Scientology’s Marketing Lessons

If some consider marketing a religion, why can’t religion be marketing? What can the Church of Scientology teach us about viral marketing and the sales cycle?

I’m a bit obsessive sometimes. I’ll learn a new marketing concept and then try to apply it to every facet of my life or world – whether it fits or not.

Enter Product Funnels

I think I heard about product funnels for about three years before I finally got what the big deal was. In summary:

  1. Picture a big funnel. Prospects go in at the top and as they move down the funnel, they purchase more expensive products in your product line.
  2. A free sample teases prospects into the funnel and allows them to sample your services for free. This free sample requires little to no time or cost outlay to you (could be a free PDF download, a whitepaper, a free weekly mastermind call, an audio, etc).
  3. Customers enter the sales cycle at the price point of their choice.
  4. As product price increases, the level of personal touch and involvement increases.
  5. As trust increases, customers customers ‘move down’ the funnel and graduate to a higher-priced product

This was crystallized for me by marketing mavens Andrea J. Lee and Tina Forsyth – most recently in their new book Pink Spoon Marketing (and of course their stellar Multiple Streams of Coaching Income).

Here’s the gist:

Remember the ice cream store and how you can always get a taste of a flavor for free? That’s the pink spoon. You don’t know yet if you want a pint or a cone, a cake or even a flavor of the month – you just want a taste. And so it is with business: prospects want to sample what you have before they buy products and services. By converse, you don’t want to spend a ton of time on these ‘tourists’ until they’ve decided they want to commit to a purchase.

So for my business, I have a free excerpt of my seminar that gets folks comfy with my flavor and expertise and then higher priced products that engage them at different levels of cost and involvement. One-on-one consulting is at the highest level.

Once you start thinking in terms of product funnels you’ll begin to see them everywhere. Like in the music industry, you have

  1. The free download
  2. A single (plus remixes)
  3. An album
  4. T-shirt or poster or other merchandise
  5. A boxed set
  6. A live concert

Again, the level of involvement for the vendor/business increases as the price increases.

Scientology’s Product Funnel

I then decided to apply the product funnel concept to the Church of Scientology (recently skewerd on South Park). I surfed around the famed Operation Clambake – a site that focuses on the Church’s darker side. Here’s the product funnel for Scientology:

  1. A free personality test – this gets you in the door . This requires a small amount of time from volunteer CoS staff or no staff commitment at all when done online. Here’s the test if you want to take it – along with the ‘right’ answers.
  2. The purchase of one of their many books, like A New Slant On Life at around $30 – a small financial outlay with no need for time involvement from core CoS staff.
  3. Annual membership at around $300 a year (your first six months is free).
  4. Further training at potentially greater cost to the member including a $2,000 lifetime membership.
  5. Gradually rising in the ranks of the church and organization with up to $1,000,000 for a Gold Patron Meritorious level of membership. Eat it, Tony Robbins!

Granted, part of their ‘auditing’ process requires confessing your deepest darkest secrets and I’d guess that blackmail is a great way to make your site ‘sticky’. But, you can see an expertly crafted product funnel – and even further invovlement at the ‘pink spoon’ level given the outreach of their volunteer ministers (recently seen on the set of War of the Worlds or in the middle of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath).

Compare this to the Roman Catholic Church:

The free ‘pink spoon’ taste would be attending a mass at your local Church – but not being able to fully participate in the liturgy. That’s where the funnel falls apart. There’s no actual graduation to other levels. There’s permanent, lifetime baptism and tithing expectation.

If you are born into the one true apostolic Church, you are baptized immediately and it isn’t until the sacrament of Confirmation when you say ‘Heck yeah!’ and confirm the faith you were born into – and even then you can’t be ‘un-baptized’ – unless you do something worthy of excommunication. Super-sticky, to be sure, but not a smooth transition from introduction to lifetime customer.

I think it’d be fun to compare the marketing practices of world religions – including now-defunct belief systems – to see what works and what doesn’t. Along with all the social and political implications of religion in world history- how much falls just to marketing (aka evangelism)? Starting point: The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages had at first condemned theatre as the haven of whores and sinners – but then flip-flopped once they realized the power of theatre to evangelize a largely illterate audience.

Can you get any more of a ‘value proposition’ than purchasing indulgences? I bet brand managers sweat in excitement at the thought of their own Inquisition.

You can’t buy that kind of Lovemark. You have to inflict it.

23 thoughts on “Scientology’s Marketing Lessons

  1. Chris Owen

    Ahh Andy I’m still laughing.
    I love Andrea Lee’s pink spoon, but by you bringing Scientology and Catholicism in to the picture as contrasts and demonstrations, now i have a whole new picture of it.
    I REALLY never thought i’d be reading about scientology and Catholicism in the same article!!!

