How The Fourth Era of Marketing Can Help You Build Relationships

Len WilsonChurch, Leadership, Marketing2 Comments

In corporate society, the purpose of marketing has traditionally been to create new markets for finding customers. Several strategic approaches to marketing have developed over the past century, each of which are still in use today. The latest approach is content marketing. It’s actually a great way to help build relationships and community.


Marketing Era #1: Fruit Not Seed

Marketing began with a features and benefits approach, dating back to the late 1800s. With features and benefits, the seller gave equal weight to the unique aspects of the product or service and to the ways it supposedly aided the customer. Like the scientific era in which marketing was born, features and benefits stuck to the facts (or at least to its fake-news version of the facts). I call this fruit, not seed.


Marketing Era #2: Bonds Not Bargains

In the early 1980s, an entirely new approach to marketing emerged, centered on human psychology and captured in a book called Influence. It names six core behaviors that drive people’s decision-making:

  • social proof
  • likability
  • reciprocity
  • commitment
  • authority
  • scarcity

Its author, Robert Cialdini, emphasized that human interactions aren’t purely objective but are dependent on relationships.

Its approach moved past the simple transactions of the first era to a deeper psychological connection.


Marketing Era #3: Art Not Data

Soon after, in the late 1980s, the firm BB Day pioneered a new, more experiential approach to communication with their famous campaign Just Do It for their client Nike. It developed Cialdini’s ideas and focused on projections of user interaction and human sensory experience. I call this art not data, and my book Digital Storytellers explores its application in ministry.

Its approach acknowledged user experience and built on it through sensory experience. But the focus was still on describing the product.


Marketing Era #4: Help Not Hype

By the mid 2000s, in response to changing channels, a new form of marketing emerged. It capitalized on Internet democratization and focused not just on describing the product, but on giving away the product or service itself.

This has come to be known as Content Marketing. I call it help, not hype.

Without realizing what we were doing would one day be called “content marketing”, my former business partner Jason Moore and I did this at my company Midnight Oil, when in the fall of 2003 we gave away a Christmas worship video and grew our company list from 3,000 to 12,000 in less than 2 months.

By the late 00s, marketing your content had become mainstream. Seth Godin wrote about building a “tribe” of 1000 raving fans by giving them your best content. The gaming industry discovered the “freemium” model, which moved from pre-purchasing a game in its entirety to giving away a portion of the game for free and then charging for the necessary improvements to actually win. And on to this day.


A Shift From Storyteller to Story to Storyreceiver

Throughout these developments there has been a gradual shift in the locus of communication. The linguist Roman Jakobson describes all communication occurring on a linear path from sender to message to receiver. Early marketing focused on the sender; shifts to experience focused on the message. Now, content marketing focuses on the receiver.

These are positive developments. Now, anyone can publish. We no longer need “professionals” to help us communicate.

But in all of the innovation, sometimes a core principle gets lost. Business tells you that the goal of marketing is to create markets. Build customers. But in the church, and increasingly in corporate America, the goal of communication is not simply new customers.


The Goal of Content Marketing is Building Relationships

I’ve observed several people in the greater church world get lost in the allure of content marketing and personal publishing over the last few years. Many well known personalities have embraced content marketing, full bore. And now when you go to their site, what you see is a money machine in operation.

When it comes to kingdom purposes, the purpose of marketing is not to create customers. It’s to create community. It’s a form of strategic caring, as I outlined in my recent article for Church Marketing Sucks, called Does Sharing the Gospel Justify Any Church Marketing Means Necessary? This is a very different end result.

Great marketing minds such as Seth Godin and Bernadette Jiwa know that good communication begins with understanding the people with whom you’re communicating. The goal is marketing isn’t selling. It’s Community.

We of all people in the church should understand this.


About the Author

Len Wilson

2 Comments on “How The Fourth Era of Marketing Can Help You Build Relationships”

  1. Love this idea that for many businesses and organizations, marketing is all about building relationships. My company’s premise is that this relationship building will create engagement towards the desired goal, because it fosters trust and likability. So we show organizations how to build relationship in this latest era of marketing. Great article!

    1. Hey Tim, love that you’re doing that. It’s a positive for our culture to move away from simple transactions and towards something that builds community.

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