Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Customer Evangelists

Part 4: The Dopamine-Driven Church

"Do something nice for your-
self. Something cool and
creamy. Something rich,
smooth and chocolaty.
Something that can turn a
down day upbeat and make
a good day better. A savor
every spoonful indulgence
that's a perfect end to a per-
fect meal or just as satisfying
all by itself. And while you
are at it bring someone you
like, love or can't stand,
a Frosty, because everyone
likes doing what tastes right.

Do what tastes right. (TM)

[Exhibit A: Wendy's placemat, circa 2005, advertising their Frosty product.]

"The degree to which people can spread their positive feelings about your product to those around them has more to do with the place than the person. Situations make the Salesman, so stop searching for contagious people and look instead for contagious circumstances. Introducing your product into smaller groups of similar people who share a
strong emotional attachment to each other and the group can dramatically improve the speed with which it diffuses through that community and beyond. Leveraging the conditions that enable social learning and emotional contagion fans the flames and spreads information, emotion, and your product from one person to the next.

The ability of one person to influence another is powerful and well understood. Just how individual influence expands to affect whole populations, though, was a mystery for many years. Why did some trends catch on while others failed? The new science of networks is beginning to unravel the mystery."
--Greg Stielstra, PyroMarketing (HarperBusiness, 2005), pp. 163-164. [bold added]

"Real spiritual growth is never an isolated, individualistic pursuit.
Maturity is produced through relationships and community."

--Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Zondervan, 2002), p. ii.

Once one has read PyroMarketing by Greg Stielstra, they can never look at the purpose-driven phenomenon in the same way. It is all about marketing. And the people in the pew are not only "customers," but they are also unwitting "customer evangelists." This is because the purpose-driven marketing plan is based on network marketing. Network marketing, unlike large-scale mass marketing, relies upon individuals in its downline to be its salesmen. But, in his new twist on this traditional Amway-style marketing concept, Stielstra shows how to get entire groups ignited so that the whole network is ablaze.

Since February 6th, Herescope has been running a series on networking. Today's post is a climax of that series, in that it explains a major reason why the transformational church is being restructured into small groups to form a gigantic global network. The purpose is really quite simple: networks expedite the flow of information, easily spread contagious emotion, and best facilitate the marketing of a new product, idea, or theology. When the church is restructured to fit this format, marketing will follow.

Continuing the book report on PyroMarketing by Greg Stielstra, which explains the wildly successful Purpose-Driven Life marketing campaign. The chapter "Fan the Flames" contains a subheading, simply "NETWORKS." The quotations below come from pages 165-170.

The key to networking is a knowledge of "collective behavior" and how that can be "synchronized" for "social coordination." Social networks, sometimes known as "interest groups," are the key to using "customer evangelists" who work the downline networking structure. Stielstra notes that there are competing human desires to be individualistic and also fit into a group:

"Those competing desires move us to find and join communities of interest called affiliation networks. Affiliation networks allow us to pursue our interests and belong to a group. The more affiliation networks two people share, say, by attending the same high school and joining the same gym, the closer they become."

This "common context" between two people then becomes the "commonality" which "directs and encourages the spread of information." The network made up of small affinity groups serves as a structure to diffuse information rapidly. Here is how it works:

"Minimally, all networks contain nodes, links, and clusters. In a social network, every person is a node and every relationship is a link. . . .

"Every person participates in several affiliation networks, which together define their social identity. . . .

"The dense, short links within a cluster--between a person and their friends--are strong ties that help information spread quickly and effectively within affiliation networks. . . . " [emphasis added]


The key to networking horizontally is a principle called "flashover." Stielstra explains:

"Weak ties, those chance encounters with people from other social spheres, makes it possible for information to jump beyond our affiliation networks and into others like a spark lifted by the wind from a forest fire that starts a new blaze in another location."

"Flashover is the goal of every PyroMarketer; it is that moment when the tiny fire you began with the driest tinder leaps beyond the initial group to ignite whole populations. The social equivalent is called an information cascade. . . ." [emphasis added]

There are two keys to the effectiveness of this: 1) a person's "threshold" ignition temperature and 2) connectivity, meaning "the size of a person's social network." Stielstra observes that "it is the percentage of nodes in our network neighborhood that adopt a new product, not the absolute number, that determines whether someone else's choice will influence ours."

This is the "science" of influencing people to make group decisions based upon the human proclivity to act like sheep and follow the herd. Even mass marketers (see Exhibit A above) use the power of peer connections to sell their products. Psychological studies have demonstrated that if enough people behave in a certain manner -- even if it is bizarre, illegal, or unethical -- the more likely we will be to "join" with them in this behavior.

