Marketing Can Help Church, Academy Be More Effective in Mission

Melanie Overton
August 14, 2012

What images does the term "marketing" convey to you? Perhaps you think of telemarketers, Super Bowl advertisements, Fortune 500 executives, or an introductory course you took in high school.

West Virginia Wesleyan CollegeI've been developing a syllabus for a course on Marketing in Higher Education for Vanderbilt University's Peabody College. This is a particularly fascinating task given that my profession places me at the intersection of two entities whose relationships with marketing are best characterized as ambivalent: the church and the academy.

Yet both types of institutions engage in the core marketing practices of market segmentation, targeting, and positioning to ensure they will be able to attract the students, faculty, members, or staff they wish to recruit in order to fulfill their missions. These practices have increased despite skepticism that marketing expenditures redirect resources from teaching the liberal arts or proclaiming the Gospel.

I think the heart of the skepticism stems from our language. The terms I used above – segmentation, targeting, positioning – conjure up images of profit-focused executives engaging in practices that seem somehow inappropriate for our mission-centered contexts. This is unfortunate, because a holistic marketing orientation helps us to be more effective in implementing our mission - whether it be teaching the liberal arts or proclaiming the Gospel. This type of orientation helps us to be sure that we recognize human needs, meet them, and speak to people about what we are doing in ways they can hear.

I know this is true, because I am in constant conversation with the leaders of our educational institutions as we try to monitor what the world and church need, to consistently improve our educational experiences to meet those needs, and to find ways to speak to you about what we are doing so that you will really hear us.

Melanie Overton Signature

Melanie B. Overton, Ed.D.
Assistant General Secretary – Schools, Colleges, and Universities

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