The Youth Cartel

Freebies for registering early – The Summit

This week we opened registration for The Summit. This is our brand new, TED-like, national youth ministry event. [Here’s the announcement]

And, as excited as I am about The Summit, this post isn’t really about the event itself so much as it’s about the type of ministry organization we want to be.

Here is a phrase from the announcement:

We have lots of freebies to reward you for registering early. Why? Because we think early adopters should get the most rewarded. (Duh!)

You might not know this but that is an upside down methodology within the marketing world. For instance, I get regular emails from Southwest Airlines offering me great deals from San Diego to the places I visit most often. But why is Southwest offering me those special prices? Because the market isn’t buying them at their regular fare price, so they’ve discounted them to try to entice me to buy low. And it works! I’ve actually booked trips I wouldn’t have booked simply because the flight cost was so low!

But, for me at least, I would like to think about The Youth Cartel as the type of organization who rewards our most loyal folks with the best possible deal. We’ve done it in some small ways by offering pre-order specials on books and curriculum and gotten a great response.

For The Summit — we’ve ramped that WAY UP to make it so that the people who register first get the absolutely best deal on price & rewards. Our early bird price is valid all the way through August but if you register in May you’re going to get all sorts of stuff for free that people who register in September won’t get. (Or will have to pay for.)

  • An invite to our private Friday night after party
  • A vote for who gets to speak in the soapbox session
  • Video downloads of every session
  • One registration to a pre-event session
  • Entered in a raffle to win things like… free lodging, car rental, and other fun stuff we’ll dream up.
  • MP3 downloads of every session
And then, as we get closer to the event these rewards start to go away. So folks who register now get the best possible deal and those who wait get a little less.

So that’s my theory. What do you think? Is it a crazy theory? Do you think it’s better to go the traditional way and discount stuff when it doesn’t sell?

And… are you planning to attend The Summit? We’re hearing from youth workers all over who are planning to come, which is rad! Are you registered yet? If not, what are you waiting for?


William Shakespeare on Marketing


Kid’s Attention Valued at $1.12 Trillion Annually

My kids can tell me about all the latest Disney movies. And they can rattle off the specs of just about every toy that they want. Worse yet? They are armed with lines that tell me all about why buying that toy is good for them and the deal they will get if they buy it online by a specific date.

The culprit? Savvy marketers are hitting them where I’m not looking. Sites that I’ve deemed safe for them to play on are now rewarding them for watching well-placed ads. My own kids are earning Webkinz bucks by watching trailers for movies. It’s not just Webkinz, it’s all of them.

On the table? Getting kids to influence their parents spending habits.

$1.12 trillion. That’s the amount that kids influenced last year in overall family spending, says James McNeal, a kid marketing consultant and author of Kids as Consumers: A Handbook of Marketing to Children. “Up to age 16, kids are determining most expenditures in the household,” he says. “This is very attractive to marketers.” 

Marketing to Kids Gets More Savvy with Technology, USA Today, August 15th 2011. – Read the rest

What does this have to do with youth ministry? Absolutely everything. I’m not saying you need to market your ministry to your students. But I am saying that you need to know that there are others out there marketing to your students in ways that are more savvy and more influential than your flyer and stage announcement.

Your retreat, your camp, your mission trip… things like that are competing for the same $1.12 trillion. Sad. But true.

Tip for Webkinz parents: Go into your kids account and turn off third-party ads.

Question: Should the government regulate advertising to children? 


Like Father, Like Daughter

Kristen found this in Megan’s room the other day. Megan loves to draw and create things. Her origami creations are worthy of an Etsy shop.

When we turned over the last page and saw her marketing twist about going to… we just roared with laughter. She truly is her father’s child.


When companies listen

I think the most powerful thing I do at YS is listen. Sure, I know what it’s like to be a youth pastor. Sure, I know some skills and tricks for building websites. Sure, I know a little about engaging with people in the realm of social media.

Above all else… I am careful to listen 10x’s more than I speak. I read hundreds of blogs. I monitor dozens of Google alerts. I scan through thousands of tweets and Facebook status’ every day.

