What do you think, Greg? (Part 2)

Last week I posted Part 1 of my interview with Greg Stielstra on his new book, Faith-Based Marketing: The Guide to Reaching 140 Million Christian Customers. Greg was marketing director for Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, the fastest selling hardcover in American history.

Read Part 1 to see what's going on, or jump right into some heated action below.


NBoA: But that first marketing tip sounds like a Power Juicer or ShamWow line at midnight. And the second, well, I appreciate real handwritten letters, but never generic, mass-mailed appeals with a font that looks like handwriting. These land in my round file every time. Same with the business person or clerk who sells like this face to face. I say thanks and leave the store.

Greg: I don’t like high-pressure tactics either, but realizing there is a deadline does encourage people to consider the offer rather than putting off that consideration. It’s certainly not unfamiliar to Christians: “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?”

NBoA: I need to push harder in this next question, Greg.

In several places, including one called “Commercializing Christianity?”, you address the concern about marketers exploiting Christians. Yet I finished the book with an odd, if not bad, taste in my mouth.

I appreciate the local business/local church connections, but the “corporate” and “national” thread throughout (E.g. Walmart) conjures up the monster, consumerism. The church is too plagued by consumerism as it is. We need to be a cultural model of simplicity and stewardship, not a new frontier for any and all marketing explorers. You’re right to say that Christians fail at Kingdom values like stewardship as often as everyone else, but we’re still called to do it. Help me, because this seemingly unfiltered access-granting by two influential insiders like you and your co-author, Bob Hutchins, makes me want to re-subtitle your book: Building Corporate Marketing Arsenals to Infiltrate the Church.

Greg: I think you’ve woven several questions/issues into one and I’d like to identify and answer them individually.

First, Local Business/Church Connections = Good; National Corporate/Church Connections = Bad. The appropriateness of business/church relationships depends on the nature of those partnerships and not on their scale. Wal-Mart isn’t bad because it’s global. And Fred’s carwash isn’t good because it’s local. Corporations are legal constructs and, like money, morally neutral. They’re also filled with people that the Bible commands us to love as ourselves.

The same stereotypes and impersonal attitudes that make it easy for Christians to demonize “evil corporations” are what often cause business people to demonize Christians. It’s time that stopped.

Second, Does Faith-Based Marketing Encourage Consumerism? It’s not as if Faith-Based Marketing will suddenly cause Christians to be exposed to advertising; that’s happening already – at an average of 3000 ads per person, per day, regardless of religious beliefs. Rather, Faith-Based Marketing will help ensure that the ads we already experience respect Christians.

In the book we expressly warn business against appeals to greed or encouraging people to covet. If anything, our advice should result in more responsible advertising that better aligns with Christian beliefs.

NBoA: I do hope you’re right about this.

Greg: Third, Unfiltered Access by Insiders allows Corporate Marketing to Infiltrate the Church. The idea that we should restrict access to the church, or that the church has “insiders” and, therefore, “outsiders,” is very troubling to me. Restricting access to the church flies in the face of the Great Commission. Should we send missionaries to the remotest parts of Africa but stop business people at the church door? Are churches bunkers that protect believers from society or a haven of hope for all the people God made and loves? Are churches private country clubs for believers or field hospitals for all people wounded by sin?

Fourth, the overall theme of this question seems to be, “When Business and Christianity Meet, Christianity Loses.” Whether you fear collaborations between businesses and churches, or Christians and those who haven’t yet found Christ, depends, I suppose, on which you believe is superior: the corruptive power of greed or the redemptive power of the gospel?

My God created the universe. He is more powerful than Satan, sin, and death. He has preserved his church throughout history and will continue to do so. And he will save whomever he chooses and nothing, NOTHING, can stop him. Wal-Mart is hardly a threat.

NBoA: This still doesn’t clean my palate, but I appreciate your idealism and shared belief in the redemptive power of the gospel.

One thing I do like about Faith-Based Marketing is the focus on local and personal business/church collaboration. We discussed this earlier and I have a really practical question about it. I attend a large church and our big service day is coming up. Last year, over 1,000 folks volunteered to serve on various projects in the community. What are some practical ways local businesses could serve, and sell, on this project?


  • Equipment rental businesses could donate tools like pressure washers and ladders. Get a list of the various projects and then suggest the array of tools that would make the volunteers more efficient and effective.
  • Local restaurants could feed the volunteers. Give people a free meal on the day of their service and coupons for subsequent trips to the restaurant. “You served the community, now let us serve you.”
  • The local newspaper could cover the event and provide a free paper to participants. Follow up to see if they’d like a subscription.
  • Local lawn care companies could volunteer to work alongside the church volunteers. Offer discounts on lawn care to service day volunteers. Offer to mow one elderly person’s lawn free for every ten church members who become customers.
  • A local photography studio could volunteer to capture the day in photos and create a webpage to display them. They could supply those photos to local media outlets and make them available for church members’ Facebook pages. The exposure would increase participation next year.

You get the idea. The point is that by discovering what the church is trying to accomplish, helping by complimenting or multiplying the church’s efforts, and then positioning their business to benefit (but not requiring it), businesses can do good things for their community, forge relationships with local Christians, and, ultimately, prosper themselves.

