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About a year and a half ago, I started attending a church here in Charlotte called Elevation. You can read the whole incredible story of the church’s formation here, but the 30-second version is a preacher named Steven and roughly a dozen of his friends heard a calling from the Lord to start a new church. They worked hard and they prayed hard and less than 6 years later, the church averages more than 7,000 attendees every weekend and is among the fastest growing congregations in the world.
Now before anybody freaks out, don’t worry, this Southerner’s Take isn’t about religion. It’s about a very simple tactic Elevation practices that I believe has had a lot to do with their growth and is applicable to our marketing world on a day to day basis.
There are a lot of things “nontraditional” about Elevation Church. The music is a bit louder (mamma loves going but literally puts her fingers in her ears sometimes), the preaching is simulcast to multiple locations around the city and the preacher is as comfortable discussing Twitter as he is Corinthians. But, what I think sets the church apart is how they treat their first time guests.
From the moment a first time visitor pulls into the parking lot, they see signs directing them to prime time parking spots where they are usually met by a friendly face, welcoming them to church and letting them know that for the next hour or so, they are considered a VIP (more like Tim Tebow, less like Snoop Dog). They’re given great seats for the worship experience, are personally welcomed by the pastor and are provided takeaway materials for casual reading after the service.
In the grand scheme of running an organization that handles thousands of people on a weekly basis, it’s really not that big a deal – a little extra attention, a parking perk and a dollar’s worth of printing costs (yes even in a post about church, I’m calculating my CPM. Yes, I know that’s sad). But on the personalized, qualitative level where nervous first timers are likely won and lost – I believe it makes all the difference in the world and provides key learning parallels to consumer brands around the world.
Think about it. How often have you ordered a burger, tried on a shirt or test driven a car in the hands of such poor customer service that you were shaking your head no to repeat business before the employee even made their pitch? There’s something so incredibly impactful about first impressions that as marketers, we cannot overlook. Whether a consumer’s first brand interaction is via a story we placed in a magazine they read or with a customer service rep whose script we penned, we have a weighty responsibility to make sure their first experience is a memorable one.
In recent years, technology has provided marketers a plethora of tools to help make these first impressions in the form of social media. While we may not be able to guarantee consumers a front row parking spot (no, your next campaign should not involve the distribution of limited edition handicapped tags), we can guarantee sneak peeks at original content, early trials of product extensions and commentary so darn witty that consumers want to check back again and again.
That said, let’s not forget about the product. As friendly as the parking staff is at Elevation, their mega growth would be severely stunted if Pastor Steven wasn’t “preaching the heat” (told you it was different) and people weren’t experiencing something really powerful in the services. The same holds true for the products we market everyday and a subtle reminder of how awesome it is to work for an agency that only represents category leading brands that produce really, really solid products.
So marketers, as you craft that release today, prepare to staff an event or write spokesperson message points, don’t just think about how your brand adorers will consume them. Instead, try considering the folks you want to become brand adorers – how to engage them, entertain them and make them feel like a VIP.