How else am I supposed to tell the difference between someone complaining about a flight to Miami starting too late and an opportunity to host a cross-Atlantic dance party?

Too many people/companies/brands/organizations/churches/celebrities use Twitter and Facebook like a customer list. They do whatever they can to build massive followings because someone in their marketing department thinks that making money has something to do with the size of your lists.

In fact, the single most powerful thing any organization can do is listen.

ht to The Next Web & Carol Phillips

Church Leadership

What does the Easter Mayhem teach us?

Several weeks have now passed since Easter. My hope is that by now, church leaders are scratching their heads and wondering if it was all worth it.

Easter mayhem?

A lot, LOT, of churches consider Easter to be a day for growth. For church marketing types, it is Super Bowl Sunday. With the highest attendance of the year the attitude seems to be “Since lots of people are coming let’s do something awesome and maybe those visitors will come back!

And boy do churches go all out. They alter the schedule. They plan a special service. The kids ministry is amped up. There are meetings about the big day. There is a special marketing plan for the day. There are mailers and prizes and flowers and bands and rehearsals and... then it’s over.

Somehow in the middle of this we try to be somber and remember that Our Lord was crucified and three days later resurrected! But the truth is that staff at those churches are hyped up on adrenaline and hope that this is the year that they will reach a new attendance record.

Easter mayhem is the 2000s version of Vacation Bible School which was the 1980s version of Sunday School

I don’t know how it all got started. But somehow Easter went from a holiday we solemnly celebrated to a day where people can win a car for showing up to church.

Easter, in some churches, has become less a religious holiday and more a church growth opportunity.

Easter is the highest attended weekend of the year in most churches. But the weekend after Easter is one of the lowest attended weekends of the year. Followed by the month of May– where church attendance and program enthusiasm typically murmurs out as the school year comes to an end.

What’s the point?

The point is exactly my point. While attendance is typically at an all-time high engagement is at an all-time low.

And when you look at the return on that investment– Easter mayhem is as effective at reaching people as Vacation Bible School. There may be a whole lot of people there for the event, but does it translate to long-term attendees?

Not in my experience.

What translates to long-term attendees?

Neighbors loving neighbors. Finding a community where you belong. Community service. And other things that aren’t as sexy as giving people a car on Easter Sunday or shaving a pastors head on the last day of VBS.

social media

McLane Creative

McLane Creative

If you pay close attention, you may see a links to on some websites. What is that all about?

Essentially, McLane Creative is for stuff I do outside of my work at Youth Specialties. Sometimes there may be a project I want to experiment with that has nothing to do with my full-time gig, so I fly those things under that banner. Those are personal projects… stuff I play with when I’m bored.

But I also do some projects for people under the McLane Creative name. Up until this point I’ve kept those projects very small, kept closely within my network of friends, and kept my involvement in them below the radar. The simple truth is that for every project I had time to work on I was saying no to about 20 inquiries.

As an entrepreneur– this drove me nuts! There are so many great ideas out there and it is super annoying to have to say no to 95% of them. (And about 99% of my own) I simply don’t have the time/energy to do more than what I’m already doing… but there must be a third option.

That third option was such a simple solution. Why didn’t I think of this before? I’ll keep doing the 5% of projects completely on my own. But I’ll also start saying yes to more projects I’m passionate about, just won’t do 100% of the work myself. Instead, I’ll work with my network of existing friends who are all themselves brilliantly creative. In football terms, my role with McLane Creative will be primarily to distribute the ball. (Unlike in the NFL, this will be a fair trade deal. I don’t believe in hiring coders in Eastern Europe or Asia, you need to ask about that these days when hiring creatives.)

