If you think you know a fair bit about marketing, chances are one cursory glance at the topic would have you going – “Oh! Let’s see what this over-smart guy has to tell me about marketing in religion that I don’t know about.” Chances are you are right!! There is maybe nothing new that can be said. But it is this “I have it all figured out” attitude that people have towards religion no matter which side of the river they are on (atheists or “believers”) which makes me eager to put a few of my thoughts here.
At the very outset again I would like to make it clear that I do not intend to hurt any sentiments here (I am writing one dangerous article too many these days). This is just a look at what marketing lessons one can draw from religion and through this I do not intend to make any value judgments. Please try to take an objective view of the opinions here but in case no matter how hard you try you fail to do so, I think that itself would prove what a good job religions do in harnessing “customer” loyalty.
Religion is so vast that I am flooded with ideas just thinking about it. This is how I am going to do this –
1) Do a quick 4 P’s of what I think religion does with Branding
2) Present some insights I gained discussing religion with friends
The 4 P’s of Religion
Product – So what is the product here – people will give you various answers – belief, freedom from worries, and service to the divine. As I see it though it all boils down to “Happiness”! People want to be happy, get all they want in life and religion promises them exactly that. Bow to the Lord and get what you want. You can do whatever else you want in life (they don’t say that explicitly) except a few cardinal sins like murder – just run up to your nearest temple, pray, offer something to God and yup…everything is fine now. Most importantly you are promised a wonderful afterlife
Price – The main price you play is living life according to a few rules – living a “religious” life, spreading the word of the divine etc. When it comes to money or cash equivalents there are two variations –
a) Give what your conscience allows you to – This is excellent in terms of retention as anyone who believes he’s involved in an arms-length transaction is an assured repeat customer. And the lifetime value of his contribution may well be substantial
b) Pay a premium – Very few get to demand such amounts. But these few assure you such guaranteed results that more often than not most people end up paying
Place – Most (if not all) religions tell you God is everywhere – right from the insides of a nut to the vast open galaxy. But most of them will still have special places of congregation. These places are very important from the perspective of organized religion. It’s here that the message gets reinforced, the network effect makes you feel good to be a “believer”, many times there are these miracle stories heard here which makes you thank your lucky stars that there is a “good” God
Promotion – There is one thing that religion does best – “Catching ’em young”! No one does it better. As the child grows up the messages are played out again and again and again through family, friends, society, movies, TV soaps, temples, religions groups, symbols and superstitions. So if you “catch them” at an age when they cannot yet rationalize religion is no more an option, it’s a matter of deep seated practice. Seeing need not be believing….believing is believing!!!
A few more thoughts
The million dollar stories – Religion has designed some of the best stories known to humanity. Ageless classics, extremely high on symbolism and basic human morality, these stories click immediately and stay with you for a lifetime. And this gives religion immediate recall.
Fit – Religion has been brilliant in targeting and positioning. The characterization is always phenomenal and the social structure is always accounted for. So if you see the subcontinent our Gods will mostly be the Kings as we have always had a hierarchical structure where the King is our protector. Look at Christianity and you see Jesus Christ, who “lead” his people and sacrificed himself to teach all of humanity a lesson pointing to more flatter social structures (by and large) and an attitude of the people towards collective problem solving.
Another thing to be noted here is that on the whole religion has done a great job of upholding the “differences” between human beings. So if you look at the complex Indian social structure you would find a resonance of it in religion – a kind of feel good for us who like to be the first among equals as our Gods themselves upheld the supremacy of one group over another. Again whenever there was a gap here – other religions like Buddhism, Jainism etc stepped in to create more equalitarian structures. Understanding the social fabric is religion’s forte!
The best way to prove that religion has alway needed to account for the social setting to succeed is to take examples where religions failed to do so and got forgotten – case in point Akbar’s “Din-i-Ilahi”.
The Best Solution – Most religions in an indirect way would tell you that your way of doing things is the best and the rest are misfits, even non believers who need to be shown the right path. This unflinching faith is necessary to not only avoid switching but also to produce network externalities and bring more people into the fold. There may be notable exceptions here but even they would tell you not to switch
Sensory Branding – The final point I would like to showcase is the clever use of sensory branding. Religious institutions use all your five senses to leave a impact on you so that you do not forget them quickly. Chanting (sound), symbolism (sight), different objects like flowers, divine belongings (touch), food offered after prayers (taste), sandalwood, scents (smell) all add to the “religious experience” which constitute high recall. So much so that you can take out any one part of the “religious experience” and present it alone but people would still make out the symbol.
Religion has always been a very good example for people to understand how to make immortal brands. Please do let us know what your thoughts are.
As always ayes and brickbats are welcome. Just write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.