Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

How to Move Church Members from “Customers” to “Advocates”

My friend Krysta Masciale is a brand strategist here in Los Angeles who works daily with major corporations helping them connect to customers more effectively. She’s also a wife and mom who serves at Radius Church in North Hollywood. Her passion is to reconnect people to the heart and soul of a brand through truth, clarity and focus so that being a replica is no longer an option. I asked her how she would advise church leaders from a branding perspective on the difference between church-goers who just “show up” and church-goers who become passionate advocates. Here’s what she said:

Krysta:  A few weeks ago, I had a disappointing experience with a brand I’ve loved for years. In fact, saying it was a disappointment would be modest. Within an hour, my experience with three different employees severed a trust that had been built over the course of six years. As a brand strategist, I started to wonder: Are there clear reasons a brand would be willing to lose one of their long-time loyalists? Are there tiers of customers that place a heavier priority on a brand advocate versus a fan or a first time customer? Are brands doing enough to equip their employees so everyone knows the answers to these questions?

As a Christian, I couldn’t help but think about all the ways I’ve had disappointing experiences with the church and, particularly, with leaders and volunteers. Are we doing enough to be clear about what we stand for, effectively equipping our teams and letting people go who are just waiting for us to fail?

According to my recent encounter, my guess is that we still aren’t doing enough to educate our employees or volunteer and invest in the brand’s culture. I’m hoping I can make the repercussions of losing a brand advocate clear and offer insight on the emotional responsibility brands have to the people they serve.

Let’s first begin with the difference between a customer, a fan and a brand advocate.

1. Customer:  You’re still earning the trust of a customer. And to be honest, it goes both ways. They’re trying to figure out if the experience you provide is consistent and meets their needs before committing. You’re trying to figure out if this customer is going to respect what you have to offer or consistently ask that you compromise who you are in order to meet demands you had no intention of meeting when you set out to do business. While the relationship may be long-term and amicable, there is still a limit on both sides of what they’re willing to invest in the relationship. If someone else is doing it cheaper, better, faster, a customer isn’t going to lose sleep going to the competition’s corner.

2. Fan:  They like the idea of you but aren’t in a position to speak from authority about the experience you provide because it’s a one-sided relationship. Fans are difficult to distinguish from advocates in the social media age because they will talk about you and associate with you when it’s convenient. But if you look at the investment they’ve made in the relationship, they’re likely not the ones keeping your brand in business.

3. Advocates:  They are loyalists. They stand up for you when the competition puts out a superior products and they ride the waves of evolution with you. Advocates have skin in the game. They’re regulars. You know one another’s names. They’re a part of the fabric of why you created your brand to begin with.

To get someone to the level of loyalty an advocate has takes commitment. It takes consistency. It takes clarity of vision and unilateral permission to act on that vision from the top down, no matter what. When a customer or a fan becomes an advocate, the shift goes from a transaction to a relationship. Both the brand and the advocate begin to trust one another and the marriage begins. They can depend on one another. They know how the other operates. They feel compelled to go the extra mile to make sure they know how much the other means to them. These relationships can last decades, even lifetimes.

Your grandma is probably using the same brand of laundry detergent because that detergent showed up for her decades ago and never failed her or her family. Now, every time she opens a bottle, she is taken back to a time when her house was full babies and toddlers and your grandpa was healthy. Sure, it’s just laundry detergent. But to her, it’s one of her longest relationships. And even if you don’t use it, when she’s no longer with you, the smell of that detergent will bring you to your knees at Target.

The power in the brand + brand advocate relationship is that it transcends generations because anyone who knew the advocate can’t think of them without thinking too of the brand.

For someone to advocate for a brand (especially a church), they are willingly agreeing, without payment, to put their name on an experience they can’t control but have come to trust. They trust it so much, they tell the people they love to trust it without giving it a second thought. They invest their resources first into what you’re creating and are thoughtful about their purchasing decisions if it means they get to have one more experience with you. If this goes on for long enough, in a bizarre way, you begin to feel so familiar, it’s like you’re a person to them. You’re not clothing, you’re not a machine, you aren’t just any old fabric softener: you’re theirs. And I would argue this is our moral obligation as leaders of church brands: to become real people to those we serve, not just fancy productions and craft coffee in the lobby.

If this all seems dramatic, I can assure you, it is. And that’s what makes these relationships so potent.

So what happens when a brand breaks its promise? What happens when they don’t deliver on the experience they’ve been known for?

The initial response will be absolute understanding. “Of course, no one is perfect! It’s ok! Let’s solve this together!” They’ll say. When the broken promise is brought to the company’s attention and they don’t rectify it immediately or they make it difficult for the advocate to get the experience they had come to believe in, they can expect some fairly irrational behavior. The advocate is going to be caught off guard. They’re going to feel manipulated, betrayed and even stupid for having trusted the brand to begin with because, after all, this is just a company. This isn’t a real person. And in that initial cocktail of feelings, if they are left hanging for any period of time … be prepared for war.

