We spoke with Poonam Patodia, Chief Marketing officer of United Methodist Communications, about why local churches need to develop strategies for marketing themselves to their communities. Poonam is a Marketing veteran with over eighteen years of experience working for industries such as Finance, Technology and now the church. At UMCom, she is most passionate about spreading the message of God’s love and grace to all.
Q: For some people, the concept of “marketing” aligns more with the secular corporate world than with the church. Can you talk about why we need marketing in the church?
A: Marketing is the basic principle of presenting your offer to your audience that needs it, in a manner that will make sense to them, appeal to them. Human beings are hardwired with common desires such as love, acceptance, hope, purpose, etc. If we identify those as the wants and needs of the world, the church is perfectly positioned to address those desires. Good marketing allows churches to share with its community how it can meet spiritual and the other needs of its members.
At UMCom, we believe it’s time we completely overhaul the way church does marketing and advertising. UMCom does Barna research every couple of years to determine the greatest desires of seekers and what they are looking for in a church. Through the research, we’ve learned that seekers want to be welcomed, accepted. The need is there. If you look at marketing through this lens, then the question is no longer whether we need marketing in the church; marketing is how a church must engage with others to bring the good news to this world.
Q: Let’s talk about the challenges and opportunities of marketing The United Methodist Church to a global and diverse audience.
A: In the global, diverse church that we are, one can imagine the number of opinions that co-exist on a variety of topics. But sometimes that can also be a huge challenge for a marketer.
When you cannot clearly define what you’re offering, your messaging becomes difficult. To avoid getting tangled in this challenge, we have focused on the things on which we can all agree. For example, United Methodist churches are welcoming to all to come and worship. We believe in local and global mission. The denomination strikes a balance between structure and freedom.
Our advertising messages have focused on these key tenets of United Methodism, which also align beautifully with what we’ve learned seekers are looking for. Seekers want to belong. They want to feel a part of something larger. They want to learn more about God. So yes, there are challenges, but in my mind, it’s such a wonderful opportunity to be able to tell the world about who this church is and the impact that The United Methodist Church is creating in the world every single day by focusing on those commonalities.
Q: Lent and Advent historically have been effective times to advertise both at a global church and local church level. Can you talk about UMCom’s recent Lenten efforts?
A: Yes, Easter and Advent are the best outreach seasons for churches. Through advertising, we help local churches by creating a national buzz. We have continued the kids campaign that we launched in 2017 with messaging for Easter that invokes feelings of mystery and belief in miracles and the possibility of that which is possible only with God’s love. With Easter being the time of the resurrection, our messaging focused on reminding people of the hope in and love of God, to continue to search for meaning and focus, to think about new beginnings, renewals, miracles.
We are advertising through a slew of digital and social channels. We will also be present on various Advanced Television Sets — the extra gadget that sits in many homes these days, such as Roku or Apple TV. Through ATV, we will be able to reach people who don’t subscribe to regular TV or cable but who use these advanced devices. We also had a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal on April 20.
For our local churches, we continue to provide seasonal outreach resources, invitational resources and a library of social graphics that churches can download and use on their websites and social platforms.
Q: To finish up, UMCom recently has launched a series of ads as part of the Movement campaign. Can you discuss this campaign, its goals and the response now that the ads are live?
A: Our goal through this campaign was to create umbrella positioning for the UMC brand that inspires church members and leaders and gives hope for the future direction of the church.
Before General Conference in February, there was a general feeling of confusion, anxiety, fear and frustration – at all levels of church leadership and membership — over what the issue being discussed will or could potentially do to the institution itself. There was also a general lack of knowledge among many members that this conversation about human sexuality is going on.
We wanted both leaders and members to feel encouraged, inspired, assured and hopeful that there IS a way forward, regardless of the outcome of General Conference. We wanted to reinforce a positive perception of the impact the church has had in advance of them being exposed to this controversial conversation.
The United Methodist Church has been creating — and continues to create — disciples who carry out the work of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This has been our history, and it will be our future. The transforming work of Jesus Christ is carried out in the world by disciples who give of themselves with their gifts and abilities and/or give financially to mission, service and social change programs on a local and global level. We give hope where none exists. We bring love to people when they need it the most. Our global footprint in terms of impact cannot be measured easily. We have so much to celebrate and this ad campaign was a reminder of all of that.
The overarching message was that, in the midst of this controversial topic, let’s not forget who we are and how we are a force with which to be reckoned on a day-to-day basis around the world. We wanted to remind people that, regardless of the outcome of General Conference, the life-changing, life-giving work of the church and the people of this church will continue.
The campaign launched in October of last year, four months in advance of General Conference. We have had hundreds of thousands of impressions of the campaign as we tried to be present through all major communication channels of the denomination nationally and internally, through annual conferences and local churches.
Although the Special Session of General Conference is behind us, the campaign continues to be used by conferences and local churches because they believe the campaign is still very relevant and helps remind people of God’s love for this church and gives hope to them. UMCom will continue deploying the campaign contextually in 2019, as it seems appropriate.
Article content adapted from UMCom@Work, the internal newsletter of United Methodist Communications.