NBoA: Very helpful, Greg, and I’m sure you could think of dozens more (Readers, there are many in the book.).

I’m thinking now about ad majors and folks who work in an ad agency. Advertisers often get assigned to projects that take advantage of consumers’ weaknesses and that don’t model Jesus’ love. How might adopting your “Serve, Don’t Sell” approach toward Christians affect the agency where they work?

Greg: I’ve worked in marketing for almost 20 years and have never discussed “taking advantage of consumers’ weaknesses.” I’ve never been in a meeting where that topic was discussed either. Agencies recognize that the consumer is in control and that for advertising to be successful it must understand, acknowledge and respect the consumer’s beliefs.

NBoA: I’m glad you haven’t discussed this, and I imagine the conversation is rarely, if ever, so overtly named in any agency, yet thousands of commercials tell me it’s happening on some level in many places. Here’s a humorous example:

Perhaps this is another topic for another time. Let me restate the question. How would you recommend that a Christian advertiser influence her agency in a “Serve, Don’t Sell” direction?

Greg: I’d remind the agency that the consumer is in control. Consumers select and time-shift programming. They block pop-ups and skip ads with their DVR. They expose false advertising claims in consumer product reviews. If you want their attention you must be relevant. If you want their patronage you must serve them. And, since 77% of Americans consider themselves Christian, agencies had better learn how to serve and be relevant from a Christian’s perspective.

NBoA: Five years – and the book’s success – from now, what indicators will make you and Bob say, “It worked, praise God!”?

Greg: One indicator will be business people, agencies, and media talking about reaching and serving Christians as often, and with as much respect, as they talk about market segments like African Americans, Hispanics, Soccer Moms, or Gays and Lesbians.

Another indicator of success will be Christians encouraging their friends to support businesses sympathetic to Christians rather than boycotting those that did something insensitive. I’d like Christians to be known for their love of the things they support instead of their angry protests against the things they don’t.


Greg, thanks for joining us here. You are gracious and I pray that your work with Bob will encourage healthier relationships between marketers and consumers.

Readers, check out Part 1 of this interview here, and the book at www.faithbasedmarketing.com. Learn more about Greg at www.pyromarketing.com and about Bob at www.buzzplant.com. Finally, let me know what you think. Greg and Bob welcome your feedback, too, so don’t be shy.


What do you think, Greg?

The Purpose-Driven Life, The Passion of the Christ, and The Chronicles of Narnia are three global success stories shaped by effective marketing. Specifically, they were shaped by two effective marketers, Greg Stielstra and Bob Hutchins.

When I learned that Greg and Bob were writing a book called Faith-Based Marketing: The Guide to Reaching 140 Million Christian Customers, I had to know more.

Were they insiders leaking church information to the adman, or friends trying to redeem current marketing practices? Were they using their success to promote buying more stuff, or calling on businesses to love customers better?

In this fifth New Breed of Advertisers interview, you’ll find out why I support and complain about the book, and what Greg has to say about marketing as a Christian. Enjoy!

Greg Stielstra is the author of PyroMarketing and was a marketing executive at the world’s two largest Christian publishers, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. At Zondervan, Stielstra was marketing director for Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, the fastest selling hardcover in American history. Learn more at www.pyromarketing.com.

Bob Hutchins runs Buzzplant, an Internet marketing agency that targets the faith and family market. He was instrumental in online marketing campaigns for the Christian hit movies The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia. Learn more at www.buzzplant.com.


NBoA: Thanks for joining us here, Greg. What started Faith-Based Marketing and how did Bob come on board?

Greg: While working on the marketing for The Purpose-Driven Life and The Passion of the Christ, I noticed how their success had opened business’s eyes to the size and influence of the Christian market segment. I also saw how poorly equipped many business people were to effectively reach it.

What’s more, there were no books on the subject and precious few other resources to help. Mainstream media routinely misrepresents business people as crooks and Christians as kooks so I was convinced of the need for a book on the topic. That’s when I began writing an outline for a project called The Ten Commandments of Faith-Based Marketing.

Around the same time, Bob and a business associate, Beth Cathey, started an organization called The Faith-Based Marketing Association and held a Faith-Based Marketing Summit in Dallas that brought ministry and business leaders together.

I spoke on PyroMarketing at that event and, because Bob and I both live in Franklin, TN, it wasn’t long till we discussed collaborating on this book.

NBoA: And the rest is history, they say. Fascinating how our lives unfold.

In Chapter 6, “Serve, Don’t Sell,” you provide quite a few simple, local, personal, logical, natural examples of how a business can serve a local church. In fact, the chapter made me want to re-subtitle your book, Winning by Serving the Local Church. What’s your favorite connection example?

