Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, September 12, 2021

The business of America is business, as Calvin Coolidge (never) said. So it shouldn’t be surprising to find even non-business institutions in American society adopting businessworld approaches in their operations. At the top of the list: Branding and marketing, the only means to win the hearts and minds of a consumer-oriented public.

That’s the focus of “Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc. and Museumworld”, by James Twitchell. Twitchell looks at how churches, colleges/universities and museums have aimed marketing techniques toward upper-class demographics, creating highly-competitive markets.

Mark Albright writes a good review of the book, with an excellent overview of how all three institutions can credibly sell themselves as though they were burger joints or shampoos:

That’s exactly the conundrum faced by the three institutions Twitchell dissects. Church membership has been flat at 40 percent of the population for decades. Yet while the average congregation dwindled to 75 people, market share shifted dramatically. Today 12 percent of all churches have grown to claim more than half of the entire flock. Public higher education’s insatiable appetite for expanded enrollment has collided with government’s unwillingness to pay for it. To advance their cultural and economic appeal, American cities embarked on a museum-building binge that outpaced the quality of their collections. So to break even, high-minded cultural organizations take marketing advice from P.T. Barnum to draw a crowd.

In addition to a parade of $15-a-head blockbuster exhibitions, museums have made the gift shop an integral part of the experience. Exhibit space in existing museums grew 3 percent in the 1990s while gift store space grew 28 percent. Some museums even operate retail stores in malls that have the flimsiest link to their mission.

Needless to say, the choice to sell a brand comes with baggage beyond commercialism. Branding is about giving people what they think they want. So mass market techniques can mean democratization. The customer is in charge, so the elites must be crafty to maintain an upper hand.

It means high-minded academics, art snobs and rigid church hierarchies must loosen their grip to stay in the game.

Brand extension efforts readily welcome imitation, which creates a suddenly cutthroat atmosphere. That’s why colleges send recruiting officers by the dozens to target schools and merchandise the hell out of their sports mascots, and why the Mormons examine diaper-sales numbers to know which neighborhoods to target for young-family converts. Once you start actively selling yourself to a mass market, it’s hard to stop.

Some more good stuff on the marketing of higher academics:

The university development office has become as hands-off sacred as the athletic program in advancing the school brand. Research grants are seen as cash cows that can lead to future royalty payments. The Holy Grail: a decent write-up in the U.S. News and World Report ratings. So wooing top-rated high school students with amenities like rock climbing walls, travel discount clubs and free bike repairs has taken priority over teaching and what happens in the classroom in a time of feel-good grade inflation.

And on churches:

Discussing religion from a marketing perspective offers a way to avoid an emotional debate about beliefs. However, promoters of faith-based solutions to social problems may object to such congregation-building draws as day care, single parenting classes and 12-step self-help programs being described as marketing gimmicks.

But that is how the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago grew to 23,000 members. Its leaders do research, then tailor each part of their offering to the needs of the suburban middle class. They target men (who shy away from being religious in public) as the key to leading the entire family to church. Soft-sell pastor’s messages (not sermons) cover coping skills for long commutes, job stress and single parenting. The spoken word is available on tape or DVD at the door. Members’ social needs are addressed through sponsorship of bowling leagues, car repair clinics and a motorcycle club. The parking lot is Disney World efficient, the auditorium has plush stadium seating and a sound system worthy of Muvico. The sprawling campus is an entertainment center/mall complete with a food court, bookstore and Christian rock CD and video shop. Starbucks, it seems, lost its lease because rival Seattle’s Best Coffee offered a better deal.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/12/2021 10:35:27 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business | Permalink |


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