How User-Centered Marketing is a Missional Opportunity

How User-Centered Marketing is a Missional Opportunity

Campus Crusade for Christ, or CRU for short, is one of the most successful Christian ministries in the world, both from a financial standpoint and most importantly in its effectiveness at making disciples. CRU is not only a leader and pioneer in campus ministry but a leader among Christian ministries across the board. So, it was really exciting for us to have David Sudarma and Christy Johnson on The Ministry Growth Show podcast recently to hear their thoughts on ministry marketing. David serves as CRU’s Associate Director of Digital Products and Technology, and Christy works for CRU’s athletic campus ministry Athletes In Action, where she serves as the Executive Director of Advancement and Digital Products. In her role, Christy oversees all of AIA’s fundraising, marketing, and IT. They are both highly experienced and had a lot of great insight to share on the show. In the EPISODE, our conversation centered around three primary topics. Due to the depth at which we went into detail in the episode, I’ll be breaking this article into a 3 part series and highlighting each topic in a separate post. Today’ we’re going to be talking about user-centered marketing and modern marketing trends and how they can serve as missional opportunities. 

What is user-centered marketing?

So, let’s start the conversation by defining what we mean by modern marketing trends. During our call, Christy focused on two trends that she sees in the current marketing landscape. The first is user-centered marketing and the second trend was content marketing. To be clear, I would use the word “trend,” very loosely. I believe we’re going to be seeing user-centered marketing stick around for a long time, it’s not just a trend that’s going away in a few years. Regardless, user-centered marketing is a focus on providing true value and legitimate care for our customers or donor. Content marketing is simply one of the tools used to provide that care for our “user.” So, what does it look like to legitimately care for our donor?

Historically, I believe ministries, in particular, have focused on themselves, and for good reason. Ministries all over the world are doing great work. But, because ministries are passionate about what they’re doing, it’s easy for a ministry to lead a marketing conversation by talking about themselves. “Look at all the things we’re doing. Look how great we are as a ministry. Come join us in this great work!” A user-centered marketing approach starts the conversation with a potential donor by saying, “What are your needs, and how can I provide for those needs? How can I journey with you and provide you value upfront? Where is your attention and how can I communicate with you where your attention already is, rather than forcing you to communicate where I feel comfortable.”

How can we meet our potential donors where they’re at in life? How can we provide them value first?

David says that in recent years CRU has shifted from a posture of, “come and join us,” to a posture of, “how can we journey together and meet you where you’re at in life?” The first option isn’t a bad approach and works well for ministries all over the world, but how much more loyalty would your donors have if you provided them value first? How much more would they advocate on behalf of your ministry brand if you showed by your actions that you cared more about a relationship with that donor than the money in their wallet? This approach to marketing is not a new idea. In fact, it’s how we’re called to function as believers. God wants us in relationship with Himself and others. If all we are seeking to do in our ministry marketing is increase the bottom line so that, “we can do more of the work we’ve been called to,” but in the end that pursuit comes at the expense of the relationships we’re missing out on in developing donor partners, we’re missing a huge missional opportunity. 

This brings us back to the topic of conversation that Christy shared. Building a donor base should be viewed as an opportunity to build relationships with and care for people. We talk with ministry leaders all the time who say they’re experiencing a decline in their donor base. They share with us how their donor base is, “aging out,” and they are having a hard time connecting with new donors. On the tails of those comments are complaints about millennials and younger generations, “who just don’t give in the same way or with the same consistency that their parents and grandparents gave.” In no way do I want to diminish that pain point. It’s absolutely real and a struggle for a lot of organizations, but what might we find if we took stock of how we’re communicating to our potential donors and the younger generations that we’re trying to reach?

Say what you want about millennials and younger generations, you can’t argue with the fact that they want to support, invest in, and work for companies and brands that have a greater purpose than what they sell. They also have a desire to support and invest in companies and organizations that care enough to communicate where their attention already is rather than forcing them to communicate in ways they are uncomfortable.

User-centered marketing is so much more than a practice in providing value in the hopes we can turn that into an email sign-up, and maybe one day turn that email into a monthly donor. User-centered marketing says, I legitimately care about you as a person, and although I’m uncomfortable communicating how you communicate and where you communicate, I’m going to take the first step and come to you because I care enough about you to share how you can be a part of my ministry’s story.

Now, this brings up a whole different topic that we don’t have time to dive into in detail, but audience segmentation is so crucial under this user-centered marketing umbrella. Your old ways of communicating (direct mail, newsletters, emails, etc.) may continue to be your bread and butter, especially for your older demographics. I’m not saying we need to move away from traditional marketing methods. I am saying we may need to take a more holistic look at how we communicate with different demographics and show each of those segments how much we care by communicating where they’re placing their attention. 

You may need to start getting familiar with TikTok!

Let’s start the conversation by caring about our partners. How can you provide value for your audience? How can you show you really care by communicating where they communicate? That may mean you need to start getting familiar with TikTok! Uh oh! Our organizations and the work we do would not be possible without our partner’s support. Let’s show we care by coming alongside them in their journey, providing them value where they are at, and communicating where they communicate. 

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