Inversely Proportional ROI

how-trends6-0712By Anthony D. Coppedge
House of Worship Technology Consultant

The traditional sales pipeline and funnel effect says that the bigger the funnel at the top, the bigger the pipeline of leads. I’m not going to argue “sales physics,” but I will say that there is a unique dynamic in the house of worship market when it comes to reaching more church prospects. I call it the Inversely Proportional ROI effect, and it has two distinctives.

Sure, any manufacturer, rep firm or systems integrator that advertises to a larger number of churches has the potential to receive a greater number of leads. However, the key word there is potential. Marketing 101 tells us to know our audience before spending money on advertising. It is typically assumed that churches have more or less the same needs (an incorrect assumption) and that their size (attendance) is a good indicator of their budget (another incorrect assumption). With these two incorrect assumptions in place, we have the typical advertising we have seen aimed at the church market. One doesn’t have to look hard to see a common thread in most advertising in our trade publications: It sucks.

As I’ve talked about before, not all churches are the same, so your advertising needs to take this into consideration and do something useful with it. I’ve given some very helpful data in my article Prioritizing A/V/L Purchases in Churches, so you don’t have to look far to get a snapshot of what this means for your marketing efforts.

The reason most advertising in our industry that targets churches sucks is understood in the first aspect of the Inversely Proportional ROI effect: The more you promote the right thing the wrong way, the less your ROI.

Backfiring ROI

Example #1 – It’s simple: When you talk down to a prospect, they rarely buy up. Churches aren’t full of stupid buyers. Just because I’m a pastor doesn’t mean you have to speak to me with spiritual baby-talk. Please don’t feel the need to use adjectives such as heavenly, angelic, divine.

Example #2: To quote the late Steve Jobs: “It’s a feature, not a product.” By focusing on features exclusively, the potential house of worship buyer/influencer has to then — by you forcing them — compare your features to a competitor’s features. Features do matter, but they’re the means to the end, not the end itself. Don’t make the buyer figure out how many checkboxes they need to tick off in order to buy your product instead of someone else’s.

Promoting the correct products to the right audience in a way that turns off the intended buyer/influencer not only makes a sale unlikely, repeated efforts in this vain actually make the brand lose credibility in the buyer’s eyes. This means research, polling and testing will be a part of developing a marketing strategy for the house of worship market.

Sometimes what backfires is the application of your technology. For example, I had an awesome lighting client that used a breathtaking photo of a huge facility with a great, catchy headline. The problem? The picture was of a religious facility that many of the intended buyers would view as a cult. I kid you not; they’d done everything right in the ad, except they potentially offended a chunk of the audience.

Audience Generalization

The second dynamic of the Inversely Proportional ROI effect in the House of Worship market is audience generalization. This happens when you market to churches as if they’re all the same with the same needs for the same products. Your marketing team can buy or rent almost any of the touted church buyers lists available — even the ones with over 100,000 opt-in subscribers — and still have poor ROI on their advertising efforts.

In my recent article The Lowest Common Denominator, I implored the AVL industry to “know thy audience.” Think in terms of distinct buyer types within the H.O.W. space and use specialized advertising to reach the right buyers. Again, I’ve covered some of this in my previous article references, but what I’m focusing on here is how adding more viewers into your marketing mix in the house of worship market can be more difficult than more targeted marketing efforts.

House of Worship Segmentation

Each advertiser must determine how their products fit into various church applications. As such, I cannot say exactly what each market segment looks like. However, there are some generally acceptable rules of thumb that should at least be considered.

The Mega and Giga Church

Mega churches are defined as having more than 2,000 people in weekly attendance. My term for the largest of these is Giga churches, and I define them as having greater than 8,000 in weekly attendance. I make this distinction because my experience has shown that the most-savvy churches tend to be the largest when it comes to technology integration into their ministry context. Interestingly, I have found that the Mega churches can be more difficult as clients than their larger counterparts. Perhaps it’s because it takes a great deal more intentionality, focus and critical hiring for a Giga church to get to this growth point. Nonetheless, both can be big buyers and, with multi-site frequent buyers. And, let’s not forget, they’re also influencers for smaller churches who look at how they use technology as a model/reference point.

The Double-and-Triple Digit Crowd

These are churches that are seeing double- and triple-digit year over year growth. I also refer to this group as “growth churches.” Addressing the needs of fast growth, fast expansion and ever-changing needs meets these churches right where they are – in the fast lane.

Part of the challenge with this segment is based on a statistical reality in most churches: Giving (offerings) comes, on average, 18 months after a person starts attending. In other words, they’re growing in attendance faster than they’re growing in income level. Understanding this is important for both manufacturers and integrators, where scalable, modular systems are often necessary.

Building and Rebuilding

When churches add new facilities or renovate existing ones, there is often a capital fundraising campaign to help raise the money. When millions of dollars are being spent, it’s far easier to justify the budgets for AVL that otherwise might be out of reach. Timing, of course, is everything, as focusing advertising to churches in building mode is very small percentage; but those percentages often have the need and the budgets at the same time.

Fix It Churches

A staple in the systems integrator market is the seemingly never-ending supply of churches that are not satisfied with the results they’re getting from the existing facilities/technology/personnel (but they usually attribute it to the gear). The upside is the ability to make a marked improvement and win a client for the long-term. The downside has historically been companies making the quick sale and sticking the church with a band-aid patch instead of a real solution, resulting in a more wary buyer and cynical purchasing cycle.

ROI with ROM

To avoid the Inversely Proportional ROI Effect I’ve described above, learn the audience, determine how to best position your products and services without offending the audience, segment your marketing to more accurately target various buyer types in varying buying cycles and focus on the church’s Return On Ministry. The long tail here is a satisfied church client – with a special emphasis on influencer churches – and referral business. When those criteria are met, a brand’s credibility and reference-ability increases dynamically.

A former staff member at three mega churches and church technology consultant, Anthony Coppedge has developed a respected reputation as a leader in technical and communications circles within the church marketplace. Reach him at or on Twitter at