You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice that the Catholic Church has gone through some cataclysmic shifts of late. From the horror of “pedophile priests” to Pope Francis’ refreshing reframe, the seemingly immovable institution has changed plenty. But surprisingly enough, a strong reaction to where the Church’s brand has been heading is not a new occurrence.
Historically, when there has been a threat to the Church (Gnosticism and the Protestant Reformation are two of many) there has always been a vigorous response — from the Synod of Rome in 382, through the Counter Reformation (beginning with the Council of Trent in 1545), to the changes of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. In fact, the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI (the first papal resignation in 598 years) and the election of Pope Francis could easily be interpreted as a modern day “brand revise,” created to rescue an ailing brand.
How is Pope Francis changing the public’s perception of the Catholic Church’s brand? How about the fact that he was named the TIME magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year? Not enough for you? The Pope was also named Person of the Year by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender-interest magazine The Advocate. When was the last time THAT happened?
Then there’s the Church’s commitment to “New Evangelization.” Books such as The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet are required reading for those Catholic activists who want to make a difference.
And it’s not just lip service from the top, by the way. The new Pope even has a Twitter account with over 3.5 million followers around the world.
But the big difference is that thanks to today’s democratized media, new evangelization doesn’t just come from the leadership. Much like the Gutenberg Bible used a state-of-the-art invention to innovate the distribution of Church doctrine in the mid 15th century, today’s savvy believers are encouraging new evangelization with the same technology you might use to read this blog, find your way home, or even play Angry Birds — an app.
Through a 21st-century mashup of the centuries-old story of the Catholic Mass and today’s Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS), graphic designer Dan Gonzalez wrote, designed, coded, and deployed Mass Explained, a robust iPad app with sound, video, 360° panoramas, 3D objects, and all the other digital ‘bells and whistles’ we’ve come to expect from the most sophisticated apps.
Gonzalez used Adobe’s new technology to target a specific issue facing the Church that he believed he could change. According to Gonzalez’s research, Catholic college students and young Catholic adults are at a pivotal point in their lives where they either accept their parents’ faith or detach from the Church altogether. In her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell reports that of the Catholics who leave the Church, 80% do it by the time they turn 23. Gonzalez believed he could stem this tide through Mass education. And what better way to reach this generation of digital natives than through an engaging tablet app?
The Catholic Church has a vast inheritance of paintings, sculptures, vessels, and vestments, all of which help illustrate the evolution of the Mass. The Church also has a treasury of prayers in Greek and Latin, Gregorian chants, and liturgical music, many of which come alive on Gonzalez’s app. For example, Gonzalez says that hearing the Eucharistic Prayer along with the Hamotzi (the ancient Hebrew blessing over bread) dramatically reveals the source of the Catholic prayer, adding profound richness to the Mass experience. In the same vein, Gonzalez says it comes as a surprise to many to learn that Vivaldi’s familiar Gloria is actually sacred liturgical music. And while nothing can compare to actually seeing the art, visiting the architectural sites, hearing the music and prayers or holding sacred objects in your hand, modern technology allows for a more engaging user experience than static text on a printed page. Especially to a tech-savvy generation that has come to expect this type of interaction.
Many of today’s most successful technological innovations are nothing more than the combination of something old and something new. eBay, for example, is simply a flea market or bazaar (perhaps the world’s second oldest business) combined with the Internet. Gonzalez’s Mass Explained, too – combines centuries-old ritual and dogma with up-to-the-minute technology.
Who knew the Catholic Church could be so au courant?
A number of years ago I tried to figure out why our ad agency wasn’t quite as successful as I would have liked. It finally dawned on me that we had been trying to sell something our clients might not have been interested in buying.
Quite simply, we were trying to sell better design work and they wanted to buy better sales. Sure it was more complicated than that but when you boil it down that was the gist of the disconnect.
What I understand so clearly now is that none of our clients are patrons of the arts. Instead they look at what we do as a means to an end. We’re perfectly welcome to get our jollies by crafting our branding creations anyway we’d like but in the end we need to solve our clients’ problems and sell their products.
The most interesting thing is that as we evolve our business and look for continuous ways to reinvent what we do — using more and more sophisticated technology, more and more talented practitioners, more and more complicated programs — the core service we provide gets simpler and simpler.
It’s our job to turn NEEDS to WANTS and WHYS to HOWS.