Greg: I’m a little leery when people talk about creating win-win partnerships because quite often they want both of the wins. Yet, the best collaborations really are those where every participant benefits. That’s why I love the serve-don’t-sell ideas we provided. They honestly help the business and the church. Here’s one of my favorites:

Youth Group Car Wash: Church youth groups often raise money for mission trips by holding parking lot car washes. Kids stand by the road waving cardboard signs while others wash cars with inadequate hoses, water, and suds. It’s inefficient and doesn’t generate as much money as it could. Meanwhile, owners of local automated car washes could enjoy getting extra business from that nearby church with a simple partnership.

We say, let the youth group use your automated car wash on Saturday from 8-noon and give them the profits earned during that period.

The church would encourage its members to support the youth group by going to your car wash Saturday morning and the youth could spend more time promoting the fund raiser throughout the community and wash more cars with less work.

I like this idea from a church perspective because it’s a more efficient version of something they already do--host car wash fund raisers. I like this idea from a business perspective because it gives people an actual experience with the car wash while creating goodwill for its owner among churchgoers.

NBoA: I heard an evangelist say, “We don’t serve people so we can convert them; we serve because we’ve been converted.” I suppose you could say the same about a marketing evangelist. But is it possible for marketers to see people as the bottom line and not as a means to an end?

Greg: Not only is it possible, it’s how things were for centuries and how, very soon, they will be again.

For most of history, markets were places where people gathered face-to-face. Buyers explained their needs. Sellers offered solutions. You still encounter a remnant of this era today when the store clerk asks, “May I help you?” The focus was on people and their needs first, and product solutions second.

Mass marketing rudely interrupted this market conversation from 1920 to 2000, give or take a few years. Mass media gave business a megaphone that allowed it to speak to millions of people at once, but prevented people from talking back. The conversation became a monologue. Instead of asking people what they needed, sellers used media to tell nameless masses what they were selling. This shifted marketing’s focus from people to products. It insulated business from its customers, dehumanized markets and transformed people into consumers. And it encouraged business to view people as a merely as a means to an end.

Fortunately, the digital revolution is transforming markets again. Not only does the Internet restore the conversation between buyers and sellers, it also enables buyers to talk with each other on a global scale. People can tell businesses what they want, what they need, and what they don’t like. The opportunities for dishonesty and exploitation which tempted some advertisers during the mass marketing era are less available. Business cannot lie because the crowd will immediately set the record straight.

The digital revolution wrested the megaphone from marketer’s hands. Business can no longer shout about itself over the crowd. Instead it must, once again, join the conversation by focusing on people, not products, and learn again to ask, “May I help you?”

NBoA: I like your optimism, Greg, and I see this transformation taking place. While I don’t have as much faith as you in consumers’ ability to discern what they really need, or, at least, how best to meet those needs, I do enjoy the growing interactivity with business, and look forward to advertisers being more honest.

A frequent theme in the book is encouraging this healthy relationship between marketers and consumers, something especially important in a volatile economy. We know money strains relationships, so what advice/warning would you give to marketers trying to connect with churches today?

Greg: I don’t agree that money strains relationships. Money is morally neutral. The Bible says that the love of money, not money itself, is the root of all evil, so it’s our attitude toward money that matters.

If we value money more than people, then that attitude will certainly strain relationships. However, if we put relationships first, then the money will take care of itself. C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you get Earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you get neither.” I think that insight applies to doing business with the church: Aim at serving people and you’ll get fair compensation thrown in. Aim at money and you’ll get neither.

NBoA: You also spend time debunking stereotypes, pushing businesses to get to know pastors and churches, explaining basic theology and church practice, and even providing instructions to non-churched readers on how to go to church (Chapter 5, “Meet and Greet”). These have practical, relationship-building value. Are they also your subversive way of getting folks to church?

Greg: I went to college to get an education and wound up meeting my wife.

NBoA: Enough said.

Early on you tell readers, “We won’t provide you with ways to exploit Christians….” I’m not convinced. Despite the good points I mentioned above, I think you cross the line at times with this promise. For example, regarding direct mail tips you say:

  • "Create a sense of urgency without sounding desperate ('Act now and receive this bonus gift!')," and
  • "Consider various graphic techniques to grab the reader’s eye: ‘handwritten’ notes in the margin…"

This is infomercial material, and if I were a pastor and knew this was your approach to serving my congregation, I’d never let your message in. Why the manipulative gimmicks?

Greg: There’s a difference between effective marketing and manipulation. Churches put their signs in front of the building rather than behind it because in front it more effectively communicates with passersby. Is that manipulation? Good design or handwritten letters make a person more likely to read and consider an offer, but in the end, each individual still makes his or her own choice. A free gift sweetens the pot for those who take fast action. It gives the buyer more value for their money which is hardly the “devious influence” that defines manipulation.

NBoA: But the…
(Speaking of manipulation, readers, you'll have to click here for Part 2 if you want to see where this conversation goes.)


Mahou and Humana: Telling truth through tricks

Two visually powerful ads here. The first for Mahou Premium Light escorts you back to "Singing in the Rain" and even gives Technotronics a 50s makeover. The second for Humana animates your donation to the poor.

The Humana (site is in Dutch) spot provided a great object lesson for my five- and eight-year olds about giving.

In both cases, I think the special effects highlight the products' value without inflating it - unlike this Coke commercial. Agree or disagree?


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