After a mere day and a half of an historic Papal Conclave, the Roman Catholic Cardinals reached a 2/3 majority and sent up the white smoke to inform the world of their selection of the 266th Pope, an Argentine (formally) named Jose Mario Bergoglio.
Since our Marketing Management course took over my life, I’ve literally been considering everything through a marketing lens. The election of the Pope is no exception, especially considering the numerous scandals, ranging from the abhorrent (think child sex abuse) to the mundane (read: typical mismanagement and inter-office politics). This is an institution rife with turmoil and desperately in need of a crack marketing team.
(Insert disclaimer: I am a practicing Catholic and in no way wish to be disrespectful, heretical or misinterpreted. Clearly, my personal views are just that…personal.)
Kotler says that, “…a credible brand signals a certain level of quality so that satisfied buyers can easily choose the product again.” Yes, please! I think we can all agree that the Church has been losing credibility year after year thereby making it difficult for people to “easily choose the product again”. Our textbook goes on to state,”… brand equity is the added value endowed on products and services…it may be reflected in the way consumers think, feel and act with respect to the brand…”
It seems pretty obvious that the Catholic brand is suffering a loss of equity if we view it from the ‘customer’/believer perspective. What we have learned of many in the administration over the course of the last decade or more has sent multitudes in search of other ‘brands’ despite (or because of) their religious leanings. The time has come for a painstaking assessment of current brand knowledge which will (to summarize our text) dictate the future direction of the Church and, if successful, will provide a brand promise aligned with both doctrinal beliefs and the expectations of consumers.
Back to our newly elected Pope. Just in the simple selection of his papal name, Pope Francis I, he is throwing down the branding gauntlet. As the ‘I’ denotes, he is the first Pope to ever bear the name of the well-known (even to many non-Catholics) St. Francis of Assisi remembered for his deep devotion to nature and a chosen life devoid of material wealth. With that action Pope Francis is creating a new value proposition only moments after accepting the role.
The Church too, as represented by the Cardinals at least, has taken a few, first steps toward an as yet undefined conversion with 1) the acceptance of Pope Benedict’s resignation and 2) the election of a New World leader recognized for his personal humility, painfully simplistic lifestyle and advocacy for the poor. Did I mention Pope Francis is from the Jesuit Order? Another first in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Clearly, this is an overly simplistic, if not naively optimistic, summary of the Church’s need for a reinvigorated brand as a solution to internal administrative issues as well as the human tragedies it ignored at best and caused at worst. While my post is meant to be tongue in cheek to a great extent, I do believe, if properly contemplated and addressed by the leadership and its flock, the Church might be able to thoughtfully and sincerely reconstruct itself for future millenniums. My guess is that it will take more than marketing principles to move that mountain. I think I know just the Guy for the job…I sure hope the Pope’s direct line is toll free.