The Opinions

1:1 or 1:Infinity

As messaging evolves beyond spray and pray, sharp-shooting to a hybrid approach that toggles between hyper-personalization and hyper-tribalism is required. Leadership is often the trigger or messenger


Religion’s Playbook For Brands

One of my favourite movies is OMG – Oh My God. It’s a low-budget sleeper-hit movie with Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar. The film talks about how some aspects of religion, God, and the people behind it exploit human fear for profit! Paresh Rawal, an atheist, shows us the true meaning of religion. Be God Loving and not God Fearing! 

It made me think of religion as a brand. That got me wondering – is there anything religion can teach us branding folks?  

Although it’s difficult to determine the exact revenue generated by religions of our world, as much of it comes as donations, tithes, and private offerings, religion is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar industry. Most religious organizations have annual incomes of hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, the Catholic Church has an estimated global revenue of over 170 billion dollars annually, while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) generates around 40 billion dollars. Similarly, the Hindu temple economy in India is worth billions of dollars, with some of the largest temples receiving tens of millions of dollars in annual offerings and donations. In addition, the Hindu festival industry comprising the sale of religious goods and services generates significant revenue.

Religion offers high revenue, unique offering, high loyalty from followers, deep emotional connection, and multiple products to offer – everything a cult brand needs. Including a charismatic leader that everyone looks up to. Jesus and Mary. Durga, Ram, and Krishna. Buddha. There must be lessons in communications from such successful brands that we can learn and apply to other brands. After all, both religions and brands have a set of values, beliefs, and distinct identities broadcasted to their followers or customers. Both aim to build a community and foster relationships with their followers or customers. Both use various channels and platforms to communicate their message and reach a wider audience.

Looking closely at religion, we can see a clear pattern emerge: one-to-one communication followed by one-to-many communication. Often with the leader being at the center of it all. Take Christianity, for example. Jesus first spoke one-on-one with his early followers (the early adopters of brand language) and then addressed mass gatherings. And it worked! Today it is one of the most profitable brands in the world. 

So how do brands adopt this? Well, it is not something new. Some of the most successful brands have already used this approach. Take Apple as an example. It had a charismatic leader like Steve Jobs. Jobs was a genius at selling the dream to his colleagues. His one-to-one conversations almost always resulted in people being convinced about the idea. Jobs then took his one-to-one communication game and started speaking to mass gatherings – at product launches, developers’ meetings, annual business updates, and more. The brand built itself an almost religious/cultish following. People queue up to get their hands on the new releases. The brand is the religion. The stores are the temples/churches. And everything else is the same. Apple has even more similarities to Christianity! It even has the crucifixion of Jobs and his return, post which the brand became unstoppable.

The list is endless. Ferrari. Dollar Shave Club. Tesla. Facebook. Religion and brands share many similarities in creating and maintaining a distinct identity, communicating their message, and fostering a sense of community and loyalty.

So how can other brands use this? Here is a use case to explore. 

Startup Founders

Let me summarise this with one example – The Wolf of Wall Street. Jordan Belfort’s story is a simple example of how a leader can use one-on-one communication to ignite an idea. And then use one-to-many communication to spread it like wildfire!  

The same is true for modern startups. Mark Zuckerberg’s dynamic one-on-ones with investors and inspiring town halls with his employees created a company that finds staunch support even during the most challenging times. Many companies follow this pattern even today. 

Startup founders use one-on-one communication to build their founding teams, get investors on board, and create a support framework. They then use one-to-many communication to hire, sell, and generate revenue. The same applies to the startup’s business communication. Generally starts with one-on-one communications with people who can be early adopters through customized sales pitches, followed by one-to-many communication with possible new customers such as social media marketing, influencer marketing, PR, and more. 

Mayur Milan, Ideosphere.