Crisis of Faith:The Religion of Branding

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Shared beliefs and values have always helped us make sense of the world around us.

When we were cavemen we formed tribes based on shared interests, essentially to help us navigate the world and survive.

Our tribes existed to serve a practical purpose, to keep order we established ways to live; values that we shared with our group to live as harmoniously as possible.

We began to understand more about the world and evolved our thinking. We developed idols and systems of belief. We kept order through religious doctrine, bringing people together through worship of shared gods or idols, using our beliefs to find community and organise our lives.

Our human need to belong hasn’t changed, just our need to find this belonging through organised religious belief has.

In New Zealand our census data shows that between 2001’s census and 2013’s, 12.28% more people chose “no religious affiliation” on their census form. Meaning nearly 42% of New Zealanders chose not to identify with living their lives according to a set of religious values or beliefs.

During this time period the world also went under radical change, with 9/11 and the beginning of a world economic slowdown in 2001 changing the shape of the world and how we understand it to work forever.

Apple released the first iPod in the early 2000s, changing the way we listen to music forever, kicking off their global domination, and arguably the start of their brand evangelisation.

The following decades proved that innovative products alone don’t make a brand that people go crazy for. That building a brand people worship and live their lives by, is about more than offering people the latest features and benefits, and more about creating something that unites people.

Like our cavemen ancestors, companies that get it like Apple have been able to create communities that allow like-minded people to rally around shared beliefs and values, creating tribes based on shared interests to help us navigate the world.

Clever companies have built authentic brands based on the things people care about. We have moved on from merely having to unite to survive, to uniting to make a difference to the way we impact the environment (Po-Zu shoes), to help those in need (Warby Parker), or both (Lush).

Arguably we have shifted from needing to classify our beliefs by religion. We can simply do it through the products we choose to incorporate in our lives.

The human race is smarter and more equipped than ever. Brands that don’t deliver on promises they make don’t last very long, and religious beliefs that don’t align with how we choose to live, or what we value, are finding themselves at a turning point.

Our declining religious affiliation suggests that churches are scrambling to keep up with changing social norms that align the things people believe in, with the way they choose to live their lives.

People can now reach out to new communities through the internet, and can share good and bad experiences without the restriction of geography or information delay. Brands (including churches) that don’t align their offerings with how people want to live are quickly losing believers.

Technology and science have shown us that we no longer need to accept the status quo, that religion and brands need to ensure they “walk the walk and talk the talk”. They have to be transparent, authentic and truly aligned with their community’s needs, wants, desires and beliefs, to survive.

We are heading into an interesting time, where non-religious movements like the recent Women’s March are uniting more and more people around a common set of values and beliefs.

Clever companies and churches will be watching these types of demonstrations closely to understand the fundamental drivers behind these movements; why people are choosing to come together, what it is that they believe so passionately in.

Now is the crisis point for companies and religions alike. Goliath’s days are numbered, his power and credibility are no match for David’s ability to capture the hearts and minds of the people.

“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.” – Seth Godin

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