Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Marketing Research Techniques and Mission Branding/Marketing

Today in reading chapter 5 of Blink, entitled Kenna's Dilemma,I received quite an education regarding the benefits and limits of marketing research (illustrations included the rock star Kenna's failure to attain wide recognition due to the limitations of focus group methodology, the reason for and failure of New Coke, the Herman Miller company's successful Aeron chair, and the expertise of professional food tasters and other specialists).

Amongst other observations, the author notes "simply that when we put something in our mouth and in that blink of an eye decide whether it tastes good or not, we are reacting not only to the evidence from our taste buds and salivary glands but also to the evidence of our eyes and memories and imaginations, and it is foolish of a company to service one dimension and ignore the other" (page 164). In conclusion, with regard to Kenna Gladwell notes that "the people who had a way to structure their first impressions, the vocabulary to capture them, and the experience to understand them, loved Kenna, and in a perfect world that would have counted for more than the questionable findings of market research" (p. 186).

In the discussion of Chef Boyardee Ravioli and the picture of the chef Hector which adorns the can, the author notes that "the general rule is, the closer consumers get to the food itself, the more consumers are going to be conservative. What that means for Hector is that in this case he needs to look pretty literal. You want to have the face as a recognizable human being that you can relate to. Typically, close-ups of the face work better than full-body shots. We tested Hector in a number of different ways. Can you make the ravioli taste better by changing him? Mostly you can blow it, like by making him a cartoon figure… The more you go to cartoon characters, the more of an abstraction Hector becomes, the less and less effective you are in perceptions of the taste and quality of the ravioli" (p. 164).

All this had me wondering what principles are being intentionally utilized behind-the-scenes in how we market missions and the denomination these days. Not being in the know, I wonder exactly how the National Office decides how to "put a face" on missions in their promotional work…. What paradigms are at work with regard to which fields to emphasize, which missionaries to put on special tours and promo-ops at General Council (done frequently and very well at this year's council)? Also, what principles are being utilized in the branding strategies we have been seeing in recent years with the new logo, etc? The comments and insights of anyone in the know about marketing in the national office in this regard would be greatly appreciated!

Recovering God's Heart for His Lost Children by Substitute Teaching

God used several messengers at this year's General Council to speak to me, including Jonathan Schaeffer, Ron Morrison, Dennis Episcopo and Scott Slocum (more on the messages of these three after I have more time to process them!). Regarding the last, Scott passionately exhorted us to regain the Father's heart for His lost children.

One place where God has been reminding me of His heart for people these past few months has been in the public school system of the county where I am spending the last part of home assignment before I return back to the field. My experiences substituting have ranged from very good to very bad. The very first day I substituted I was thoroughly abused by middle schoolers—payback for how my classmates and I regarded our substitute teachers all through my schooling years? However, God spoke. Even as I had lost control of the classroom the last few minutes before school ended, one young middle schooler approached and apologized to me privately on behalf of his class. Actually, I believe his apology was an excuse to have a private talk with me. His father had been incarcerated for several years and there was no man at home with whom he could share his heart. Although I could not pray with him in the classroom, God did give me the opportunity to verbally bless him.

In elementary schools, I taught half-day pre-K and full-day kindergarten classes all the way up to fifth grade. I was a little bit amazed that behavior amongst third graders could vary so dramatically in two different classes in the same school! I was reminded as I dealt with a few of these chronic behavioral-problemed kids of the infinite love and patience which God has for me.

With fourth graders, I was amused that the temperaments of kids who had been warned repeatedly before I moved their clothespins to another color (part of the discipline system in some classrooms) would change so dramatically from loudness and laughter to crying and whining like little babies (I guess maybe many of us were like this at that age also—another reminder of God's patience!).

With fifth graders, I was reminded of our utter depravity as sinners as several girls mercilessly taunted and bullied the new girl in class, new in town for only her second day of school. God gave me the chance to intervene on her behalf on several occasions, and to share with her how I had been through similar experiences when as a kid I moved around from school to school numerous times just like she was doing. At the end of the day, she gave me a picture she had drawn of herself (with a tear dropping from her cheek). A picture is something you'd expect from a 6- or 7-year old but certainly not from a fifth grader. God really touched my heart through that little girl.

Experiences in two local high schools were largely positive; however, there was the time one junior would not leave the class as instructed after having been repeatedly warned about his behavior and I had to call the office to send someone over to get him. Little did I know they would send a police officer!

A couple of times I nearly lost it… Once, I laid a hand on the above-mentioned high school student's shoulder when he refused to cooperate… a move which I could have regretted if things had escalated (he was a big guy and I was invading his space). And then there was another group of fifth graders—knowing thoroughly which buttons to press, almost had me rain down a shower of curses on them… negative reminders of the patience and kindness of God as he deals with his errant children.

But the place where I have most keenly sensed the love of the Father has been in a school for special-ed students where I have subbed frequently as of late. Although every individual school has special education options, we have one school here totally dedicated to the purpose. My students have ranged in age from their lower teens all the way up to age 20, but they've all seemed like little kids emotionally and intellectually.

One day I subbed for the music teacher. Part of my job was to hold bells in the hands of students and help them move their arms to the beat of the music, as they were not capable of moving their arms on their own. For others I played CDs and allowed them to beat on drums, tambourines, etc. I heard that the extent of some of the art teacher's projects for any particular day was to help the students touch and mash a ball of clay. In regular classes, I gave the students training assignments of sorting objects in boxes by color or shape… God truly has a heart for these severely disadvantaged kids and I thank Him for giving me the chance through them to glimpse a little more deeply into his heart for all of those around us.