Marketing and the Mormon Church
By Joshua Decker
When discussing the topic of marketing, most think of products such as shoes, automobiles, or soft drinks. But, are these common retail items the only products that incorporate the techniques and strategies of marketing? To answer this, let’s look to a different type of product, a religion.
A product is defined as a need-satisfying offering of a firm. If we look at churches as a type of firm, what product do they offer? Should their product be described as either a product or a service? What they do offer is a set of beliefs and community in which to practice those beliefs. The utility they offer can vary from acceptance into a community, a relationship with a God, fellowship with other believers, and forgiveness of sin.
When asked to describe the “Product” of a religion, Dr Ramon Avila, a professor of Marketing at Ball State University says, “I think too often we want to describe our core product (religion) and we should be talking about our total product. That is, the building, the people, the minister, the programs offered to each of the subgroups. A church offers, religious worship, camaraderie, a chance to volunteer, some have schools for the kids, bible schools, etc. The product is much broader than just religion.”
How does the consumer choose which religion they will devote their time and efforts to? The number of religions in the United States alone is uncountable, especially if you count the many different denominations of each separate religion. With so many options available how does one choose? It isn’t as easy as picking a cereal off of the market shelf.
Each religion in today’s society, whether aware of it or not, is presenting an individual product to the society, community, or consumer group it serves. For the most part, each religion has something unique to offer. To understand why people go through a certain process in choosing a church we must look at it in the same way we would analyze any other product.
One thing that every major religion in the world today has in common is that they all seek growth. To do this they, whether knowingly or unknowingly, go through certain marketing techniques. To be more precise, they entice attention of the consumer, to hold their interest towards their product, to arouse desire to attend, and to finally create action on the behalf of the consumer, which would ultimately mean becoming a member of their Church or accepting their beliefs as being true. This is adapted from the AIDA model (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), which shows the process in which a consumer goes through when making choices for a particular product.
Many of today’s major religions don’t worry to much about marketing techniques. They simply rely on the things that have worked in the past, such as word of mouth, publicity through community involvement, as well as the attractive benefits that their individual religion offers. One religion, however, doesn’t leave its “Product” alone to entice people. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (ie. The Mormon Church or the LDS) takes a bold and aggressive approach to informing people about their religion.
This Church has been successful at market penetration in recent years through a very aggressive marketing mix. Through national advertising campaigns, the church uses television, radio and other forms of mass media to present the image of the church as being based on family and biblical values.
For any corporation or organization to successfully produce growth, it must have a successful and effective recruitment program. The LDS Church has become the acknowledged master of the proselytizing game, bringing it almost to an art form. From the outside looking in, recruitment clearly seems to be the highest priority item in the corporate budget.
In 1994 the Church released figures that a full third of the population of the United States has been personally visited by representatives of the Church, and over 36 percent have close friends or relatives that are LDS.
Along with the Church’s successful media campaigns, they are involved in many other image enhancing programs. A good example of this is their highly publicized, world touring Tabernacle Choir, which performs all around the world as well as their countless television appearances. In addition to their choir, the Church also has many cultural centers, such as the one in Hawaii, which are aimed directly at tourists.
On the island of Oahu, The Church operated Polynesian Tourist center is Hawaii’s top paid tourist attraction. Every year, more than a million people pass through its doors. Tourists are not only handed information about the center, but are given information on the church as well.
One of the major ways in which the church reaches potential members is through personal selling. This is direct spoken communication to the potential customer. Their sales team consists of over 50,000 volunteer missionaries who serve in the U.S. and 94 other countries. It missionary program costs over $550 million per year! Their total membership worldwide was 9,600,000 in 1996 and has no doubt passed the 10 million mark by now.
“The Mormon Church feels they have an obligation to do outreach missionary work. They require their members to go on missionary trips. You can call their missionary work personal selling,” says Dr. Avila.
Currently, more than 50,000 Latter-day Saints are serving missions around the world. Approximately 75 percent of the Church’s missionaries are young men between the ages of 19 and 26 and holding the priesthood office of “elder.” Yet substantial numbers of single women (18 percent) and older couples (7 percent) also serve proselytizing missions. These missionaries work long hours, seven days a week for two years (elders) or 18 months (women and couples), teaching the restored gospel and its ordinances and engaging in community service.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is growing so fast that its membership figures are difficult to compute. In 1992 US News and World report stated, “Since World War II, its ranks have quadrupled to more than 8.3 million members worldwide. With 4.5 million U.S. members, Mormons already outnumber Presbyterians and Episcopalians combined. If current trends hold, by some estimates they will number 250 million worldwide by 2080 and surpass all but the Roman Catholic Church among Christian bodies.
“The church needs to recruit adequate labor to drive its business growth beyond the borders of the U.S. But at the same time it has to make sure that it doesn’t lose control of the home ground. It’s the same problem of resource allocation in new markets faced by any multinational.” Says Bradley Bertoch, a venture capitalist from Utah.
As we look at the size of the Mormon Church’s in terms of it’s members, we must also look at it in terms of financial wealth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints is an economical powerhouse. The churches financial assets total a minimum of 30 billion dollars. If it were a corporation, it’s $5.9 billion annual gross income would put it more than midway up the fortune 500 list, above companies such as Nike and the Gap. Last year alone, $5.2 billion dollars in tithes flowed into Salt Lake City. For example Mormon ownership of large international corporations such as PepsiCo and the Marriott Corporation show the depth and success of their private investments.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bases it present practices heavily on the Latter-day scriptures. One such example is that the Church believes that it is called create and maintain a virtual Kingdom on earth to prepare for the coming of Christ.
