I remember a very distinctive moment in my career when I first realized that a church I was working with was wasting a massive amount of money in marketing efforts. An internal audit showed they’d unknowingly spent over $100,000 in wasteful print marketing alone, not to mention all the other ways they were blowing through communications money.
Churches are notorious for marketing poorly. It’s sad, because poor marketing keeps churches from reaching their redemptive potential, from serving the needs of its community, and it wastes money.
There are quite a few ways churches waste marketing money. The list below isn’t exhaustive but explores some of the wastefulness I’ve noticed as I work with churches across the US. Hopefully, identifying these things will help you avoid wasting money on marketing at your church.
1. Lack of a Strategy
The biggest way I see churches waste money in marketing is by going at it without a holistic strategy. Whether it’s Facebook Ads (which can be a very effective use of marketing money), a sign-flipper, or hanging a spray-painted banner over an overpass, make sure whatever you’re doing is well thought out and strategic.
Don’t just throw money at an idea and see if it sticks. Use metrics to evaluate success or failure. Devise feedback methods to check if your money is yielding a return on investment. If you are going to spend a dollar, make sure you have a clearly defined objective for what you want that dollar to do.[quote]Don’t just throw money at an idea and see if it sticks.[/quote]
2. Out-of-Date Mediums
Does anyone really use a phone book anymore? Seriously…do they? No, they don’t. I’m pretty sure I can say without hesitation that any money spent on phone book advertising is a waste. Ten years ago it was a great way to advertise your church, but now, not so much.
The same is true with newspaper advertising. Circulation rates for even the top newspapers in the nation are practically non-existent, yet most newspapers are still charging advertising rates like they did in the heyday of the genre. Newspaper publishers use very loose targeting methodologies (usually the best you can niche down is a zip code) and, in general, it is an archaic way to spend ad funds.
There are other ways to advertise that are past their prime as well. It’s time to double-check and make sure you don’t have any recurring ad spending going to any of these money-suckers.[quote]It’s time to double-check and make sure you don’t have any recurring ad spending going to money-suckers.[/quote]
3. Not Leveraging Technology
The other side of the out-of-date coin is neglecting to leverage modern technologies in your marketing efforts. If you do any print marketing but don’t know what “variable data printing” is, you likely fall into this category. If you buy online ads but haven’t spent significant time learning about keyword research or audience targeting, you probably aren’t good at using technology in your marketing.
We live in remarkable times with crazy abilities to leverage technology to amplify every cent in the marketing budget. Make sure you’re keeping up with the times to know what options are available to you.
4. TV & Radio Advertising
I can almost guarantee if you are using local TV or radio ads, you’re wasting money. It’s highly likely your ad is going to come across in a cheesy way. Ever see one of those local car commercials? Not great company to be in. Are there exceptions? Of course there are. But in a world where the Coca Cola’s and Apple’s are spending millions of dollars to produce a 30 second TV spot, your church is going to have a hard time keeping up.
5. Not Using Google Ads Grants for Nonprofits
Did you know that if your church meets certain criteria, you could receive up to $40,000 USD in AdWords advertising every month. There’s not enough time to get in to the details of the program here, but Google it and learn if it’s right for you. Failing to do so could mean you’re blowing the chance to exponentially grow your marketing budget.
6. Building A Website Without A Strategy
I realize I’ve already mentioned “without a strategy” wastefulness, but website strategy merits its own section. Most churches have a website. Almost none of them (statistically) have a strategy for getting the most out of it. Here’s what I mean:[quote]Most churches have a website. Almost none of them (statistically) have a strategy for getting the most out of it.[/quote]
- Most church websites have outdated information. Often it even appears on the home page.
- Many church websites are not mobile-friendly, even though most people who view your site will do so on a mobile device.
- Many sites unintentionally make it difficult to find information people are looking for (service times, location details, contact information, what to expect, etc).
- Almost all church websites (even the good ones) are missing key search engine optimization (SEO) elements and even fewer churches think about how to use off-site SEO to extend the site’s reach.
- Very few church websites have well thought out “call to actions.” It doesn’t matter if someone knows the date of the next church picnic if they aren’t motivated to take action to sign up or attend. Take some time to do some research and find out what the best practices are for websites in general. Think through how you need to implement some of those practices for your site. Hire a consultant if you need help (that would be a great use of marketing money).
7. Building An App Without A Strategy
There is another trend in the church communications world that is potentially wasteful: building a mobile app without a strategy. Having an app is cool and has the potential to position your church as modern and tech-savvy. Plus there’s something to be said for having an app just so you reach a particular type of audience. But an app can be so much more valuable with a little bit of thought put in at the beginning of the construction process:
- How are you going to engage people in your app?
- How does your app compliment instead of compete with your responsive website?
- Who is the audience you want to reach with your app?
- What is the motivating factor for someone to both download and continue to use your app? It’s easy to get people to download an app. It’s much more difficult to get them to open it a second time.
- Do you have someone who’s primarily responsible for content in the app? Who is going to advocate for the app?
- Have you thought through design and user experience or are you simply going with a stale template?
- What are you going to do when an update is necessary? Are you prepared to pay your app developer (or app hosting company) an ongoing fee to keep it working properly?
- Do you have a good plan for push notifications—arguably the best feature of apps—to keep from overwhelming and annoying your users?
As you can see, there is a lot to think through before jumping into the app world. Failing to give proper weight to these questions will likely result in wasteful spending. There are a lot of benefits to having an app. Just make sure you have a mobile website in place first and that you’ve thought through how you plan to use the app in a sustainable and strategic way.
I could go on for days about other ways churches waste marketing money.
- If you’re paying someone to design a bulletin but aren’t paying someone to lead your social media efforts…
- If you’re doing any kind of marketing but aren’t building an email list for your church…
- If your church spends any money on marketing but your lead pastor is not consistently and repeatedly preaching about the importance of a personal invite…
You get the point…
Remember the church I mentioned that found $100,000 in waste? After they developed a holistic marketing strategy, slashed the ad budget, and repointed their efforts they found they had much better results at a fraction of the cost. When they reduced their marketing waste, they grew in attendance.
With a little effort, we can avoid wasting money and yield better results.