This is a four-part series on What the Church can Learn from Apple (the computer and media company). Read the whole series here.
There’s often reference to the “Religion of Apple” or the “Cult of Mac.” Back in October, CNET ran a story called “Apple (and its Branding) like a Religion” (hat tip to Church Marketing Sucks). In the blog referenced in the article, there’s multiple instances that compare the Apple “Brand” to a religion. For instance, from a movie called MacHeads:
For many Mac people, I think (the Mac community) has a religious feeling to it. For a lot of people who are not comfortable with religion, it provides a community and a common heritage. I think Mac users have a certain common way of thinking, a way of doing things, a certain mindset. People say they are a Buddhist or a Catholic. We say we’re Mac users, and that means we have similar values.
Let’s get one thing out of the ballpark: I can’t wrap my head around that Apple is a religion. Religion is based on experience or questions of the unknown and intangible; Apple iPods and products are known entities that you can touch and taste. There’s no faith involved other than nebulous feelings of trust for a Brand when they let you down and put out a shoddy product once in a while. Therefore, Apple is not a religion.
That is not to say, however…that the branding of religion and the branding of Apple share similar qualities.
People identify with a brand based on several factors other than simple marketing prowess: they have experience of the brand or fear of the unknown (ie. trying an unknown brand). There’s a level of rational thought, of course, by choosing a quality product, but there’s also a sense of connectedness to one’s friends which are Mac-users or “my family has always been Methodist.” It’s the branding of the object, be it religious or secular, that has commonalities.
What is Apple’s Brand? One has only to look back at their famous 1984 commercial to see what their brand has always been about:
In closing this section, the tension for Apple, is what to do with the ‘brand’ when it must choose between being diffused and sticking to its roots. As the video MacHeads states above, Apple “is already facing strong pressure as the brand simply is becoming too broad (losing) its magic.”
- Apple hesitates, for instance, to enter into the rapidly growing netbook category (including my beloved EEEPC) because cheap products is definitely not in their sales pitch.
- While Mac sales are skyrocketing in homes and schools, the enterprise solutions offered are still meager and weak. This is directly related to Steve Jobs‘ areas of weakness in this category as he considers that to be Microsoft’s area and the image of white rows of Macs parallels the constant hammering against the rows of beige boxes in corporate America. As one commenter on CNET said “Jobs may be what is right with Apple. But he’s also what’s wrong with Apple.”
In short, branding is not a religion, but it is the way how a company (or religion) explains itself. By sticking to its tried and true brand, Apple continues to lead as it taps into a generations’ yearning for “something new” and “something different” through its brand.
I’ve been called out on “Is hacking just marketing?” I must agree that marketing and hacking are similar at the outset, but I hope to show in four installments how hacking gets at the root questions better than simple marketing adaptation.
So the overriding question is what is the ‘brand’ that your church has, or what ‘brand’ do you assign churches in the area? Does the church use phrases like “come enjoy Holy Eucharist and Word and Table” or “Come join us for community celebration”? Does it say meet in the Narthex or come to the Vestibule? There’s nothing wrong with these phrases and using proper terminology, folks……..but to think of it a different way, Seth Godin in his companion to his book Tribes talks about the value of tribes making their own language (the Emergeant Church is good at this too). We have a Christian “churchy” language. But the difficulty is Narthex, vestibule, Eucharist, etc, are not this tribe’s language, it is our parents/grandfathers‘ tribes’ language. It is hard to get this generation of people seeking ‘newness’ excited when the language they hear remind them of snoozing on Sundays.
Like Church Marketing Sucks writes about the newest Apple iPhone,
But I don’t think any of [the Apple pundits] summarized the changes as succinctly as Apple did on their web site: “iPhone 3G: Twice as fast. Half the price.”…I don’t know what “3G” means, but “twice as fast” is something I can get my head around.
And the lesson for churches is an obvious one. If you can simplify your language and put it in terms an outsider can understand then you’re communicating.
So the question to wrestle with for a week is “what is your brand?” And is it championed by you, or has it been assigned to you?
- Some churches embrace the brand, like Saddleback Church specifically markets to “Saddleback Sam” (see Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort). That’s their brand and they stick to it to create a uniform church situation (more on diversity next week).
- Do you choose to be the “white church” in a Latino neighborhood? Or was it assigned by you because of tensions between Anglo and Latino ways of doing things?
- Do you choose marketing to politics by using products or do you emphasize the people affected? The church in Detroit recently prayed over SUVs, while every other church would hear testimonies from auto workers. What kind of ‘brand’ is it that chooses to raise up products rather than people?
I know there’s lots of unresolved questions; that’s why this is a four-part series. 🙂 But I think two of the main questions from talking about apple’s brand are:
- What is your ‘brand’? Do you embrace it, or has it been assigned to you by the community (like Apple’s brand of being a rebel: championed by them first, or assigned to them first)?
- How do you expand your ‘brand’ while retaining your essential mission (like Apple looking at netbooks but being unwilling to sacrifice quality)? We’ll talk more about this next week.
Thoughts? Questions? Offer any feedback in the comments, or using the FriendConnect box below this post. Thanks in advance for the conversation.