So these are the 4 types of things I’m now open to under the banner of McLane Creative: (*super-important disclaimer below)

  • Web design/development/implementation
  • Social media and online marketing consulting
  • Full-on marketing campaigns (print, video, web)
  • Speaking, staff training, one-on-one nerd coaching, writing

Last, it’s probably good to say up-front that I don’t work for free. (I do a fair amount of pro bono work, but I pick those projects on my own for my own reasons.) Since I pick only projects I am passionate about, my rates tend to reflect that passion. But free? No can do. Barter? I do like tacos. I’m looking for a country club to exchange a free membership for web design!

Want to know more? Hit the feedback button on the side of my blog or head over to the website and contact me.

*Super-important Disclaimer. I’m not starting a business in any way, shape, or form! I’ve got a job that I love enough to call two full-time jobs already. The only way I can say yes to more is to hand most of it off. Nor will I consider any project, even one that I’d hand off to a friend, which competes with Youth Specialties/YouthWorks in my opinion.

Church Leadership management Marketing news item

Don’t Promise, Deliver

gm-logoIf you live in the United States, you are the proud owner of the second largest pool of retirees next to the federal government. And as a bonus you also get a small and dying breed of cars formally known as General Motors. We just spent over $80 billion to bailout a company that is only worth $7.3 billion. You can walk onto a dealers lot right now and participate in the largest liquidation of assets in the history of the world.

And we still haven’t fixed the one thing that forced them into the red in the first place: 500,000 retirees.

General Motors is the classic case of over promising.

Over-promise #1: I remember talking to a GM executive about the business model as he gave me a tour of their Warren Tech Center. I asked him how often a customer was supposed to buy a new car according to the company? His answer made my jaw drop. They built their business model on the assumption that you would buy a brand new car every 3 years. No wonder their cars sucked! They only expected you to own it 36 months. No wonder they failed! No one in their right mind could afford to buy a brand new car every 3 years. They were absolutely lying to themselves. Their competitors built cars that lasted 10 years or more. Honda and Toyota owners hit 100,000 miles and knew that their cars will easily make 200,000 miles. Meanwhile, GM was building cars that were meant to be traded in at 36,000 miles.

Over-promise #2: In the mid-1980s, when Toyota and Honda made it big in the United States market, GM was stupid to continue the retirement program. There was simply no way that they could afford to continue the program… but they lied to their employees and sold them the lie that if they took care of GM, GM would take care of them for life. The smart thing to do back then would have been to convert the program to 401k and make no promises of retiree health care. Instead, they oversold a promise they couldn’t keep. Worse yet, to deal with payroll issues they started early retirement programs which meant people in their mid-50s were walking away from GM with a “guaranteed” pension and health care. There are currently tens of thousands of people in the United States who have now been retired from GM longer than they worked for GM. No company can bear that burden. Companies struggle just to pay benefits for current employees… How did they think they could insure 500,000 non-wage earning retirees?

My point isn’t really about GM, it’s about over-promising. Here are some ill-effects of over-promising.

usedcarsalesman– Advertising becomes useless. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on ads as people won’t believe you anymore.You can’t hype up a product launch or an event that you’ve oversold forever. When you don’t deliver you are just reminding customers how much you betrayed them.

– Your word becomes useless. When you break promise after promise, soon people won’t trust that your on their side. They will see that you only want their money and you don’t care about them.

– Your product becomes a joke. I was in a meeting yesterday about search engines and someone used the word Yahooeveryone laughed. Yahoo has become a dinosaur of a search engine. The only thing memorable about Yahoo is that stupid song, Yaaahhoooooo. You can’t advertise and promise a web service, you can only deliver. This is the #1 reason you can’t trust to be any good. If it was so good why are they spending $100,000,000 to advertise it?

Shifting gears: The evangelical church has become a classic example of the over-promise. Part of the church becoming more about programs and business models is that it has fallen into the trap of needing marketing and advertising like the business models they copies. The result is a lot of over-promising. “Come to the marriage retreat, it’ll fundamentally change your marriage.” or “Sign up for our next church production, it’ll be awesome.” or “Bring your friends to the revival and they will get saved.” In a world where the awesome is so readily available churches do nothing but give away trust when they advertise promises they can’t deliver. I’ve seen church events marketed like they were going to be on par with Disney or Broadway or Oprah and deliver like a trip to the town carnival, a middle school play, or a cable access show. At the end of the day the church spent more effort marketing the event, production, or program than they did making the program awesome. It is a sick cycle that is killing thousands of churches.