The key word is "adopt." The goal is to get you to "adopt a new behavior." That is, unless you are checked by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit acting upon your conscience, will and heart. So, if enough people act strangely, we might be inclined to do so, too. Rational behavior becomes irrational, which then becomes re-defined as the new "rational." For instance,

"Think of the man on the elevator: Two-thirds and even three-quarters of the riders did not sway his decision to face the front. It wasn't until four-fifths of his network neighborhood faced the rear that he also turned."

In this utopian world of social networks, one can catch a glimpse of the pervasive influence of Peter Drucker, the business guru who mentored Rick Warren. Drucker was also a marketing genius. In Drucker's world one only possesses significance if they are well-connected -- "social capital" -- and well-trained - "knowledge capital." And Drucker's endeavors to create an entire class of people called "knowledge workers" who possess "knowledge capital" sheds considerable light on the type of "customer evangelists" who are most desired -- even sought after -- by the purpose-driven church movement. Stielstra explains:

"Supposed a person needs to see 25 percent of their network neighborhood buy a new business book before they adopt it themselves. A person with one friend (low connectivity) becomes vulnerable to buying that book, no matter how high their ignition temperature, the moment their friend buys because a recommendation from that one friend represents the unanimous choice of their entire social network. . . . but the cascade would end because, with just one friend, they could not spread the message to anyone else. . . .

"Affiliation networks are the key to starting information cascades because they provide the ideal balance between threshold and connectivity, what's called a vulnerable cluster. A vulnerable cluster is a group of people who know each other and that contains at least one person whose ignition temperature is lower than the heat of your marketing and one or more additional people whose ignition temperature is within the reach of a single personal recommendation." [emphasis added]

At this point it becomes clear that the S.H.A.P.E. assessment tool, and all of the other measurement, assessment and evaluation "feedback mechanisms" used in purpose-driven churches, actually may serve a marketing purpose: to identify those people who have the higher and highest "ignition temperatures."

Who is most likely to first adopt a new idea, product or method in your congregation? If you are a pastor who's been sold on this marketing deception, you'd want to identify and then distribute these key individuals across the small groups network. No one would want a small group composed entirely of "duds" who can't ignite. You would want to intersperse people who more easily catch fire into each group. Stielstra underscores this point:

"This is what happened with
The Purpose-Driven Life. The campaign began in affiliation networks created by a handful of churches. By dividing each congregation into small groups of eight to ten that met once each week, the campaign created network neighborhoods of ideal size and ensured that if three of four people adopted the book and its message, the rest of the group would soon follow. . . . Soon whole communities were synchronized." [emphasis added]

It gets worse. Stielstra dreams of a "futuristic marketing" in which new computer technologies will tell you "who to approach," how to build a "communications infrastructure" to "transport your message to those people most likely to buy."

"The ideal plan would discern subtle differences among people, suggesting one product to some while recommending something else to others. Beyond knowing whom to target, it would also calculate precisely when to approach them, choosing the right moment to deliver its message. . . .

"The ideal marketing campaign would continually adjust its message, optimizing its relevance and persuasiveness for each recipient. . . .

"It would also make sure people received your message. . . . It would accurately read and interpret feedback from the consumer and adjust accordingly. Such a campaign would even displace your competitor's message, giving you exclusive access to each communications channel. It would cost little or nothing, be self-replicating, and endure without end."

The observant reader, perhaps those most inclined to cynicism, will note that Rick Warren already utilizes this "futuristic marketing." The sophisticated message dissemination, that speaks one way to one group of people and another way to others. The constant re-adjustments to the message. The use of professional public relations agents, which may use focus groups and other feedback mechanisms to help adjust the message. There is a "communications channel" that has no opposition because everyone has agreed beforehand that they won't criticize. This form of futuristic marketing can dispense a message so powerfully that could potentially replace the Word of God.

[It would be irresponsible
not to point out that during the PyroMarketing fires of The Purpose-Driven Life campaign, Warren was aided by some of his "partners." Such as the mega-corporation Walmart, who threw huge logs on the fire by purchasing huge quantities of his book, which jumpstarted whole new forest fires across many networks.]

The Truth:

Carrying the lessons of today's post into individual experiences within purpose-driven churches may help to explain a few things to the bewildered reader. It may explain why you went through some of those gut-wrenching experiences in your church. Why you felt all alone sometimes. Why it was so hard!

This also explains the biblical concept of "remnant." A remnant is that group of people who don't go along with the rest of the herd, but instead choose to follow Jesus. No matter what the cost. Even if no one else in the herd follows Him.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall
anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-30)