Archive for April, 2005

Benedict XVI Tackles Brand Development

April 21st, 2005, by Peter Hirshberg | located in Conversations | Comments off | trackback

Pope Poses Eternal Question: Who’s the Target Market?

Haven’t We Seen This Positioning Before?

Benedict_2 We’re only days into the new papacy, and already Benedict XVI is honing the Church’s positioning and strategy. And have you noticed how similar the Vatican strategy is to the Karl Rove strategy?  "Dictatorship of Relativism" is linguistic genius, up there with "Right to Rove221 Life” as a meme. What a brilliant way to frame the issue: anyone who isn’t a doctrinal hard-liner is now cast as a wayward westerner, rolling his own morality, with no reliable sense of good and evil, and quite possibly a secular humanist with no need for God. This is up there with Rove implying that all Democrats are faith-free people.

Both Bush and Benedict XVI are playing to a very conservative base. Difference is, if you live in a democracy and you’re outvoted you still gotta obey the law. If the President gets a tax passed, you pay. If gay marriage is illegal, gays don’t get married. If conservative judges get appointed, we all get judged conservatively. In religion, when folks get fed up they actually have the option not to go to church, or ignore teachings, or more actively, change sects or religions. Just ask Martin Luther. Ratzinger would prefer to have fewer, but more devout followers.

This is an accepted brand strategy, but implementing it is tricky and I’m not sure it’s the best way to manage an already huge, mass-brand religion.  It certainly doesn’t look like a growth strategy.  I’ve been around this mass/targeted market issue my whole career, and since the new pope hasn’t appointed his deputies yet, I figure I have a responsibility to chime in.

Here are three examples for my friends in the Vatican:

1) When I ran enterprise marketing at Apple in the late 80’s we built expensive high margin products for enthusiasts . We liked catering to the true believers; senior management disdained cutting prices and making it easer for the masses to get our products. (I could tell you just what Jean Louis Gassee, head of products said about going mass, but we’re supposed to keep secret what happened in the conclave.) We were a hell of a cult, but we also lost share very quickly to Microsoft and Windows which offered their form of the WYSIWYG gospel on a much more approachable platform. More recently, Steve Jobs returned and made the Apple brand so appealing and cool that people are happy to convert back even if it means adopting some of the orthodoxy that comes with being an Apple enthusiast. But this strategy only works if you give the customer a product that is insanely great and that they enthusiastically embrace and want to share with others.

2) My grandfather Modie Spiegel ran the family business, Spiegel Catalog, for most of the 20th century. He sold to a big, middle class customer base and offered credit to practically anyone. The business grew like hell. (Ok scratch hell, it grew big. The Pope is in a nearby paragraph, and under the new rules I’m not gonna get any closer to blasphemy than I have to).  But by the 1970’s the middle class had K-Mart and lots of local shopping options so sales and especially profits worsened.  The masses were not an especially appealing market, so when my Uncle Ted Spiegel took over marketing, he targeted the company at well-heeled working woman who didn’t have time to shop. He eliminated millions of customers, pruned the list and made the place more profitable.  This was a gutsy thing to do, but he was compensated on profit, not absolute numbers of customers, so he did the right thing. In the world today, you’d think the pope would want more followers, more priests, and an easier to follow religion. That’s what grows. Instead he’s opting for the tougher strategy of going for a more elite, “better” customer base. This is a gutsy, admirable strategy. But it also seems like a big risk and big change for a church that once engaged in crusades and has supported missionaries and conversions throughout history.

3) I recently served as President of, the online cosmetic retailer formed by Estee Lauder, Chanel and Clairns. These are prestige cosmetics companies. They sell expensive color and skin care products at a high price through exclusive department store channels. For example, Lauder sells an 8 oz jar of Re-Nutriv cream for $1000.00; yet you can buy a skin cream for just a few dollars from mass brand L’Oreal. This works great for brands like Estee Lauder and Chanel that have cultivated rarified exclusivity for half a century.  If the pope starts focusing the Church on a more exclusive following, he should ask, “Is that what our brand is about?”  I’d suggest than any movement that’s has 1.06 billion followers and has been perusing a channel expansion and growth strategy for 20 centuries is a probably a mass brand, should celebrate mass, and should not get too hung up on making itself more exclusive.

