The Most Potent form of Marketing has been around since creation, and it is FREE!
“A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.”[i]
- Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook
The most potent form of marketing has been around since creation, and it never costs a dime. It works better than anything else still to this day. It is a type of social marketing called WOM (Word of Mouth) advertising.
WOM is an unpaid form of promotion in which satisfied customers tell other people how much they like a business, product, or service. What makes WOM advertising so powerful is that the referring source has nothing to gain in the transaction. In most other forms of advertising, the referring source is compensated in some manner but not with WOM. Consequently, WOM advertising comes across as more authentic, and that makes it more effective.
Mark Zuckerberg did not invent social marketing. But he did create a powerful way to tap into the innate desire people have to live as social beings. God made us to be social, declaring, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). From that moment, the goodness of God was shared via word-of-mouth, as were many other messages.
Remember how the fame of their God preceded Israel through WOM everywhere they went. Likewise, the shepherds shared what they had seen and heard about the birth of Christ. And news of the message and miracles of an unknown rabbi from Nazareth exploded across a nation through a WOM campaign like no other.
Zuckerberg’s use of social media as a platform for organic WOM advertising has been so effective that he was able to monetize it by including traditional paid advertising. Users of social media tolerate the presence of paid advertising because it allows them to use a tool that keeps them connected freely. Zuckerberg said, “People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.”
This chapter is not about social media. Quite the opposite. Social media is likely making us less social. People are staring at screens and missing out on the joy of face-to-face communication. But social media illustrates the awesome power of social marketing, and specifically the power of WOM advertising.
You will likely see results the moment you properly equip and motivate your church for WOM advertising. A LifeWay Research study found that 63% of Americans say a personal invitation from a friend or neighbor would be very or somewhat effective in getting them to visit a church.[ii] No other method of marketing comes even close to that rate. If your church is not as intentional about WOM as it is other forms of marketing, it is time to make some changes. Try some of the strategies below and experience the power of word-of-mouth advertising.
Word of Mouth Strategies
· WOM Strategy #1 – Give your members something positive to say about you. This is extremely important because it works both positively and negatively. People will talk about the pastor, the preaching, the members, the building, and everything else because it either adds value or is found lacking. As discussed in chapter 10, your church members need something positive (the value) to talk about with those they want to invite to church. Make sure your church provides value and celebrates its value often, so it is remembered and reinforced.
· WOM Strategy #2 – Be the church THAT… Separates itself from other churches in the community by being unique in some way. This is not something that you just invent. It is about recognizing what you do well and using that as a way to promote yourself in the community. You don’t want to simply be known as the church at First and Main with the big steeple.
You want to be the church THAT:
o Has ten people greet you when you come in the doors.
o Opens its door to the homeless when the temperature falls below freezing.
o Provides backpacks filled with school supplies to needy children every fall.
o Sends personalized notes and an email from the pastor to all first-time guests.
o Has a fantastic fall festival for the community every year.
o Hands out water bottles on the street corners when the heat is unbearable.
The list could go on. The point is to be known for something that represents our Heavenly Father, so it gets people talking.
· WOM Strategy #3 – Make it easy for your members to invite others. For just a few bucks, you can have 1,000 business-sized cards designed and printed with a simple invitation that lists your service times, website, and address. Give those cards to your members to carry in their wallets or purses for those times they encounter someone they want to invite to church. You can also create evites, social media watch parties, and sharable graphics and posts that your members can then share with others. The key is to give your people the right tools to make it easier for them to share great information quickly.
· WOM Strategy #4 – Have an event. I knew of a pastor launching a new church in a community where he was new to the city and knew no one. He convinced a local trucking company to donate the use of a semi-tractor trailer, which he then parked in a shopping plaza next to a major highway. He printed banners with his new church logo and in giant letters which read, “Feed the Hungry.” He then set a chair on the roof of the trailer and stated that he would not eat until the trailer was filled with food for the homeless. As you might imagine, word spread on social media and a local news channel even sent a crew in a helicopter to get reports each day. Hundreds of people came to donate food. The media coverage allowed him to talk about the church he was planting, and he never had to pay a dime for advertising. The filled truck replenished several local food banks, and the new church got off to a great start. And in an attempt to piggyback off his marketing success, a local car dealership even donated a new car to a family in his church in need. You don’t have to go on a hunger strike, but a well-managed event can be a great way to get people in your community talking about your church.
· WOM Strategy #5 – Steer clear of “ho-hum” marketing. Since the objective is to get people talking, nothing is worse than using the same marketing as other churches in your area. Few people talk about or even read the short listings in the Sunday paper that look the same for every other church. Bland social media posts, “off the rack” postcards, and boring brochures will not generate WOM excitement. Be original. Create smart social media posts, attention-getting Google headlines, and eye-popping print marketing that people cannot miss. If you are going to pay for a billboard, make it clever enough to get people talking about what is happening at your church.
· WOM Strategy #6 – Be relevant. Speak about the things that your people care about. Answer their fears. Inspire their dreams. Give them the Truth to combat their doubts. Provide something better than the latest TV show for their Monday morning “water cooler” talk. Just as Paul was “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23), be who your people need you to be by addressing the issues that are most relevant to them.
· WOM Strategy #7 – Accumulate testimonials. Don’t seek “reviews” like a restaurant or retail shop. Collect real stories of people whose lives have changed because they attended your church. Hopefully, you have many! Whenever someone tells you about an improvement in their life like a saved marriage, or perhaps they started giving by faith or serving the church, ask them to come to church and share it for a short video segment you can use in the future. Authentic testimonials make excellent sermon bumpers, as well as powerful Facebook and website content. There is nothing quite like the true story of a transformed life.
· WOM Strategy #8 – Be the church that changes lives. People will talk about the church that improves lives, heals addictions, and saves marriages. Just as the “news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country” (Luke 7:17) when He raised the widow’s son to life, so will news of your church spread when you help to bring people back from destruction.
You should be as intentional as possible in providing your members with ways to use WOM to invite people they know or meet to church. Give them something positive to say about you. Imagine for a moment you say to your neighbor, “Hey Bob, you and your wife should come to visit our church this Sunday.” And Bob’s answer is, “Why?” I would hope you have a list of reasons you can give Bob at that moment that would make your church seem like a great place to visit. Make sure your members know the items on that list and can share them with others. Be a beacon of hope for the lost and hurting in your community, and your WOM advertising will spread like wildfire.
Taken from Marketing Like God: Developing & Implementing a Biblical Marketing Strategy for Church Growth.
Available on Amazon
[i] Louise Story, “Facebook Is Marketing Your Brand Preferences (with Your Permission),” The New York Times, (The New York Times, November 7, 2007), accessed March 15, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/technology/07iht-07adco.8230630.html) [ii] Ed Stetzer, “Strategic Evangelism: The Power of an Invitation,” ChristianityToday.com, July 21, 2014, accessed March 15, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/july/power-of-invitation-our-god-pursues-lost-and-so-should-we.html.