Much of the buzz in communications circles these days centers around content marketing - providing value to people at a low cost (i.e., "free") in the hopes that you can loop them into your email list/social media accounts/blog/etc., and turn them into a lifelong customer, who will be willing to pay for your products down the road.
The problem with many traditional methods of marketing is that it's difficult to measure your return on investment, or ROI.
In the church, we have a prime opportunity to create content that meets and engages people where they are.
At the end of the day, the ultimate goal of creating valuable content is to serve our communities and our people; not to just get them to sign up for an event or give financially. By adding value, earning their trust, and speaking the truth in love, the hope is that they will see our churches as a place that offers them what is most important in their lives.
It's important to note that this is not a campaign to get rid of some of the more traditional methods that we often use to get the word out about our churches. Billboards, mailers, radio spots, flyers in coffee shops, can all be effective, when done well and in the right context. Rather, this is a concept to go the second mile, beyond those well-known approaches, to serve people with things that will help them, add value to their lives, and provide an avenue for us to ultimately point them to Christ.
Look at How You Can Add Value
For many of us, it's difficult to look at how we can create more content, especially when most of our resources are already tied up in creating Sunday worship gatherings.
Fortunately, much of our content is already created for us, in the form of Sunday services, Bible studies, worship songs, and the like. Simply repackaging these "content hubs" into smaller, bit-sized pieces is an easy way to add value throughout the week, without taking up much valuable time and resources.
If you have the capacity, host a brainstorming session for additional content. What are the things the people you are connected to, are struggling with? How can you speak specifically to those within your community? Don't limit yourself to what your people experience in your church on Sundays. Figure out how you can speak into their lives on a Wednesday. It can be suggestions for family devotions, a short mini-series on managing their money, or any number of other topics.
Decide on Your Mediums
Once you have a message to say, what is the most effective way to say it?
There's no one-size-fits-all communications system or plan. Odds are, you could already guess where most of your audience is. But don't hesitate to reach out and set up a time for a focus group, to brainstorm the most effective ways to reach people.
Ultimately, this comes down to effective stewardship. If you're going to be spending time and money crafting shareable graphics, you want to make sure that they will be able to be seen and engaged with.
If you're going to write a blog post, make sure that it's going to be read. Do some research on common media channels - social media, blogs, video hosting sites, and determine the most effective two or three channels for your audience. It's always easier to start small and build out your channels, than it is to start big and struggle to keep each one updated and fresh.
Once your content is out there, find out what's resonating with your audience. See how people are engaging. Are people commenting on a particularly meaningful blog post on temptation? Consider expanding that into a larger series on the things we struggle with.
If something doesn't receive much engagement, it's worth asking if it was the wrong message, or perhaps the right message delivered at the wrong time. Evaluate if you simply posted at a bad time, like late in the afternoon on a Friday, for example. This step in the process can be daunting, because results usually aren't immediate. But it is critical to ensuring that your time and energy is being well spent in the long run.
The problem with many traditional methods of marketing is that it's difficult to measure your return on investment, or ROI. But with the advent of the digital age and the spread of digital marketing, it makes evaluating and measuring your posts and campaign a seamless experience.
There's lots of free and cheap resources available for evaluating engagement. Facebook has natively analytics tools built in, Google Analytics is available for your website, and tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social can help measure the impact of your social reach and posts.
Think Outside the Box
Once you know where and how people are responding to your content, you can then use that information to know where and how to spend your resources.
If a mini blog post series on missions did well - costing only the time involved - you could develop that into something that's more involved and expensive, but also has the potential to be more widespread and impactful. These could be things like a full-fledged sermon series, create a short film, write worship songs, or develop a curriculum around the idea.
When you make the switch from advertising (sign up for this, come to that, invite your friends here), to value-add content, the dynamics of your audience will begin to shift as well. They'll be more receptive when you do make the big ask of them for that capital campaign, or that new sermon series. They'll have grown to trust you as the expert, and someone worth investing back into. Even more, hopefully the people outside of your church have noticed that as well.