Marketing can be a great tutor.
Whether we like it or not!
I remember the glorious, victorious day in my second-language learning when I realized I could read signs and billboards. I’m now getting fresh marketing messages in a second culture and language. It was a big deal!
Children (and adult language learners!) everywhere learn to read with marketing messages.
Most of us don’t experience such a positive perspective, though.
We tend to think of marketing as the crafty practices of Madison Avenue, vacuum cleaner and mattress salespeople, and the manipulative algorithms of social media. For those in ministry, marketing is an unspiritual monster we should avoid, not something we should do. For many, marketing is equal to the active practice of witchcraft or embezzlement.
Here’s the problem:
Marketing is everywhere and we do it all the time. At a certain level, everybody is a marketer.
Do you ever have to convince your three-year-old that vegetables are good for them?
Have you recommended any good books or movies to anyone recently?
That’s also marketing.
We practice marketing every time we recommend a restaurant, invite someone to church, or raise money for our non-profit work. As cross-cultural workers, we must raise support, write newsletters, submit project proposals, and post photos on social media. It’s all marketing.
Marketing is not mischief.
Sure, like anything, the unscrupulous can give a good thing a bad name. There are people who use marketing tools to manipulate people into doing things they don’t want to do. But that’s not most people, and it certainly isn’t us! Those reading this article are most likely doing some of the most important work in the world. Marketing is about getting the word out. Marketing is not about seeking victims but finding volunteers.
Marketing for Cross-Cultural Workers: 101
Christian cross-cultural workers should not be averse to the idea of marketing. Rather, we should embrace these three principles from the beginning of our work. Doing so will make communication and interaction with those we serve more meaningful and fruitful.
1. Know who you serve.
It is critical to know the stakeholders in your work and ministry. Who are they? What are their needs? For-profit businesses need to know their customers. For us, it a little different. Who are our stakeholders? For most people in cross-cultural work, this is a complicated question. We serve the people to whom we’re called, of course. But it’s more complicated than that, and it’s helpful to get specific. Who are you seeking to reach with your work? Many have donors and prayer partners. These are also stakeholders.
Who are your stakeholders? Make a list!
2. Know the value you bring.
There is more to a donation than pity. People do not support you or your work because they feel sorry for you. No one gives time, talent, or treasure to anything unless they perceive value. Your work provides value to your donors. Meetings provide value to your staff. It’s easier to see value when you define it.
Body: Physical Health and Safety
When we lived in Central Asia, we ran a community center for college students. The value we provided was physical. They had a place to gather and study with books and computers, hot drinks and snacks. It was tangible. We had hundreds of students come through our doors because of this. You bring incredible value when you give a cup of cold water (or a cup of hot coffee!) in Jesus’ name!
Soul: Belonging and Confidence
Our community center also met a deeper need. The tangible value brought people in the door. Once they were there, they found friendships and community.
They started learning music together and forming bands.
They started a soccer club.
They started having an open mic night every week, which brought more students into the community.
People need people. This sense of belonging met a deep need of the human soul for these students. The value you bring to your stakeholders, team, and beneficiaries at this level has a stickiness to it. People stick around when they feel belonging.
Spirit: Achievement and Inspiration
We had some Kingdom-minded donors visit our little work in progress. They saw the way we were meeting the needs of students and wanted to be a part. Long and short of it, they wrote a 6-figure check to help purchase a larger building to develop more programing to meet the needs of students. The work inspired them, and they wanted to join. Sure, we had a fancy PowerPoint laying out our vision and future hopes and dreams for this project. But the presentation had little to do with their generosity. Donors are inspired to be a part of our work. That’s the value for them. Motivation for giving is not pity. It’s inspiration.
What is the most valuable thing you provide to each stakeholder on your list?
3. Communicate Generously
Marketing is ultimately an unselfish act of service. It’s getting the word out to the people who value what you do. Being “the best kept secret in town” isn’t generous. It could even be selfish. If you are truly providing something valuable, people should know! This isn’t about advertising, although that could be a legitimate part of your strategy. It’s about finding the people who need what you offer. You are solving people’s problems. Whether by providing shelter to the homeless, or by providing a cause for the altruistic donor, people need to know you meet their needs.
This means spreading the news!
We don’t have space to get into all the specific possibilities here, but remember, every communication is about your stakeholders and not about you. Newsletters, websites, social media posts, lighted signs, and coffee meetings are all great tools for generous communication. Just remember who they are for!
How can you most effectively and generously communicate your value to each set of stakeholders? What are the best communication tools to use? How will you best get the word out?
Cross-cultural workers should be the best marketers because you are doing some of the most important work in the world. Study these three steps and pull out a sheet of paper to answer the above questions. You’ll be on your way to on your to being an effective, fruitful, and generous marketer.
No MBA or marketing degree required.
So I ask you, who do you serve? What do you bring? How can you communicate generously? Spend five minutes this Skill Building Thursday to think through each of these questions.
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