Among the Mormons, things temporal have always been important along with things eternal, for the salvation in this world and the next is seen as one and the same continuing process of endless growth. Building Zion, a literal Kingdom of God on earth, has therefore meant an identity of religious and economical value: in the daily affairs of the Kingdom, Latter-day Saint scriptures call for unity (“Be ye one”), welfare (“Care of the poor”), and Economic independence (“Let thy Garments be the workmanship of thine own hands”).
Thus economic growth is an integral part of Mormon Theology. Indeed, of some 112 revelations received by the prophet Joseph Smith, 88 dealt directly with economic matters.
Given that the LDS Church is currently the fastest growing church in the nation, membership size is the most important source of it’s income. It is estimated that well over 3 million dollars a day flow in from tithing in the United States alone. Even so, the Church has recently stepped up its pressure on members to tithe. All Church employees, for example, are expected to pay a full tithe or expect immediate termination.
Another example of how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints successfully implements marketing strategies is that they have created a perfect example of a Vertical Marketing System, which is a channel system in which the whole channel focuses on the same target at the end of the channel.
Their flourishing Corporate Channel system is complete from shopping malls and grocery stores, to universities and hospitals, as well as insurance and public utility companies, to the largest cattle ranch in the world as well as one of the nation largest conglomerates of produce farms. The Church either owns or has powerful influences in every economic aspect of their community so that if there were a political uprising, they would be more than self sustained.
Kevin Nield, a Mormon Bishop, explained this as, “It’s a Reserve, In case there is a time of need. …if the other systems broke down the church would still be able to care for itself.”
There is no major church in the U.S. as active as the Latter-day Saints in economic life, nor, per capita, as successful at it. One of the main attributes to this flourishing growth is their use of multiple marketing strategies. Their efforts and success can be compared with major international corporations such as McDonalds or Coca-Cola. To more closely examine the makeup of the Churches marketing program it must be broken down into two main categories: Mass marketing and personal selling.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses mass marketing to reach a national audience. The Church uses television and radio as a key part of their advertising campaign. From prime time to the soaps, the Church place commercials that shows strong family values, happiness, and Christian virtues as a framework for their advertisements. Virtually every commercial, radio or television provides a toll free number which one may call to request a free copy of The Book of Mormon. What one is unaware of is that their name and address is given to the LDS missions office nearest the caller’s home. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has easy access to the media. Its increasing investments in media companies show this to be true. Currently, the Church owns at least 16 radio stations as well as a number of TV stations.
These costly advertisements work. As a guidepost of their success, we can look at an indicator of their growth, the distribution of the most important attribute to their religion, the Book of Mormon. The Church reports that approximately 4.5 million copies of The Book of Mormon were distributed in 1995 alone.
Most recently, television, radio and print have been bombarded with the Mormons latest advertising campaign which offers callers a free copy of the Holy Bible, as a free gift from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints. There is no mention of the Book of Mormon, and callers again will receive an unsuspected visit from local Mormon missionaries to hand deliver their copy of the Holy Bible and are encouraged to take a copy of the book of Mormon as well. This ad campaign has a goal of creating an image for the church as just another “Christian church.” The ads are misleading and would be rightly described as false or deceptive advertising.
In most cases product differentiation is a good thing. But in this case, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strives to be known as a Christian Church. As stated their statement of core beliefs and doctrines, “The Church is Christian but is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Rather, it is a restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ as originally established by the Savior.”
This has lead to response from many of the Christian denominations such as stated in Time Magazine:
In 1995 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued national guidelines stating that the Mormons were not “within the historic apostolic tradition of the Christian Church.” A more sharply edged report by the Presbyterians’ Utah subunit concluded that the Latter-day Saints “must be regarded as heretical.” The Mormons have responded to such challenges by downplaying their differences with the mainstream. In 1982 an additional subtitle appeared on the covers of all editions of the Book of Mormon: “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” In 1995 the words Jesus Christ on the official letterhead of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were enlarged until they were three times the size of the rest of the text. In Salt Lake City’s Temple Square, the guides’ patter, once full of proud references to Smith, is almost entirely Christological. “We talk about Christ a lot more than we used to,” says magazine editor Peck, whose journal’s outspokenness has earned him an edgy relationship with the church. “We want to show the converts we are Christians.”
This is a perfect example of how a company may change the appearance or alter the fundamental characteristics of a product to be appealing to a larger group. This can also be described as product development, which is the offering of improved products to satisfy needs of present markets.
The Church thrives from publicity. While there is the obvious negative publicity about the Mormon Church, there is also a great deal of positive media attention. The October 21st, 1997 edition of USA Today had one such article. The article, Christian, but Different included testimonies of missionaries and new converts alike.
While technically there is never any purchase or transaction taking place, consumers still decide on religions in a similar fashion as if there was. Religions, just like any product, must be marketed. It is very clear that the Mormon Church has this down to a fine science. The tactics and strategies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be compared to that of many fortune 500 companies.
The Church definitely understands the marketing concept, this is shown through their successful implementation of the marketing tactics. They have adapted to changing customer needs through sophisticated techniques. Their growth is exponential, almost a sort of phenomenon. Their presence is felt worldwide, and it is estimated that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could be the world’s largest religion by the middle of the next millenium.
The Orthodox Christian Churches need to wake up and look long and hard at the techniques being used to seduce their people away from the light into darkness… For even the darkness can look pretty tasty in living color, and attractive sound bites. As with so many other impulse purchases, you don’t know the trouble you “got” until you get it home. The adage, “Buyer Beware” was never truer.