The better way: Wouldn’t it be refreshing if churches just delivered? Wouldn’t it be amazing if they didn’t sell themselves but just helped people? What if they invested in training their volunteers and staff so much that the church didn’t need to make promises, that their programs and ministries truly worked to change lives? You wouldn’t need to advertise a life-changing marriage retreat… because results would advertise themselves. You wouldn’t need to hold a revival because every church service, small group, and youth group meeting would see people come to know Jesus. You wouldn’t need to hire a killer band and create a worship experience because people were authentically worship Jesus. The best advertising a church could ever invest in is a changed life.

If you are a church leader I want to challenge you to think about your programs. Think about how you talk about them. Think about how you market them. And remember:

Don’t promise, deliver.

Don’t hype, deliver.

Don’t sell, deliver.

Don’t measure, deliver.

Don’t sub-contract, deliver.

Don’t advertise, deliver.

In a low trust, high expectation world the best way to succeed is to undersell and deliver.

Church Leadership management Marketing

Leading to the edges

ruler-edgeEntrepreneurs get this. Start-up businesses get this. New franchises get this. Church planters get this. But no one in an older business, church, franchise, or industry can comprehend this.

You have grown your audience as much within what you are doing today as you will ever grow it. You primary demographic already knows about you and has decided whether to be a customer or not. They have decided whether to become a student in your college or not. They have decided whether or not your to attend your church.

People largely make decisions on your project, widget, consumable, or institution in an instant. Five seconds or less. (Test it yourself, watch TV commercials. How soon until you decide if you are buying that product? I thought so.) Spending more money to advertise the same thing over and over again is just a waste of money. This is why Super Bowl commercials can be deal makers or deal breakers for companies you’ve never heard of.

This is why marketers dump millions of dollars onto the airwaves and see little return on their investment. This is why church marketing sucks. Once you can identify who your audience is… your best possibility for growth then shifts to customer service and care. Can I keep the customers I have? Can I provide them such an amazing service that they tell their friends that they have to go there, be there, or be your customer?

Growth comes as you lead your organization towards the edges. When you help your church or college find a new demographic, there is growth. When you design a new product that changes the game for an old industry, there is growth. When you serve a need that everyone wants but no one offers, there is growth.

What’s the first step in determining how to find my edge?

Spend time and discover where you are failing. Spend time finding out where everyone in your industry fails. Spend time finding out what churches in your area aren’t doing.

Hint: Studying successful companies, institutions, churches, or whatever will only lead you away from growth and into their market. Learn from their best practices, for sure, but don’t study them to copy them. Their edge won’t ever be your edge.

Church Leadership

Put up or shut up

Growing up we played a lot of basketball. A core component of playing basketball, especially the driveway versions, is learning to talk a good game. There are people who can’t play but can talk a good game. And then there are the best players who don’t really talk much but just flat our put up numbers.

Eventually, it comes down to this simple phrase in pick-up basketball: Put up or shut up.

I think that phrase explains why so many people get fed up with church: They talk a good game about the poor, mercy, seeking justice, living out Acts 2, exemplifying Matthew 5, or preaching the truth. But at the end of the day they don’t “put up.

Church leaders, if your church talks game it doesn’t have… please stopped talking like you have game. At the end of the day, allow your game to speak for itself.

That’s the best marketing advice I could ever give to a church: Put up or shut up.

Wanna grow your church? Put up or shut up.

Wanna have the best youth group in town? Put up or shut up.

Wanna help people losing their houses? Put up or shut up.

Wanna start a killer small group ministry? Put up or shut up.

At the end of the day you need to allow your church game to speak for you. People are tired of the hype. They are tired of hearing what you want to do. They don’t want to know your vision statement.

They want to see it.

So stop talking smack and get to work!