God as Marketer

May 18, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 2:56 pm   Category: Theology

In the comments of an earlier post Nathan complained when I called the missionary efforts of the church “marketing”. He voiced the feelings I imagine many people have about marketing by saying among other things:

I’m not one of those who disdain marketing and commerce; I think they are good, solid, honorable Terrestrial pursuits. But I do think that the gospel belongs to a higher plane.

Unlike Nathan, I believe the principles of marketing are so fundamental that even God uses them. I believe that God is indeed a marketer.

First, we should go back to Marketing 101 and discuss the Four P’s that make up marketing:

    Product. What is the product or service? How does it meet the needs or wants of people? How can it be improved to better meet those needs/wants?
    Placement. How will the product or service be made available to the people? What is the distribution method?
    Promotion. How will you make people aware of this product or service? How will you help people understand its desirable and helpful characteristics?
    Price. What is the cost of the product or service? What price must people pay to get it.

That is it. Marketing is not just one of these things (like promotion) but all of them.

So let’s look at how these basic principles apply to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:

The service the Church provides to humankind (Product)

The first thing to recognize about this service is that God is the originator and provider of it. He has created and instituted an organization to bring about his goal: To bring to pass the exaltation of as many people as possible. Exaltation of course is exactly what people deeply need and want so that part cannot be improved on. The Lord’s strategic plan is to get as many people as possible to freely choose to join the organization and then follow the instructions taught therein until they receive that exaltation.

In terms of what can be improved on, there are some things. God runs this organization by delegation to servants here and those servants, while usually trying hard, do make occasional mistakes. I believe the best way to improve the service is to improve communication between God and the church members at every level of the church. We’ve discussed that already here.

Distribution of this service (Placement)

Distribution has been a major problem for the Church through most of the history of the earth. In order to join the church one must have access to it. Only now in the last several decades is that possible for most of the earth. Every country the Church gains access to increases the placement/distribution. The goal of the church is to have placement/distribution in every nation of the earth. The work for the dead is also a major part of God’s distribution plan.

Sharing/promoting the restored Church (Promotion)

How do we make people aware of the benefits of membership? God himself handles all the actually effective promotion through the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless He expects us to help bring people to the point where they sincerely ask him for such manifestations. What do we do? Well, we try mobilizing a massive grass roots word of mouth program. The Church focuses much of its promotional effort on press and other PR activities (like a large church-owned university or two for instance). The organization also utilizes some limited paid advertising campaigns. We also have a large and visible sales force deployed throughout the world and membership in the Church continues to be accepted a steady rate.

The cost of discipleship/membership

This is not something we have control over. Christ sets the price of membership and we simply try to show that the benefits of membership in His church far outweigh the costs. The price is a major barrier for most people though. Despite the astonishing benefits of membership, there is no denying that in the long run the price to us is also very high. The long term cost involves giving up everything that the Lord has given us, including all of our time, talents, and resources. (Of course for that price because He offers everything he has in return).

What do you think about marketing and the Gospel? Is God a marketer or not?


  1. While I can’t argue with the above, I think I need to repeat a bit from my comment (those “among other things”) parts which I think distinguish the honorable but worldly practice of marketing from missionary endeavors:

    1. Marketing is performed by those who are hired to market. Yes, there’s plenty of salesmanship wisdom out there about “believing in the product,” but it still comes down to an issue being hirelings: They’re marketing because they’re being paid to do so, and if they weren’t paid to do so, they wouldn’t do it.

    2. A related idea is that marketing is done because it benefits the marketer (or his employer). McDonald’s wants you to buy their burger because they make money from it, not because they think their burger will enrich your life.

    The principles given as the principles of marketing are good and true. But “marketing” is a practice which is tied to enrichment/benefit for the vendor. As the goals of the kingdom are above and beyond those of a commercial entity, I think that referring to missionary work et al. as “marketing” associates terrestrial connotations to a celestial work.

    Comment by Nathan — May 18, 2005 @ 3:53 pm

  2. Thanks Nathan. I had orignally included your entire comment but in order to save space I ended up justlinking to it. I think our only quibble here is about definitions. I don’t think there is any real difference between the principles of marketing and the practice of marketing. Marketing is simply done and it is done for both good and evil in this world. Therefore marketing is not only done by those who are hired to market, it is also done by God and his followers. Marketing does not necessarily have to be done for the benefit of the marketers, it can be done out of pure charity (even though when sacrifice it does benefit us).

    You said:The principles given as the principles of marketing are good and true. But “marketing” is a practice which is tied to enrichment/benefit for the vendor.

    It seems to me that God is enriched and benefitted by his loving marketing efforts toward us. That does not make his efforts any less celestial. Nor does the fact that God is using them make them anything other than marketing.

    I will not disagree that the term marketing often has Telestial connotations, I am simply saying that those connotations are fabricated.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2005 @ 4:27 pm

  3. Geoff: Given that the Glory of God is intelligence; and his work and glory is our eternal life & exaltation; I’d have to say that God _directly_ benefits from the growth of the Church.

    Comment by lyle stamps — May 19, 2005 @ 9:39 am

  4. Thanks Lyle. I assume #3 was in response to Nathan’s comment because it looks like we are agreeing…

    Comment by Geoff J — May 19, 2005 @ 9:46 am

  5. While we might dismiss the connotation of a word, I would arue there is nothing else to a word. We have only the associations with a word’s use to giv eit meaning.
    Marketing is an impersonal word. It means inserting a product into the market, making it work in the market as it stands, adapting product to market and anticipating market trends from the introduction of the product. The point of including product as one of the four Ps of marketing is that one has to find the product that will be marketable in a given market. Marketing assumes the primacy of th emarket as a given. God is interested in the product regardless of market forces. Placment in marketing often has to do with finding a target market and selling to that market, since any other method would incur heavy marketing and distribution costs for little return. God seems to be concerned with presenting the product to all possible markets regardless of the possible rate of return on the investment. He sends lots of missionaries, at great expense, both monetarily and in terms of emotional and spiritual energy, to areas of the world that are often not very productive at all.
    Bottom line, God isn’t concerned with return on his investment. He knows that there will alwyas be a deficit. He is concerned only with gross Joy, whatever the overhead.

    Comment by Steve H — May 19, 2005 @ 11:54 am

  6. I agree that many people see marketing as an impersonal word. I just think that is because they don’t understand what the word really means. But the bigger issue I think is the misconception that God does not employ principles of marketing. I’ll display this in the examples you gave:

    It means inserting a product into the market:
    Yes, in God’s case it is his Church

    making it work in the market as it stands
    Yep. The church must flourish in Babylon.

    adapting product to market and anticipating market trends from the introduction of the product:
    Yes. The church has adapted greatly since 1830. Of course there are many fundamental principles that are not ever going to adapt.

    Placment in marketing often has to do with finding a target market and selling to that market, since any other method would incur heavy marketing and distribution costs for little return.:
    Yep. That all applies to the restored Church. We send missionaries everywhere we can but we send the most missionaries to the places that have the most success.

    Bottom line, God isn’t concerned with return on his investment.

    I think this specific statement is just dead wrong. God is primarily concerned with return on investment. The return that God is after, though, is souls. He is the one that told us “the worth of souls is great in the site of God”. Every effort and expense is worth the ROI of the exaltation of his children.

    The bottom line as I see it is that every marketing aspect you list here is employed by God and his church. The difference is what currency/return God is after.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 19, 2005 @ 12:48 pm