2014 is upon us. While we haven’t adjusted to writing this year’s date, we in marketing and media are well accustomed to at least one promise of 2014: Change.
In recent weeks, news sources and trade publications have been choc-full of articles about the digital trends to watch, changes in the online/mobile marketing and media landscape, and related boom-or-gloom technology predictions. We at Infinity Concepts thought it might be a good idea to hear from the companies laboring alongside us on behalf of religious non-profits: What do the folks running Christian digital media outlets think we should know about 2014?
So we conducted an informal survey, asking eight questions of executives at America’s largest Christian new media companies. Respondents included directors and vice presidents from Salem Web Network (Crosswalk.com, Christianity.com, OnePlace.com, etc.), UPtv.com (and Women of Faith), Outreach Media Group (SermonCentral.com, FaithIt.com, etc.), BNmedia (Beliefnet.com), Moody Broadcasting, and Gospel Media Group (Faith, Believe.com, etc.).
Here’s a synopsis of their responses to our questions.
What will be different for your organization in 2014?
Expansion is the theme — both in new brands, platforms, audience growth, and in social media. It seems Christian digital media is poised to continue its rapid growth of recent years. Meanwhile, the responses also strongly suggest flexibility — and a readiness to reinvent media to remain relevant & effective — remains the name of the game for 2014.
What do you see as the up and coming digital avenue for ministries?
Responses boiled down to these three areas:
1) Social media
2) Continued use of traditional online advertising — including workhorses like display and email
3) Data-informed marketing, including better targeting, and more retargeting
Those surveyed agreed that the pace of change will continue, and that what worked last year may not work in 2014.
Key quote from one executive: “It’s important to periodically review your strategies and know what media works best for your audience. Mobile, social media, and online videos are hot avenues, but you may not need to be on every platform.”
When it comes to working with Christian ministries, what will be your biggest challenge in 2014?
Two key challenges emerged:
- Shrinking ministry budgets
- Attribution issues
There are those in digital media who point to the struggles both online and offline media deal with when ministries broadly attribute Internet revenues.
If you could share one thing with the organizations and institutions you work with, what would it be?
The top four answers?
1) Create a mobile strategy — now!
2) Use better customer relationship management (CRM) tools
3) Deploy marketing automation tools
4) Improve tracking and results measurement
What is the one thing your advertisers might be surprised to learn about the digital Christian audience?
Reaction boiled down to this: The digital Christian audience…
1) Has ample financial resources, which includes advertising avenues of smartphones, tablets, cable TV, and more
2) Expects to know why your ministry is different and needs their support
3) Needs variety in advertising through multiple channels
Key quote: “The traditional approach you use through other marketing vehicles won’t translate to online ‘as is.’ It takes different creative, response mechanisms, and at times an entirely different mindset to succeed online. Marketers often expect ‘instant’ results from online. Our greatest strength is that it can be tracked with a short control cycle. However, tracking the short-term response only can lead to decisions that ignore the long-term benefit of branding and new name acquisition.”
Name one thing that would help Christian marketers do a better job of reaching and converting your audience.
Executives essentially agreed on the following:
1) Target the audience as directly, and uniquely, as possible
2) Create relevant messaging
3) Measure performance tied to specific messaging, and be ready to tweak it
4) Have a plan and be patient
Key quote: “Online has proven better at creating interested inquiries rather than immediate conversions. Marketers who try to judge their ultimate success in the first 90 days are often disappointed. Those taking a six-month view are encouraged. Those adopting a one-year approach to evaluating online respondents are thrilled.”
When approaching you for a partnership, what should the ministry come prepared to discuss? What should they have in hand?
- As many details as possible!
- Readiness to invest and be aggressive
- Expectations for both sides
- A story that resonates with our audience
- Several great front-end premiums or “freemiums”
- A donor cultivation stream specifically designed for the online respondent
- A target audience, objective, call to action, and benchmarks for success
2014: Bigger and Smarter?
For many ministries, Christian digital media platforms will once again be an important medium for effectively acquiring and communicating with donors, advocates, partners, followers and fans. We’ve all learned a great deal about what works, what doesn’t, and how to best leverage these audience aggregators for reaching the people who want to know about our important efforts.
But for your organization, 2014 should be a year in which explosive digital growth (mobile), plus improving technologies (big data, targeting), plus emerging vehicles (content marketing), plus consistent adherence to winning fundamentals (fundraising best practices, effective communication, compelling story-telling)…all add up to bigger — and smarter — growth.