By Bill Easum (2007)

The phrase “What’s the Buzz” is taking on more meaning every year.  Let me explain.

Those of you who know me know I have long been a proponent of television and direct mail marketing. While I am still a proponent of these two media I am becoming less convinced of their effectiveness.

Case in point: We just launched a church in Houston with six, well-done 50,000 mailings.  Two families showed up as a result of the direct mail. Clearly it didn’t work in the Houston environment.

In the past organizations could count on using the traditional media, such as radio, television, and direct mail to reach a large percentage of the public.  Today, none of these are as reliable as they once were. Now, word of mouth is beginning to take their place.  Why so? Again, let me explain.

Why Word of Mouth is Becoming all the Buzz

The fragmentation of the mass media

·         In the 1950’s an episode of “I Love Lucy drew 70%” of available audience.  Today, “Desperate Housewives draws less than a third of Lucy’s ratings.

·         Today more people watch cable TV than the three Networks.

·         In 1993 there were 130 websites; today there are tens of millions.

·         In 2001 there were virtually zero blogs and today there are over 30 million and exploding by the second.

·         In the 1960s an advertiser could reach 80% of U.S. women airing an evening simultaneously on the three major network; today it would take over 100 TV channels to reach the same audience.

·         Niche media is growing –Cable TV, podcasting, wireless messaging, the Internet and Google Adds.

The Internet encourages conversation and decision making

·         Internet buying such as

·         Decision making today is more of a conversation than in the past.

Americans are more educated today than two or three decades ago.

  • Everything you read suggests that consumers are becoming much more savvy toward any form of commercial or solicitation.

Two Key Books

Every pastor should read Applebee’s American: How Successful Political, Business and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community and The Influentials.  Both books talk about the rising importance of word-of-mouth marketing. They use three words to describe people who make word-of-mouth marketing work – “Navigators,” “Opinion Makers,” and “Influentials”. For our purposes I will refer all of them as “Connectors” but I will use the word “influentials” when it applies specifically to them.

In the book Applebee’s American: How Successful Political, Business and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community the authors suggest we are moving back into a pre-TV world where word of mouth is going to be the major form of spreading ones message or selling a product. Already more and more major companies are shifting their advertising dollars from tradition media to niche and word of mouth media.

According to the authors “the Challenge, then, for societies institutions, businesses, and government (and churches) and the people who run them- is to adjust to this new reality in which word of mouth rules and learn the word of mouth rules.”

Learning how to identify and strategically involve connectors and influentials is essential to the future.  Part One and Part Two of this article will explore these two vital areas of church marketing.

Who are the Connectors?

In a nutshell they are divided into two types of people: People with multiple connections (Group One) and people who are listened to when they speak (Group Two-Influentials). The first group can be anyone with multiple networks. The second group is more like to be college educated, midlife, in the child-rearing years, upper-middle-income, and in positions of responsibility in the workforce.

Group One:  The people in this list can also be found in Group Two

·         Pastors who speak on Sunday

·         Small group leaders

·         Children and youth directors

·         Realtors

·         Stay at home moms who carpool

·         People who email a lot

·         Politicians

·         Children’s league coaches

·         Influential people in business

·         Bus drivers

·         Taxi cab drivers

·         Consultants

·         Authors

·         Who would you add to the list?

Group Two: These are the Influentials

·         Activists in their community or state or nation, from the PTA to public office.

·         People who are connected. They have stronger ties to more groups than the average person.

·         People with impact. These are people who are more likely to be their opinions.

·         People with active minds. They are more likely to go head-over-heels into things that peak their curiosity.

·         Trendsetters.  They are the pioneers in new technology. They were the first to have cell phones and personal computers. They predicted the e-book wouldn’t fly for another twenty years.

·         They have a clear sense of what matters – they can separate the major from the minor, something that is clearing lacking in many church leaders today.

·         They believe in growth and change. They have confidence in people’s ability to change and take control of their lives. Thus they look more toward the future than most people.

·         They see a clear connection between their self-interest and the interest of the community around them. The importance of the community is almost an article of faith for them.

·         They believe the Good Life begins with home ownership, a happy marriage, children, and an interesting job. They place a high value on experiencing life. Using technology they reshape their lives to spend more time with family. For them the home is a very important part of their life.

·         They are comfortable living and working outside the mainstream.

·         Although they use multiple sources of information they are voracious readers and consider print more important than visual. They are predicting a PC dominated world.

·         They trust their instincts and are self-reliant.

·         They are concerned more about organizations being effective and relevant than most people. Thus, only 45% of them trust religious organizations.

·         They are very protective of their time so whatever they do they deem as very important. They go at a “high pace/high peace.” They work at saving time so they can put more time into what they value. One of the reasons committee meetings at church run off many of the connectors.

·         They define themselves by their involvement in the community, work, family, and personal interests rather than what they buy

Word of Mouth Rules

·         Train every leader to work their networks.

·         Everyone is a potential Connector.

·         Some people are more influential than others and are the backbone of word of mouth marketing.

·         Outgoing people are your churches best assets.

·         Saving time and being relevant are crucial.

·         Small groups are at the heart of most word of mouth campaigns in churches.

·         All conversation has to be honest.

·         You have to deliver what you promise.

·         Whatever you do has to be so “gut filling” and value driven that people will tell their people about it.

·         Identifying, targeting, and equipping the Connectors in your church is the role of all church staff.

Next month we will examine who to become a great connector as well as how to create a strategy for connecting with people who can make word of mouth successful in your ministry.