Are Religious ‘Brands’ Tuned In, Credible?

 In Articles, Research

What’s the difference between creating an attractive and engaging religious community and marketing? I am asking myself that as I read The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In & Build Credibility, by Gregg L. Witt and Derek E. Baird (Kogan Page, 2018).

Although religion and religious belief are not commodities to be bought, sold, or traded, religious believers and marketplace consumers have much in common, it seems, especially in what catches their interest and captures their respect.

In The Gen Z Frequency, Witt and Baird offer a five-point checklist for marketers trying to appeal to this demographic, for their purposes those born between 1996 and 2011 (approximately). Thinking back on the young people I have interviewed or otherwise encountered in creating these blog posts, I am struck by parallels between these five “foundational truths” and what I have heard regarding the places and people that attract young people to gather, whether the setting be churches or coffee shops, fitness centers, or other such “third spaces.”

The checklist follows. As you read it, ask yourself: Are these “foundational truths” for marketing also true for what draws young people into conversations and communities focused on faith and belief?

  • Identity: you need an identity that Gen Z identifies with and cares about; be authentic—don’t assume an identity that is not yours. Be who you say you are.
  • Trust: Transparency + Authenticity = Credibility. “Building trust is absolutely critical when building consumer relationships,” the authors say. They quote Nicholas Tran, a marketing executive and thought leader: “Trust takes belief, belief takes faith, and faith takes nurture and care. It takes more than a product, a promise, or a campaign. We work to earn trust in everything we say, everything we make and everything we do. Period.”
  • Relevance: Know your audience, then provide them with what they need, when they need it, in a fashion that connects with their culture, what they care about, who they admire. Further, find ways to elevate the audience’s status and build community.
  • Possibility: “If you can make [Gen Z] feel that new things are possible, you’ll leave a lasting imprint. Fill their minds with possibility, and they will keep coming back for more.”
  • Experience: Create “experiences that invite [Gen Z] to become part of the story. They want to be part of the conversation, not just talked to. A good experience builds community, encourages interaction and builds brand loyalty.”

At the outset of The Gen Z Frequency chapter 3, “The Five Foundational Truths of Youth Marketing,” the authors quote Steve Berra, president at The Berrics, a skateboarding website as well as a private indoor skatepark, regarding his philosophy for what makes a brand successful. I invite you to substitute “religions” or “religious believers” for “brands” in Berra’s statement.

“In the past, young consumers had to endure brands talking at them via campaigns created by adults, and broadcast on adult platforms they couldn’t be any less interested in listening to. Today, the conversation has changed. Brands can’t get away with talking at their audience anymore, they can’t even get away with talking to them, they have to talk with them, the way real human beings do. Brands have to know that their most valuable weapon—particularly with this elusive demographic—is their ability to listen. There has to be an exchange of thoughts and ideas. Only then can brands produce and present what is needed and wanted by the very people they’re trying to cater to in the first place. If a brand can do that, they’re going to make it. If they can’t, then it’s a roll of the dice.”

Steve Berra,president at The Berrics, 2018

What are your experiences and understandings regarding what attracts young people to a brand, a religion, a faith community? Please share your comments in the space provided below.

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