“I really liked Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney,” he said in a thick Russian accent.
I turned my head towards a housemate sitting off to my peripheral and could feel his disapproval.
Another of my housemates chimed in, “Two things we don’t talk about here is religion and politics.”
Life in an international hostel isn’t without its share of interesting conversations.
Hostel life or not, religion and politics are highly charged. Talking about them is like opening Pandora’s box–you shouldn’t do it.
But when it comes to a marketing perspective, I think the two make interesting case studies. Religion is perhaps the best marketing system of all the time. Take Christianity as an example. The basic premise is that you are born depraved and sinful. The solution? Accept the sacrifice of Jesus and be reborn. And if you don’t? Well, there’s a special place for you and it ain’t fun.
On the other hand, if you accept the sacrifice, you are spared and gain entrance into the kingdom. Who the heck could resist that?
A basic marketing premise is at work here:
- Create or identify a sense of unease. Scare tactics work, too.
- Give people a vision of what could be. Help them visualize an alternative that relieves them of their unease
- Make people believe you have the product or service to get them there.
What it looks like in religious terms:
- Convert or you may die
- Don’t want to die? Accept god XYZ (take your pick) and you can be saved from torment
- Here’s the way to do it. Oh, thousands of people are doing it, too. Join this movement.
And yes, I’m aware that this is an extremely simplified (and perhaps boorish) way of looking at things, but at its core, it’s the standard modus operandi for most marketing ventures.
As for politics? Pure tribalism.
My team is right, yours is wrong. Ingroups vs outgroups. Team blue has a shared value system, a way of seeing the world. Team red has a shared value system, too, but it sees the world in perhaps a radically different way.
It’s what Thomas Sowell refers to as a “Conflict of Visions.” Do both sides want similar things? Maybe. The average, moderate voter, whether on the left or the right, probably favors western democracy and its associated values. It’s only on the fringes where the extreme outliers are found.
So why the extreme animosity? Why all the screaming and divisiveness? Politics with friends can end in blows. And worst of all? It doesn’t even change anyone’s opinion on much of anything.
What can marketers learn from all of this? Two things:
- Creating ingroups and tribes breeds passionate followers (even at the expense of alienating members of other groups).
- Trying to convince the “other side” of the correctness of your views or opinions is pointless.
So, when creating your next product or service, find a way to exclude those not in your tribe. You’ll connect with those who are passionate about what you do and expel those who aren’t. Secondly, if you’re looking to “convince” people of your argument, avoid the “logical” facts and figures that would adorn a policy meeting presentation in some dank room of a think tank in swampy D.C.
People aren’t convinced by what you tell them, they’re convinced by what you make them feel. What stories can you communicate that cross party lines and gets people to grasp your hand on the other side? Politics seems to miss this idea completely.
If by some weird chance you find yourself in an international hostel, skip the religion and politics (If you can). Ask a fellow traveler about their experience in far away country XYZ. Ask them what they do for fun.
I think you’ll be surprised by how quickly you make friends. Leave religion to the religious and politics to the politicos. There’s a time and place for everything–politics and religion included. But like all things, it’s contextual. And perhaps that’s the whole point of this post.
Know the context before entering the arena. You’ll keep the friends you have, make new ones, and become a better marketer (hopefully).