Brand Loyalty

I don’t usually think of myself as particularly brand-loyal.  Something I did this weekend has me thinking otherwise.

Rachel and I were in Arlington for my parent’s 50th anniversary, and, upon checking into the hotel Thursday night, realized we had forgotten to bring toothpaste. I went on a quick quest for toothpaste.

As I pulled into the nearest convenience store parking lot, content to by whatever brand of toothpaste they carried at whatever price.  As soon as I was off the road, I noticed a QuikTrip across the intersection from the Valero into which I had turned.

I pulled back onto the street, waiting through the traffic light cycle, and went to QuikTrip for my toothpaste purchase.

Why would I choose QuikTrip over Valero for toothpaste?

The only explanation I have is that my experience with QuikTrip is always satisfactory.  They always price their gas competitively, and upon entering the store, I know exactly what to expect.  Every QuikTrip I have been in has greeted me with a nearly identical interior and friendly, eager-to-help employees.

My brand-favoritism of QuikTrip over Valero has almost nothing to do with Valero; it is all about my positive experiences with QuikTrip.

They’ve been telling us in Church Growth workshops over the past 2 decades that the Americans have less brand loyalty than they used to when it comes to church or denominational membership.  It seems to me we in the church have often read this as indicating that some other churches are offering better experiences or fresher, more relevant presentations of the Gospel.

I can’t help but think, on the heels of my Valero/QuikTrip experience, that what we (as United Methodists; though the same would hold true for any group) ought be doing is shoring up a reality that in any United Methodist Church anyone visited anywhere, they would have a common, recognizable experience, and that would be an experience they would want to come back for.

8 thoughts on “Brand Loyalty

  1. The idea of a predictable experience was why why stayed at the hotel we did this weekend. I’ve discovered that they are pretty consistent from property to property, unlike some other brands.

    Hotels – and convenience stores – likely have greater centralized authority than churches. They can command a greater degree of uniformity from above.

    What uniform experience do we agree on for UM churches? Clean, up to date restrooms? Child-friendly and parent-approved nurseries? Convenient and ample parking? With our de facto pluralism in theology and vast differences in finances, our worship services will usually look and feel different.

    I guess your point is that we want the general public to be able to say both:
    1. “We know what to expect from any given UMC”
    2. “Our knowledge leads us to expect it to be good”

    Leading to them adding,
    3. “Knowing what we do, we will choose to go there.”

  2. In my experience, United Methodist churches are mostly consistent in several manners: predominantly white congregations, aged clergy (also predominantly white), aversion to the “tough issues”… Maybe people wouldn’t be fleeing if United Methodist churches were consistently relevant.

  3. Is this idea of striving for a “common, recognizable experience” within the UMC what the Catholic Church does? As I understand it the worship in one Catholic Church is ideally the same in another local setting.

    Is the Catholic Church losing numbers of people as the UMC is?

    • I thought of that characteristic of the Catholic Church as I wrote the bit. I also thought of McDonald’s remarkable growth through the 60s and 70s – much of which can be attributed to consistency or sameness of experience.

      The Lectionary is (could be) a helpful example. If we all preached the Lectionary, then one could know a little of what to expect at any given UMC on any given Sunday.

      I don’t know the Catholic church’s numbers, but wouldn’t be surprised if they are in the same boat as we are. This brings me back to the comment I made just above: good, useful, positive consistence is what I’m suggesting, not merely consistency.

  4. I had a conversation with a fellow UM pastor a while back about this issue. In terms of what happens on Sunday, there is a great deal of diversity in our churches, and while this can be a strength, it can also be discouraging.

    I find myself, when travelling, either looking into UM churches ahead of time or just going to Episcopal Churches because there at least I know what I will get in terms of liturgy (now the sermon is another matter). With UM churches there is even less consistency – it is all dependent upon the personality of the pastor, or where he/she went to school and when and so on.

    All of this makes me wonder if our marketing money (those commercials we pay millions for) is well spent since we don’t exactly have brand consistency to begin with. What substantial things can we really say (while still being honest)?

    This also makes our itinerant system somewhat problematic. If a Roman Catholic priest moves from one parish to another, he can expect that much of what he is expected to do and teach will be basically (if not exactly) the same. Not so with UM churches. So our cabinets must spend all this time and energy fitting the ‘right sort’ of pastor with the ‘right sort’ of church (at least this seems to be how it works in my conference).

    I would be very much in favor – at least in terms of worship leadership formation and in Wesleyan theological formation – if all of our seminaries or officially sanctioned educational programs had some uniform core curriculum across the board. At my seminary (SMU) even the “Methodist history/theology/polity” classes could vary quite a bit from semester to semester as the professors rotated.

    • Good points, Daniel. As I was reading your comment, I was struck by realizing that I am guilty. Guilty of taking a new appointment and changing things, especially in worship, to suit my tastes or desires.

      It is as though I think I know better than 2,000 years of history.

      Of course, what I am up against and the things I’ve sought to change are not the things that had been unchanged for 2 millennia, but it is my attitude here, more than the practices of those churches, that concerns me.

  5. I think one of the presuppositions here might need a bit of questioning. I believe there is something fundamentally different about Church and worship, than a hotel or a chain restaurant.
    For one thing, most of us have a ‘home’ in a local congregation. We need congregations that reach different populations, who have different needs. For instance, I know some people who love McDonald’s and it is their choice for fast food on a trip because they know and love it. I won’t order a single food item in them because I find their food to be somewhere south of garbage. (they put ketchup on a burger, which is akin to putting sewage on a steak IMHO). Now, does that mean McDonald’s doesn’t have something to offer the world? Billions and billions disagree with me. I just don’t ‘connect’ with the food there. I do however love me some Whataburger. Do I have to wait longer? Sure. Do I also know something of what to expect? Sure. Mustard on a burger like the good Lord intended.
    My point is that one theology or one service ‘style’ won’t necessarily meet all communities. We need to meet people where they are. John Wesley thought it nearly blasphemous that Whitefield would preach in the open air beyond the grounds of a church. He changed his tune when he found out the Holy Spirit had no such human limits.
    Living in a community where there are several Methodist chuches which are VERY different is a great thing I believe. There are people who are used to a larger church, where things are more programmatic… Good First UMC is a great fit for them, and we pass people along to them. If you live for lively more ‘Praise and Worship’ music, where you sit in chairs, hear kids making noise during services, and believe that Church is NOT a place you go, then Foundation might fit you better.
    Do I think First is doing something wrong because they aren’ t like us, or we are doing something wrong because we aren’t like them? No. I believe our diversity, while not being our hallmark, can be a strength in the UMC.

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