Advocates who have been betrayed will seem like crazed ex lovers. They will throw your product all over their lawns and blast you on their social media platforms. They will question whether they should burn everything you’ve ever given them just so they aren’t reminded of your betrayal. The unfortunate thing about this when it comes to church is that it’s never just your name they smear, it’s the entire movement of Christ. Sound malicious? Sound like maybe you dodged a bullet having them in your camp? Maybe. But those emotions are based on a broken promise and set of expectations you created. So really, you’re the one who created a monster and for what? To save a few dollars? I sincerely hope that’s not the reason because there is plenty of data to support the ROI for good customer service … even in faith communities.

The point is, brand advocates, are your biggest asset. They aren’t paid to like you. In fact, they pay you because they love what you’re doing for them and their communities. They’re paying a premium to experience you over someone else who may look very similar but just doesn’t do it the same way you do.

And when they use their lifestyles and platforms as living, breathing billboards for your brand, dishonoring them by turning a relationship into a transaction is the best way to tell all other advocates that they too are replaceable.

My suggestion to all brands is to know what you’re willing to lose a brand advocate for. When you know that, I hope the reason is so consistent to all your other behaviors and decisions that it’s no surprise to either party why you’ve decided to go your separate ways. If the reason doesn’t match, my guess is that there’s no end to the creative ways in which your advocate will use their platform to warn others that you are no longer who you say you are.

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20 Comments

  1. As a pastor, Phil (and Kryta), I struggle with this. As you know, people go in and out all the time. What hurts is when they leave without notice. “You” have no idea why. They don’t tell you why they leave. Notes sometimes, most often, go unanswered. I gotta wonder (and I do) what turned them off? It is tough when people don’t talk. So…my question: how does a pastor go about “investigating” the reason(s) why someone leaves when they don’t want to talk? Did I do/say something. Did the church not meet a need they had? Did we fail in responding to one? Did we pretend to be someone or something we weren’t? Did we not show who we are clearly? Can either of you speak to that?

    1. Bill, I know all too well how hard it is to see people leave (and how personal it feels). If your church is clear about its values and how it can uniquely serve a specific audience, then often you’ll find that people don’t leave because it’s not a cultural fit. If they aren’t saying anything, my experience is that it was natural selection. People love to vocalize their criticisms 😉 If they are a long time member or attendee and they left without saying something, it’s good practice to follow up.

    2. I agree with Krysta’s comment, however, no matter what, it’s tough to watch people walk away. We do live in a culture where a significant number of people are more concerned with “how does a church fit MY needs” rather than “how can I help the church”? That kind of consumer mindset doesn’t create commitment, so at a certain level, we may never know why they left.

      1. “Consumer mindset.” I like those words Phil.
        This is what is reigning here.
        I am learning a lot from the post, comments and replies.
        Thanks a million and God bless you.

  2. As someone who has specialized in brand research for years, and worked closely with brands ranging from General Motors to Coca-Cola to many different ministries and churches, I can attest to the truth of Krysta’s statements.

    The unfortunate thing is how much of a turn-off the “branding language” is to so many Christian organizations. As soon as we equate anything to “brand” or “customer” or “satisfaction,” we tend to get a lot of pushback from clergy or ministry managers who feel this is somehow trying to turn the church or ministry into a business. What I always tell them is that the moment your ministry used advertising, or a website, or accounting software, you brought the “corporate world” into your church or ministry. Why should branding be any different?

    There are so many basic business practices that too many churches and ministries lack. When the Internet was first developing, I’d hear “We need a website!” from churches, and I’d always ask “Why?” What do you intend to do with it? What’s the purpose? What is it supposed to accomplish? Often, leaders would have no answer for this – it’s just that websites were “the next big thing” and everyone needed one…without any thought to the actual purpose, which should determine the content.

    I love articles/interviews like this. As long as the Church fails to take advantage of all the business knowledge out there – branding, customer satisfaction, solid accounting practices, consumer insights and market research – we’ll fall farther and farther behind. Developing and maintaining a brand isn’t some slick, corporate way to replace the core Message of the Church – it’s a way to get it out to people more efficiently and more effectively.

  3. “Advocates who have been betrayed will seem like crazed ex lovers.” Thank you, Krysta, for that illuminating comparison. We teachers in the Apologetics/Bible Prophecy arena experience that more and more as date-setters (Monday, April 23rd anyone?) continue to give the 31% of the Bible that contains prophecy a black eye. More and more we’ve seen pastors and church members who were once passionate about the return of Christ openly mock those legitimate Bible teachers they once followed so ardently. What do you do to counter an industry-wide feeling of betrayal?

    1. Great question Nathan. I’ve seen that happen in a number of areas of ministry where the wacky ones make everyone else look bad. I think the best thing is to be the authentic, truthful teacher that you are. When people see the real thing, the fake looks pretty bad in comparison.

  4. Maybe I’m overly sensitive but was “damn detergent“ really necessary? Ties my hands in the ability to share with fellow staff and church members who could use the otherwise great information.

  5. Maybe I’m overly sensitive but was “damn detergent” really necessary? Ties my hands in the ability to share with fellow staff and church members who could use the otherwise great information.

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