The Bible contains within its pages, the Greatest Story Ever Told. But what if you could apply the basic principles behind what makes the Bible so riveting to church marketing? Chances are, you already do some of this but it helps to know the principles.
In the past few years, the “storytelling” trend has been sweeping the field of marketing and communications. The concepts have been discussed and researched at length, and it appears that only food, shelter, and clothing beat stories when it comes to things we need. It’s not hyperbole either.
Multiple studies have shown that our brains crave stories. We check social media for dramas and tragedies from news sources and our friends. We collect books and anecdotes. We watch hours and hours of television per week.
A few years back, researchers in Spain found taking in a story affects our brains dramatically. When we hear neutral words like “chair” or “key,” only the language-processing parts of the brain called Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas are lit up. But tell someone a story and not only do their brain’s Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas light up, the parts of the brain associated with specific senses and emotions light up as well.
In the study, words like “perfume” and “coffee” activated the areas of the brain responsible for smell. Subsequent studies found similar results for verbs — “he kicked the ball” for example, will activate parts of the brain necessary for delivering a kick.
Stories not only deliver information, they allow the recipient to experience events as if they were actually there. This might be a lot to take in, but chances are you’ve already been using stories as part of your communications as well as in your everyday life.
In a casual experiment by Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, she asked her students to give everyone else in her class a 1-minute pitch. The results were surprising. Only 10% of the students bothered to use a story, while the rest stuck with numbers and facts. When she asked her students to recall what was said in each pitch, only 5% of the students cited a specific figure — but 63% percent remembered the stories!
“Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories… A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different and the result is persuasion and sometimes action.”
When marketing for your church, a good story can multiply the effectiveness of your calls to action. Storytelling is perhaps the most powerful tool you have at your disposal for any marketing campaign. Good storytelling can bring life to any message, and help it stick to memory far more easily than just a plain rendition of the facts.
However, not everyone can tell stories. All you really need to be good at it is some time and practice. But if you aren’t confident about creating solid narratives for your church marketing campaign, here are a few tips:
5 Solid Storytelling Tips For Church Marketing
1.) Understand your congregation.
This means so much more than knowing their demographic data or income brackets. This often means delving into their lives and truly understanding them, including their preferences on woship style, service times, activities, etc.
2.) Learn which emotions match your call-to-action.
Do you need your congregation to be somber? Do you want them to be receptive or more giving? The ways you tell a story can affect the emotional response you get from your audience. Take a few minutes to consider how you will deliver your message for maximum impact.
3.) Be authentic.
Your audience can spot a phony a mile away. When you lay out a narrative refrain from over-exaggeration, whether it’s a true story or simply for the purposes of illustration. Remember that while an emotional response is what you want to get from your audience — trust still counts. It’s the story that gets remembered. But the trust you cultivate that actually seals the deal.
4.) Be credible
Now you can be authentic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people will believe you. The authentic is real. The credible is what is accepted as real. There’s a huge difference. You can be as real and truthful as possible, but without credibility, any church marketing attempt will only be in vain. This means you’ll have to help people trust you. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this involves paying attention to looks and what “seems” real rather than substance.
This means your marketing copy, images, church bulletins, business cards, flyers, brochures, websites, social media pages, television and radio spots, and everything related to your church’s campaign have to reach an acceptable level of production quality if they’re to be believed. As a general rule you want the quality of your materials to match or exceed the standard.
5.) Encourage participation.
Participation is why the internet and social media are such big parts of our lives. They’ve essentially allowed everyone to have a stake in what is in effect a big ongoing collective story. Maintaining an online community that allows and encourages content from your congregation can help them identify more closely with your church and other members. This can be as simple as a Facebook page for your church, or even Facebook groups for members with particular things in common, such as Youth, Youth Parents, Singles, Young Marrieds, etc. Post questions and topics that encourage members to interact and share their own stories and testimonials. Encourage your members to check in when they attend church, and share your church’s content with their friends and followers.
One social media platform that encourages storytelling is Snapchat. According to Bloomberg, more than 1/3 of Snapchat’s daily users create “stories” (a series of photos or videos) that are viewable by their followers for up to 24 hours. As of April 2016, users were watching 10 billion stories a day on Snapchat. Snapchat has a younger audience, at least so far, than Facebook, so why not encourage your Youth, College, and Young Adult leaders to utilize Snapchat to engage with their members?
Good storytelling can amplify the effectiveness of any church marketing campaign, not only by appealing to our emotions, but by helping stimulate our imagination as well. Storytelling can allow your community and congregation to experience things that plain information simply would not.