shouldn’t start a bank, and Uber will never defend taxi unions.

It is obvious that Adventists also try to live as disciples of Jesus and help alleviate the suffering of every human being. Here are two global campaigns as examples:

Lesson 2: Establish brand rituals for your customers

God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. This weekly ritual has been incredibly important to Seventh-day Adventists. When you are in the process of conversion to this Biblical understanding of the Sabbath, you start leaving work early on Friday afternoon to prepare for the Sabbath. This means there is a weekly ritual which varies around the world, but essentially it involves the following:

  • Cleaning the house
  • Cooking a meal for Saturday lunchtime
  • Gathering the family at sunset on Friday to ‘Welcome the Sabbath’ with singing, Bible reading, reflecting on the week, and prayers.
  • Saturday morning church.
  • Often lunch will also take place at the church.

This weekly ritual is essential in building brand loyalty. People who no longer come to church describe the pain they felt when they didn’t experience the Sabbath in this way. God even commanded His people to tie special pieces of cloth to their clothes so when they see it they could recite portions of the Bible so as not to forget it. Obviously, Adventists don’t follow these rituals for any branding reason — they do it because God asked them to. However, it is clear that ritual embeds the brand as part of people’s lives.

Tech companies create rituals of checking what is the latest or simply picking up your phone. Restaurants create the ritual of waiting in line or drive through, ordering and eating. Credit cards create the ritual of opening your wallet, using the card, and putting it back.

In summary, find ways of creating rituals where your customers will move their bodies in the same way, pronounce the same words or go through similar and predictable processes to gain something. Once this becomes part of their lives you will have them as customers for decades, not days.

Lesson 3: Develop an internal language for your brand

Many religious denominations wish to stop their members from speaking terms only they understand. These terms have been developed over decades of internal communication and they believe this is hindering prospective members from feeling a sense of belonging. This is one of the most unintuitive lessons we will cover.

The truth is that brands go to great lengths to emulate what churches do naturally. Creating an internal language to your brand will make it very clear who is part of the brand and who is not. This will create a natural desire in those who are out to learn the internal language so they can have a sense of belonging that is real. If everyone belongs, no one belongs.

Other mobile phone manufacturers produce USB chargers but Apple has a lightning cable. Just about every feature on Apple products has unique names that collectively create an internal language which makes it very easy to identify if someone is part of the Apple brand or not. Amazon has Prime, Echo, and Alexa; Tesla has ‘ludicrous mode,’ enhanced AutoPilot, and the Gigafactory; and Starbucks has Venti, Grande, and dirty chai.

However, in events where the audience is expected to include people not familiar with your brand, it is very important that you explain these internal terms when you use them.

In summary, create an internal language where your loyal customers feel a sense of belonging that others feel the need to learn. Once they learn and notice others who are clueless, they will be much more loyal to your brand.

Lesson 4: Don’t compromise your values to get more customers

This could also be titled ‘make it hard for them to join’. But we’ve covered enough for now. Here is the link to the NEXT ARTICLE.

This is a conversation so please join with your thoughts and comments below.

About the Author

Sam Neves directs the branding and digital marketing efforts of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church. He lives in Maryland with his wife and their 3 boys.

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