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Apple Inc. on Creating Engagement

by Nathan Artt, on March 2022

Steve Jobs was masterful at many things, but one aspect that really stands out to me was his ability to speak and cast vision to two very separate audiences: investors and customers. 

When he took over Apple the last time, Apple was spiraling. In order for Apple to reach new customers and develop its products, it had to instill major confidence in shareholders. At the same time, they also had to reach new customers. 

So what does this have to do with communicating about generosity and engagement during this season? 

One of the most incredible lessons we can learn from Steve Jobs comes when Steve had taken Apple back and was working on a new ad campaign that would “remind” (his words) the world of who Apple was. He hired Lee Clow, who had done the most significant work for Apple in the past, including the “1984” campaign. 

Clow had come to Steve Jobs with a campaign that focused on Apple’s creativity. The story reads that there was something about it that was off for Steve, but he couldn’t put a finger on it. And then, it hit him:

“We wanted a brand image campaign, not a set of advertisements featuring products. It was designed not to celebrate what the computers could do, but what creative people could do with the computers… It was directed not just to potential customers, but also at Apple’s own employees.” 

In other words, the entire messaging that would come out of Apple during this time that would set them apart from every other company in the world was this: 

“You (customer) are the hero of the story, not us. But by joining us, we can unleash your creativity to the world and connect you with the other “rebels” who think differently” (my words). 

In fact, the campaign would go on to say this… “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers…The ones who think differently…Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

My goodness, who doesn’t want to be a hero in that story? Or even just be a part of it? 

This one very specific moment in Apple’s history defined their future success. The customer was the person who thinks differently, and Apple made it very clear that “we exist for you, not you for us”. That culture and ethos permeated every piece of Apple’s marketing and products, both internally and externally. It literally created a cult following that still exists today. 

But what if Apple didn’t do this? What if the focus remained on telling potential customers how great Apple was? What if Steve Jobs decided that the best way to instill confidence in the customer base was to communicate to them each week how many iPods, iPads, and Macs Apple sold the week before? 

  1. As an Apple user, I wouldn’t know if those numbers were good or bad without context. 
  2. I wouldn’t care. 
  3. Most importantly, I would immediately feel like a product of Apple’s mission much more than I would feel like a part of it. I would lose any major sense of belonging, and would probably feel like just one other person who bought a product in a sea of people buying the product. There would be nothing special for me as the customer, just a notch in the ol’ Apple belt. 

However… is there a group of people who do care about how many products Apple sold last quarter? You better believe it. If you own Apple stock, you look at Apple differently. You are not just a product user, but an investor in the future of Apple. You want to see happy customers, but you also want to see the company succeed. 

So what can we learn from this as a church? Well, a lot. 

First, let’s start with a question: how well do we really think we do at communicating that we exist for people and are a place of belonging? A marketing executive from a large company who recently spoke at one of our events said this: “if our church brands were a person, we would call them narcissists”. That is not to say that the people inside the church are narcissists. What he means is that we should take an audit of our websites, email, and social media to ask ourselves if our digital communications say more about us or the people who serve with us. 

Every week, I see churches celebrating during service and/or posting on their social media about the number of baptisms and salvations they ‘sold’ the week before. Then on Thursday we remind people we’re having another service on Sunday, as if they didn’t know. But where are we sharing the real stories of life change behind the numbers? Giving people a platform to tell us what matters to them? Where are we giving people identity and belonging? Or do most of our social media and email strategies continue to promote us, our sermons, our statistical results,  and our programs?  

Before you stop reading and plot to hang me upside down by my toenails, hang out with me on this for just a minute. 

Communicating like Apple

Larry Osborne says, “People don’t give to vision. People give to vision they trust.” An enormous part of engaging people in your vision is to provide specific opportunities for them to belong, to be significant, and to build trust with them. However, there is more than one audience, which means that there is also more than one way to communicate with them to build trust. If Apple or any other publicly-traded company were a church, here is a brief decision matrix that they might build for you on the questions your people are asking about you:

Investors/Key Stakeholders

Consumers/Disengaged Audience

Where are we going? 

What are you for

Is it possible? 

Am I important? 

Is it responsible? 

Do I have a role to play?

How will it impact us? 

Does my role matter?

What’s required of me to make this happen? 

What are you asking me to do and why? 

Key Stakeholders

Key stakeholders are your people who are brought into the vision. They get it, and for them, they love seeing a “return” on their generosity, just like an investor would love to see a return on their capital, but with far more meaning. This is the audience who wants to hear about the baptisms, salvations, and all the statistical data because they can understand both definitions and context. 

We rarely engage with this audience outside of episodic events, mainly capital campaigns. But what are we doing with that giving capacity throughout the year? How well are we celebrating these people’s generosity on a consistent basis? 

Also, imagine if you owned stock in Apple and unbeknownst to you, Apple was designing a product for market that was going to once again transform some area of peoples’ lives and make the company tons of money, but Apple didn’t let you know what it was planning because they didn’t want to “ask you for more money”. I don’t know about you, but I’d be upset. I bought Apple stock because I believe in the company and its mission. I would for sure want to be the first to know about the future so I know that 1) my current assets are protected, and 2) I have the opportunity to buy more stock based on my trust in the company and its direction. 

These people feel the same way about your church. They want to know about the wins, about what’s happened, but also continuously want to know about where you’re going, and to not only hear when you’re doing some specific campaign. They also would love to be treated like the investors who make the vision possible and not just customers. And well, they are. I believe we often rob this group of exercising their gift as investors in the mission of our churches because we feel like we’re asking something from them more than we want something for them. 

Consumers

One of the biggest questions that people are asking right now is, “how do we engage people on the other side of the screen?”

Similar to Apple, the people you’re trying to reach don’t care how many baptisms or salvations you had last week, at least not yet. Those people might not even know what that means, and they don’t have the proper context in which to apply its meaning. It’s just advertising irrelevant numbers to people who don’t know enough about you to care about your numbers. If these people are engaging with you, it’s because they found something relevant about you, or someone who matters to them thought you would be relevant to them. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about stories of life change, however. 

If we have learned anything from our friends at the major retailers like Target, Home Depot, WalMart, and others, it’s that it is more important to use the digital platform as a tool for us to get to know people more than for them to get to know us.

Apple provided customers with an identity and a clearly defined way of belonging. They’re for the rebels and misfits, yes, but really for those who are creative. Secondly, they were clear in how buying their product will help unlock that creativity in you and help you belong with the other creatives around the world. Their messaging and storytelling put the customer in the hero seat and celebrated them. 

What’s the church version of that? 

That’s mostly for you to decide based on your unique vision, mission, and values. However, is it possible to demonstrate that you are a church for your community and provide tangible ways for people to engage in generosity with their community? Instead of esoteric terms, could we find tangible ways for people to express generosity towards something they understand and value? 

Taking Steve Jobs’ earlier quote, here is a possible statement from a leader of the Church of the Future, “We wanted a brand image campaign, not a set of advertisements marketing that sold products sermons. It was designed not to celebrate what the computers church could do, but what creative generous people could do with the computers through the church. 

Summary 
 
The landscape of engaging people in their God-inspired generosity is certainly changing. However, the church has an amazing opportunity right now more than ever to reach new people with an invitation to engage. The people we’re trying to reach, however, need us to create compelling reasons and clear next steps for them to do so. The people who are currently supporting our mission need to be celebrated and communicated within new ways.
 
If you would like to discuss any of these ideas further, please feel free to reach out to our team. We would love to connect with you.
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