A couple of months ago I wrote about two religions that use marketing (here and here) and I used the de facto terminology for describing religions’ marketing strategies, “retention” and “recruitment.” These words reveal an assumption we make when religions use marketing. They are either convincing members to remain connected to and active within their religious communities (retention) or influencing unaffiliated people to join (recruitment).
And we don’t use “retention” and “recruitment” to describe non-religion brands’ marketing efforts. Traditional brands (1) create ads for “awareness” and “acquisition” goals (2). They inform a person of a product’s existence (awareness) or compel him or her to purchase it (acquisition). From a widely recognized beverage brand like Coca-Cola to an unknown tech startup to a nonprofit with an average level of recognition, these terms are used almost universally. Religion is the exception.
The different words we use reflect a view that religion is authoritarian. Both “retention” and “recruitment” describe a relationship with a clear power dynamic where the religion marketer exerts power over members and non-members to “retain” or “recruit” them. In contrast, the customer is the beneficiary in a non-religion marketing relationship. The customer gains knowledge through “awareness” or product through “acquisition.” Our speech attributes more unscrupulousness to religions than giant corporations with marketing budgets in the billions, even though many reliable surveys reveal that Americans trust clergy more than advertising and marketing professionals (3). Perhaps the inconsistency between how we talk and what we think is the result of a strategic campaign the industry ran to improve a profit-driven image, whereas the language for religion remains honest and true to marketing’s goals. As a marketing professional, it sounds like the job for a good PR team.
(1) For lack of a better term, I use “traditional” to describe a brand that is not a religion. Feel free to reach out to me with a better term.
(2) From my research and conversations, albeit limited, I have found the retention/recruitment and awareness/acquisition divide to be somewhat consistently applied in the product and religious marketing spheres.