One of the biggest challenges technology presents all of us is the abundance of products and services it facilitates and the commoditization it creates. Products and services that used to be exclusive to developed countries and sophisticated companies and professionals now glut the market because computers make it easy for them to be produced and distributed quickly and cheaply all around the globe. And where there used to be significant differences in quality between the goods produced by these different companies and countries, once again computers have shortened those gaps and reduced the differences.
So while being in a business where people buy products based on NEEDS used to be a strong market position, it isn’t anymore. If I live up north where it’s cold and I need to be warm, for example, many tropical beach destinations can solve my dilemma. But that creates a competitive situation amongst tropical destinations that drives costs steadily downward. Good for the traveler perhaps, but not so good for the hotels and amusements that service them.
If I’m going to an event and need a new pair of silver pumps to match my gown (yes, I am embracing my feminine side here), most any shoe brand that sells formal shoes can solve my problem. Again, this invites competition and drives prices down.
And if I want a pair of Jimmy Choo or Louboutin pumps, then their absolutely outrageous prices will seem utterly acceptable and reasonable. After all, if I WANT those shoes I won’t be satisfied with anything else. In fact, the high prices might even add to my desire.
What causes this? Brand value. It’s the perception of brand value that makes an Apple iPad worth more than a no-name Korean tablet and a cup of Starbucks coffee worth more than the same drink poured at the corner diner. Are the iPad and venti half-caf cappuccino actually better? That depends on what you what you need and how sophisticated your palette is. But it’s ultimately irrelevant; the desire for the brand — the WANT — is what makes the product more valuable.
If you build a successful brand, not only do you move your consumer from NEEDS to WANTS, you can also go from WHYS to HOWS. You no longer have to spend your time, effort, and hard-earned marketing dollars convincing your potential customer WHY they should use you. Instead your efforts can be spent showing them HOW – how they can hire you. Do this properly and it reduces the need for competitive pricing, filling out mind-numbing RFPs, and putting on dog and pony shows for prospects. When clients want to hire YOU, not just someone who does what you do, you’ll find that the entire sales cycle changes and the HOWS become the meaningful explanations that will get you hired.
NEEDS to WANTS and WHYS to HOWS. It took me a lot of years of hard work to realize it couldn’t be much easier than that.
When was the last time you reread the classics? Catcher in the Rye, maybe, or The Great Gatsby? Frankenstein or War and Peace? Whiz up and down through the centuries and you can add almost anything by Shakespeare, Faulkner, Twain, Bronte, Hemingway, and so many more to the list of books you ought to read—or reread.
But who’s got time? Especially when your night table’s sagging under the growing stack of books and magazines you keep dumping on it.
Especially when you’re buried under all the blogs and emails and articles and videos that people send you.
Especially when you’re committed to building your social media presence and need to read through Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Google+ and Instagram, not to mention Tumblr and Reddit.
Especially when you’ve already read those books in high school or college and were bored to tears. Why would you read them again?
With all due respect to the younger readers among us, when was the last time you took a reading recommendation from a 17-year old? Because if you’re deciding what to read today based on your high school memories, that’s what you’re doing.
So what’s the point in rereading these musty tomes? Besides the simple pleasure of enjoying the words of great writers and enjoying their stories, there’s so much to learn. One of the reasons these books have stood the test of time is because of the universality of their subjects. That is, the situations that authors were dealing with generations and centuries ago can be just as relevant today as they were back then.
Remember, too, that despite the way we pinball through the millennia sourcing content, all history did not happen at once. So even though we might think these noted authors were contemporaneous originators and it’s just us who are standing on the shoulders of giants, what a little research uncovers is that they too were repeating the tropes and themes that had been written and developed by earlier authors.
Gary Schmidgall – who has written extensively on both William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde – points out that the supernatural picture, the main literary device of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, was not original to that author. Instead it was “astonishingly ubiquitous (in) Gogol’s The Portrait, Hawthorne’s Prophetic Picture and Edward Randolph’s Portrait, Disraeli’s Vivian Grey, Henry James’s Story of a Masterpiece, and Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer.” Plus “…dozens of other haunted pictures (can) be found in long-forgotten novels” written years before Wilde’s masterpiece.
What Wilde’s book and so many others tell us is that we all look at the human condition with the same eyes and we often see the same things. It’s not a matter of copying or plagiarizing what has come before; rather it’s a matter of interpreting current events and activities in a way that is relevant for our readers, our clients, and our audiences.
Back in the not-so-distant dark days of Web 1.0, I belonged to a group of entrepreneurs, engineers, and marketing types called The Internet Users Group. We would meet once every couple of months in San Francisco and talk about how the new Internet technology was developing and how we could use it. Most of the group was made up of young tech types buzzing on giant cups of Peet’s Coffee. Only one member of the group, a bearded historian from Stanford University, was older.