Yet here we seem to have a pope who is going for a brand that is more committed and orthodox; one that plays to the base. So from a marketing strategy perspective, this would seem to create an opening for an alternative for the many Catholics (especially in Europe and the US) who may not want this. The Cardinals seem to have picked a Western European pope specifically because they thought that liberalism in Europewas the big issue to deal with. I’m a Jew, so I’m not a big expert on how less orthodox forms of Catholicism get started and spread (although the reform dilution of Judaism sure was a big theme over the last century in our faith), but this seems like a perfect set up for a market share battle between an inflexible incumbent brand and a challenger that’s designed around customer desires. (And I suspect the incumbent brand would probably think that “customer desire” itself is a sin!)

As I pointed out in my last post, the papacy is really not about listening. And that’s not a complaint: there is something amazing and eternal about an institution that changes over centuries and is not driven by whim! But on the other hand, if you have a movement that’s committed to not listening, and an alternative that is, you gotta think that the team that listens might score some points. Especially in an interconnected zero-friction global village kinda world. So maybe religion is subject to the rules of cluetrain after all!

The Pope, The Word, and The Blogosphere

April 6th, 2005, by Peter Hirshberg | located in Conversations | Comments off | trackback

The blogosphere is pondering the papacy and…. blogging. For example, Tony Gentile asks, "Will The Next Pope Blog?"

Pope_typing Here’s my take: the papacy is one of the last great one-way broadcast “we’re in control and you’re not” entities left on earth. Popes don’t listen, they hear from God and pronounce. The last pope used lots of travel and communication technology— but to the end of extending his centralized reach and minimizing the sway of local bishops.   The pope doesn’t care about comments. (Confessions yes, but that’s not really the spirit of the blogopshere).  The Church is not a conversation.  The Vatican is not a particurlarly fertile Cluetrain , the "customer defines the brand" kind of place. Popes seem swayed by big trends over time (the U.S. Church scandals, rise of 3rd world) but the whole short time-frame, fast feedback-loop thing doesn’t seem to be particularly relevant to a 70 year old guy who’s elected for life, is deemed to be infallible,  and speaks to and for God.  Contrast that with a US elected leader who faces pundits daily, must deal with interest groups that can organize around the blogsphere and is elected every two years. Its good to be the pope!

On the other hand, the Vatican and churches in general will happily adopt any communication technology that lets them preach more effectively. Sermons are one of the killer apps of podcasting— why settle for reaching just your flock on Sunday morning when you can reach them on their schedule 24/7 with a podcast and easily reach beyond your local parish and speak to anyone who wants to listen. Podcasting is the first technology that lets any preacher preach beyond their local territory easily, instantly and at no cost.  They don’t call it Really Super Sermon technology for nothing. If parishioners can listen to any of the priests in town (or anywhere) via podcasts, will that improve the quality of sermons as competition sets in?

The history of religion is the history of information technology. The printing press and Reformation reduced the power of the Pope as all the new isms—Lutherinsim, Calvinsim— could interpret the Word their way using the power of the book. Radio and TV created national preacher brands— Billy Graham and Rev. Schuller — that had greater power (and purse) than any local pastor. The current technology allows any person of the cloth to hold forth and reach an audience without regard to geography. Its a decentralizing factor, but John Paul II proved the pope can do an amazing job of increasing his centralized power in spite of it all. So the question is not “will the pope blog,” but rather can emergent technology help the Bishops gain more power v. the Vatican. Or more interetingly, is the world ready for a belief system that amasses followers because it listens and interacts? Or is the whole point of religion to gain solace from an entity that specifically doesn’t listen to mortals and speaks Eternal Truths?

While were on the topic of religion and the blogopshere, one more thought. Long before Al Gore, Ted Nelson, Tim Berners-Lee, or Vint Cerf, it was a man of the cloth, Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who first laid down the ideas of Chardin a global net based consciousness. What we now call the “blogosphere” he called the “noosphere” and imagined all human thought spanning the globe and coming together as a single living entity.  In his magnum opus, The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard  wrote, "Is this not like some great body which is being born – with its limbs, its  nervous system, its perceptive organs, its memory – the body in fact of that great living  Thing which had to come to fulfill the ambitions aroused in the reflective being by the  newly acquired consciousness?"

Chardin’s work was a primary influence on McLuhan’s global village and later on Al Gore.  He was also banished to China and almost excommunicated by the Church for the evolutionary —- and revolutionary— implications of his work.  But as for the noosphere, its baaack!

Wired wrote an excellent piece on Chardin in 1995 thats both a brief history of his work and an overview of its implications for cyberspace.