    Reply
  2. Aeriol

    This is a hoot Andy I love it and you are dead on… I am also an ex J.W. and they certainly have their own marketing funnel although not as good as Scientology’s that’s for sure. In fact I wonder why they are still growing. Keep it up. Aeriol

    Reply
  3. Michael (via email)

    You know… I signed up for your newsletter… I download your report and didn’t learn a thing… THEN you send out a questionnaire and I give you a ton of ideas and you have not answered it OR followed up in any way shape or form… and THEN you send me this Dianteics CRAP??? You are one of THEM?… I’ve known a couple of them before and no way are you going to be sending this stuff into my mail box. YOU are a taker only… Later… I’m canceling you out. So there’s some marketing feedback for you.

    Reply
  4. Andy

    It’s pretty obvious you didn’t read the newsletter since I’m very critical of the Church of Scientology and you didn’t discern my sarcasm. I am not a Scientologist, for the record. I am far from being just a ‘taker’ – if you read my archives you’ll see the huge amount of value I have been giving away to readers for years.

    Reply
  5. Karen

    I started reading what Michael commented and thought it must be a joke until the last line. Fercryinoutloud! Andy, you should have let your loyal fans beat you to the response to the guy because we would have said the same things FOR you. Way back when, you didn’t know me from Adam (OK, Eve) and you spent all kinds of time helping me out. You’re one of the most generous folks I know when it comes to your time and expertise. So THERE!

    Reply
  6. Maryam Webster

    Michael, read for content next time – Andy’s the real thing…real as in (a) tremendously giving (b) a rapier sharp wit (c) as free a spirit as they come. You go Andy, just remember the bigger you get the more naysayers and B.S. artists will (ahem) “extract the Michael” (http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-tak1.htm)
    And as a former Mormon-Muslim (yeah, you read right, though not both at the same time!) I can vouch for the Muslim-virgin connection but they don’t offer that to us girls! We get offered salvation from our horrible ‘dirty’ selves and the possibility of being tolerated in paradise as one of a thousand wives. That’s about the time my butt checked out.
    In Mormonism, the missionaries read the newspaper obituaries and come tell you your loved one isn’t in heaven until you baptise them in the church. They caught my mom after her dad died and that was all she wrote.
    The funnel in Mormonism is the ever increasing levels of priesthood offered to the men (again, NOTHING for us girls to speak of! well at least, nothing I was interested in) which are sold as vanity-strokes – lower levels of the priesthood are marketed as relevant, but lower in perceived value. It’s the same darned funnel we use in marketing our (exceedingly valuable by comparison) physical and virtual products!
    Kudos on this article Andy, what a brilliant comparison!

    Reply
  7. Andy Wibbels

    Granted, it is true I didn’t respond to the ‘quick question’ answer he’d sent back but I don’t always respond to all of those emails. That is a way for me to gauge what topics are needed for my newsletter. I was just realizing I hadn’t put that bit in here and wanted to be more transparent.

    Reply
  8. Des Walsh

    You’re always getting us to think differently, Andy – thanks for that, again.
    Just one thing, to be picky:
    >then you can’t be ‘un-baptized’ – unless you >do something worthy of excommunication.
    Well, no, you’re still baptized, even if outside the communion of the church. When excommunication is lifted and you want to re-connect, you don’t get re-baptized.
    Des

    Reply
  9. Don Surber

    Carnival of the Vanities

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  10. Steve the Pirate

    New Blog Carnival Showcase!

    What do ya know? Maybe a day late and a dollar short, but the New Blog Carnival Showcase has made a return trip to Steve the Pirate! Hoorah! Oh, as for the whole late thing, I blame the tryptophan. And Bush. It’s all Bush’s fault. I m…

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  11. Debbie Weil

    LOVE your Scientology riff. You are *too* clever. I’m sweating bullets as I finish writing the last chapters of my book. You lucky dog to be almost done. Can’t wait to see your book! All best –

    Reply
  12. Wiseman

    I enrolled on a coures in communication with the Church of Scientology. It was really great and I have often appreciated the ideas and concepts which Scientology explains. However, I do agree with you Andy. After this first course, they phoned me and tried to apply physichic pressure to get me to move up to the next level. Found it quite hard to say NO! This spoilt my perception of the whole organisation and thus instead of an interested member, they alienated me. Obviously, most of the religions you describe, don’t really believe in what they profess. If they did they wouldn’t have to apply heavy handed marketing techniques! But certainly your article was spot on!

    Reply
  13. rich

    You didn’t even touch the surface of scientologies hard sell techniques. They have special courses for it that are so effective and natural you wouldn’t believe it.

    Reply

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