At each meeting the jittery techies would argue over their visions and the historian would quietly scribble in a little steno pad. But during one heated conversation, he spoke up and disagreed with the most strident speaker.
“Why should we listen to you?” the techie snapped. “You don’t know anything about the Internet, you just know some creaky old history.”
“You’re right,” the historian answered. “I don’t know very much about the Internet. But I do know what you don’t – I know what’s going to happen. You see, the technology we’re studying has never been seen before. But the people who are involved are the same as the people who caused the Dutch tulipmania in the 17th Century and the Great Depression in the early 20th Century. Thanks to history I can chart exactly how the Internet will boom and bust and then grow again. I might not know exactly where or exactly when it’ll happen, but I know exactly what will happen.”
And wouldn’t you know it – everything the historian predicted that foggy afternoon came true. Maybe not exactly the way he said it would but pretty damn close. And while I didn’t become a tech gazillionaire when the tech bubble inflated, I also didn’t lose everything I owned when the tech bubble burst.
THAT’s the power of history: providing us with an understanding that while the tools may change, the rules never do. And the power of the classics is that they provide brilliant, enjoyable commentary on the human condition that you can count on time after time after time.
When I walked downstairs to grab my mail today Shelly told me that I had “won the mail sweepstakes.” Sure enough, my mail slot held the biggest pile on any of the shelves. “Of course,” Shelly added, “most of it is junk.”
But hidden amongst all the trash were three hand-addressed envelopes. Coincidentally, I had also dropped three hand-addressed envelopes into the outbound mail that morning.
According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average American home received only one personal letter every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. If that’s the case, is it any wonder that a handwritten note gets such attention these days?
One note was from Ron, thanking me for some help I’d offered with a project he’s working on. One was from Brian, complimenting me on a presentation I’d given the week before. And one was from Michelle, introducing herself and letting me know that we would meet in July.
Here’s the best part. I opened those handwritten letters first and actually thought about the people who sent them, even putting the notes aside to make sure that I respond in a similar fashion. Because a recent study quoted in the Harvard Business Review showed that the average corporate email account sent or received more than 100 emails per day, and that Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now send or receive nearly 100 texts per day, I took the time to count the number of electronic messages I received. At 7:00 PM, the count was 127 emails (not counting pure spam) and 42 SMS texts.
Included in those 127 emails were three notes from kids who are looking for internships and seven sales pitches from companies looking to do business with us — certainly requests that might have been worth the time it would take to send a handwritten note. Truth be told, when I receive those types of emails I often wonder if the sender could have possibly made less of an effort to get my attention.
Indeed, that investment of time and effort is part of what makes a hand-scribbled note so valuable. The person who wrote it had to dig up some stationery, find a pen, and actually scratch their thoughts onto paper. And without spell checker or the AutoCorrect option, they might have even had to write the note more than once. Then they had to put the note in an envelope, look up and copy down the correct address, affix a stamp, and even lick the flap. What could be more personal – and more intimate – than that?
But there’s another side of letter writing that’s important too – the pleasure the sender gets in indulging in such an anachronistic activity. Maybe it’s because I love to doodle and draw, but I really enjoy pulling out my stationery and my dad’s fountain pen. I notice the texture of the pen and the flow of the ink. I pay attention to the way I craft my letters and I even try to find stamps that make an aesthetic or social statement. And because I’m left-handed, I’m forced to write slowly so my hand doesn’t smear the drying ink.
Dropping the weighty envelopes in the mail feels like I’m actually putting a little bit of myself into every letter I send. And I feel the same sense of personal connection when I open and read someone else’s carefully crafted note.
By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about the value of handwritten communication. In January 2012 I wrote a post about the GMCVB’s CEO, Bill Talbert, and his branding tips under $100. Tip number two was titled: No one sends personal notes anymore. Except Bill.
Bill is one of the most tech-savvy CEOs I know. But whenever you spend time with him, you can expect a personal handwritten note to show up in the mail a day or two later. Bill knows that as the world gets more and more high-tech, the way to break through the clutter and make a statement is with high-touch. Not a phone message. Not an email. A handwritten letter. With a signature. And a real stamp on the envelope.
And when the news is really important? Bill takes a tip from Michael Gehrisch, CEO of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), and sends it in a FedEx envelope. After all, what other correspondence gets brought to your desk the minute it enters your office? It’s a heck of a bargain for 15 bucks, I think.
What do you think? Write back and let me know.