Here’s one of those posts where I try to synchronise a few years working with a marketing and economic development agency with the realm of ministry. Hopefully it’ll be useful both to me, and to you…
Marketing is a confusing blend of guesswork and social science – with new theories cropping up all the time – most marketing budgets are limited, so most marketers spend a lot of time putting their advertising in places that will get the best bang for their buck. Because most churches don’t have big marketing budgets or the time to conduct thorough demographic research here are five ways that you can let them do the hard work for you, which in turn will help you understand the people you’re serving.
- Read local magazines and papers – if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that has a media outlet particular to your context have a look at what is being sold in the ads. Work out what kind of person buys those products. If your local newspaper features Tag Heuer watch ads you’re probably looking at an upper class suburb with high disposable incomes. Have a look at what stories are featured – editors keep their fingers on the community pulse, they talk to all sorts of people from your neighbourhood on a daily basis – the paper should be a reflection of the community’s values.
- Watch people in public places – What’s in the average shopping trolley? No frills or brand names? Battery eggs or free range? Are people making ethical decisions when they shop or financial ones? Are they eating healthy food or junk, are they buying microwave meals or the ingredients for some sort of substantial and prolonged culinary endeavour? You can learn a fair bit about people based on what they buy. Are people buying instant coffee – perhaps you should hold a coffee event and convict them of that sin, while pointing them to Jesus as the cure for all sin.
I think you can get a good feel for a place by going somewhere busy and just sitting back and watching people. Sit in a cafe, on a park bench, or in a shopping centre and just watch the types of people who walk by, those who stop briefly, and those who also sit.
- What’s on the billboards – While billboards on main roads are for those driving through your suburb, they’re also for people from your suburb. Billboard advertising is purchased by location. It’s expensive (and mostly dumb – don’t advertise on a billboard – have you ever purchased something because you’ve seen it on a billboard (other than Coke)?). Advertisers don’t like spending money (unless they’re in government). They spend pointless money with some thought – the kind of product being advertised at a prominent intersection in your place probably has some relevance to the people living there.
- Talk to the owners of small business – Cabbies are a great source of insight in regional areas, or if you want a general state of play in a bigger centre (there’s no guarantee they’ll hail from your part of the city in Brisbane) – but small business owners have an interest in knowing what’s going on in their part of town. Their livelihood depends on it. Good business owners know their clientele, they know their repeat customers. Businesses like newsagents that deal with the same people every day are the best bet. When I was a networking function attendee in Townsville I would always talk to the bankers, the media ad space sellers, and cafe owners to get a feel for how things were going.
- Join a club or community group – head along to meetings featuring people from your area, join the P&C… contribute, but also watch and listen. What is going on where you live? What are the issues for people around you? How can you serve them practically? How can you hit them with the gospel?
Some bonus points for regional areas, unless there’s a suburb based equivalent these aren’t going to be that great for your specific context in a bigger city:
- Subscribe to newsletters from your regional economic development agency.
- Subscribe to newsletters from the Local Council.
- Join the Chamber of Commerce.
- Go to networking functions (who knows who you’ll be able to talk to about Jesus).
- Listen to local radio, especially talk back.
Incidentally, age demographics are dead as far as tourism marketing is concerned. Age is irrelevant (mostly). Place is also mostly irrelevant (except that it has a bearing on income). People want experiences that they can fit into the narrative of their lives. Postcard perfect photos are a thing of the past – you’ll find most tourism ads from here on in (thanks to some new market segmentation work produced by the state tourism body) will feature a mix of people enjoying different experiences.
People want a holiday they can go back and tell their friends about. Holidays aren’t about collecting photos of the seven wonders of the world anymore – they’re about doing something authentic, learning something new, or meeting interesting people from interesting cultures.
This new way of thinking is possibly relevant if you’re putting together an event for your neighbourhood – because I think events are similar to holidays.
But demographics still have an influence over where people live – you won’t find many low income students living in the austere realm of Ascot (think the upper class eastern suburbs) so understanding one’s geographic context is important when it comes to pitching events and sermon applications at people.