Building Your Brand Religion

Even with the most finicky of customers in an increasingly chaotic and complicated world, lifetime value and brand loyalty can still be achieved. But not how you might think. It’s not the loyalty programs, frequent purchaser points (only 35 percent enrolled redeem these, per Forrester Research), and free gifts that stack up the purchase orders for a given customer. And it’s not the great service that can be matched by your competitors, either. It’s something much deeper. The same something that keeps the church pews warm, tithing coffers full and baptismal fonts busy.

Even with the most finicky of customers in an increasingly chaotic and complicated world, lifetime value and brand loyalty can still be achieved. But not how you might think.

It’s not the loyalty programs, frequent purchaser points (only 35 percent enrolled redeem these, per Forrester Research), and free gifts that stack up the purchase orders for a given customer. And it’s not the great service that can be matched by your competitors, either. It’s something much deeper. The same something that keeps the church pews warm, tithing coffers full and baptismal fonts busy.

The secret to lifetime value and referrals from your customers is really no secret at all. It’s simply the psychology of hope, loss and rewards, and trust that has made religion the biggest industry worldwide. Without question.

Consider:

If loyalty were dead, all of this money could not be generated from the millions of loyal believers who give up, on average, nearly 3 percent of their annual incomes to their religious faiths. If you take just U.S. wage earners with an annual income of $40,000, that comes up to about $93 billion a year in tithing—the equivalent in revenue for the worldwide video game industry in 2013, according to Gartner Research. And you wouldn’t have nearly 44,000 people attending a single group’s service on Sunday where the only product being sold is hope.

While we direct marketers are clearly selling more than hope as we peddle tangible products and services to millions of customers each year, our marketing ROI could truly become divine if we follow even just a few of the tenets from religious psychology. The primary tenets or cornerstones of all successful religions are:

1. Hope or faith in a better life (in this case, an afterlife);

2. Trust in your leaders to guide you with integrity;

3. A sense of community, or like-minded souls who have the same values, ideals and beliefs; and finally,

4. A fervor so strong about your beliefs that you are willing to spend much of your time on this earth spreading your faith’s gospel and bringing others into the fold—all on your own time, at your own expense and without any pay (besides the joy of knowing you brought eternal joy to others).

These are the same four cornerstones that make for successful branding and must be present in any brand’s marketing programs today.

Hope: All products are emotional purchases—your car, life insurance, clothing, furnishings and even food. Each time you swipe that payment card, you are doing so with the unconscious hope of gaining some intangible value associated with that product. Be it status, safety, reliability, an image that will attract romance or job opportunities for you, or a break from the fear of failing your children, spouse or job. What is the hope associated with your products? And yes, this applies to both B-to-B and B-to-C.

Trust: I’m not sure if there has even been a lower level of consumer trust for big brands as there has been in the past decade. Regardless of what industry you are in, trust is fleeting and hard to get, even for a small moment in your customers’ lifetime. Consumers are eager to find brands they can truly trust to stand behind their promises and products, and to actually put consumers’ interests, and those of the community at large, ahead of their own. There a few who do that well. Tom’s shoes is a great example. Even though the company sells a pair of shoes for around $65 which costs it $9 to make—earning it a profit of around $56 a pair—people love and trust Tom’s, because it promises to donate one pair to a needy child for every pair sold. And Tom’s produces evidence that it really fulfills this promise. The leaders of Tom’s shoes are right up there with the rich pastors of the world for selling hope that the world can be a better place, providing people with a means to make it that way, operating with integrity and cashing in on millions at the same time.

Community: Also known as “congregations,” we flock toward people with like values to feel safe, validated and empowered. Many people lose their faith at some point in their lives and question the religion of their childhood, and a large number of these fallen-from-faith adults stay true to their religion at the cost of losing a community of support, friends and a trusted network to be there when they are in need. Leaving is too high a price. The same applies to brand communities. Brands that bring consumers together for events or group discounts like “Family and Friends” create unbreakable equity as consumers pay a price to switch that is far higher than money, in many cases.

Evangelism: We love telling friends about a great purchase and then getting great satisfaction (really, decision validation) when they buy the same thing. It is our innate need to know we are making wise choices that others believe are wise, as well. This is particularly strong when it comes to our faith. The Mormons are famous, partially due to the recent Broadway musical, “Book of Mormon,” for their aggressive missionary program—whereby they have 80,000 missionaries evangelizing all over the world paying their own expenses, and working for free to build the church’s membership base. Why do they do it? Because they truly believe they have found the secret to a happy life and an even better afterlife, and they are compelled to bring others into their joy. This same need to share sources of personal joy with others applies to customers. Like religions, brands just need to create the tools to make it easy to do. Religions like Mormonism and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church have a book that members share with others. Religious-like brands have discounts and free trials for loyal customers to share freely.

When you find the right tools and provide the right incentives to your loyal customers, you can engage free marketers for your brand who will work on their own time, at their own expense and for the reward of knowing someone else loves your products, too! Seriously, what more can a brand want? (Other than a tax exempt status!)

As you start a crafting a new marketing plan, throw out the four Ps and starting focusing on the above “Four Cs”—the cornerstones of your brand’s religion—and see how quickly you reap the rewards in this lifetime (and the next!).