Strategic Perspective on how Spiritual Brands work
- Nimal CN
This paper intends to study how the various religio...
Spiritual Brands
These are socio-religious organizations, organizations which tackles social problems
while at the same ...
Where once religion tried to retain people with fear, now they try with more direct
assistance; sin is no more the agend...
Chinmaya Mission “To provide to individuals from any
background, the wisdom of Vedanta and
the practical means for spiri...
• Improving access to health care
• Promoting financial stability
Mata Amritananda Mayi Math • Schools to colle...
Segmentation, Differentiation & Positioning
With the increasing competition, differentiation and the communication of th...
Brand Identity
The first step of the brand building process is to decide on the brand identity factors and
then communic...
Sri Sathya Sai Baba Ashram Motto: Love all, serve all
All Spiritual Brands use various means of promotional ac...
Table 6
Mass Media
Art Of Living Sanskar, regular TV channels, leaflets,
banners, posters
Chinmaya Mission Regular TV ch...
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: Missionary of
Charity, Servant of Love: Mother Teresa
and Her Missionaries of Charity
values and aspirations, we are unlikely to succeed in the long term. But the researcher for
one has never seen a market...
15. www.kabbalah.c...
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Spiritual Brands Strategic Perspective


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Spiritual Brands Strategic Perspective

  1. 1. Strategic Perspective on how Spiritual Brands work - Nimal CN Abstract This paper intends to study how the various religious orders called ‘Spiritual Brands’ are marketed and the strategic implications of the same. In an era of competition, religious institutions are using different strategies and promotional efforts to sustain themselves. A study on how these brands have been built over the years and their strategic marketing perspective is likely to come out with something for marketers of other commodities or services to learn from and replicate. Keywords: Spiritual Brands, Strategic Marketing, Religions and Need Satisfaction. In the early society people worshipped the sun, wind and fire. They were afraid of these phenomenon and those things which they could not control, they revered. Soon there were stories associated with these Gods and slowly they were imputed with human form and qualities. Temples and other places of worship began to be built for them. Origin and chronology of religion: A summary The purpose of human life was considered to be salvation and this salvation was possible only if people adhered to certain tenets which soon became religions. Besides beliefs, religion also meant following certain rituals that was prescribed. Later when society wanted to control people and their behaviour they started using the fear of these Gods as a prop. Over the years people no longer wanted just salvation for the soul but something much more tangible and material. So, good deeds were supposed to bring you closer to heaven which was the ultimate place in terms of comfort and luxury. This was also not acceptable by the turn of the twentieth century. People wanted things to happen now and not after death or in the next life. Prayer and religion was soon supposed to bring material things and ultimately peace of mind. Once the immanent God became obscure through the intervention of such institutions as the synagogue, temple, church and mosque slowly people started moving away from religion. Religious orders found that they could not retain people with fear; they had to come out with something different. Background of the study God is an abstract entity that is intangible in nature. There are numerous religious orders who live by selling the concept called God and the ways and means to reach his presence. The marketing of the service they are offering is a minor miracle by itself since you are trying to sell something that is unseen, unknown and unheard and giving advice on how to achieve its presence. Which would in turn, give you certain benefits which were again abstract. And all this, without any concrete proof that would satisfy the five senses. In fact if we go further we can see that almost all the tenets of marketing are closely adopted from the way religions have originated and grown.
  2. 2. 2 Spiritual Brands These are socio-religious organizations, organizations which tackles social problems while at the same time use spirituality not only to attain salvation but how to solve organizational and even relationship problems, an extension of what Mara Einstein (2008) calls ‘Faith Brands’1 . When we talk of spiritual brands we are talking of different religions with their numerous subsects and the grouping of believers under the spokesmanship of a particular evangelist who runs their own versions of the some religion. These include such foreign brands as Kabbalah Centre and United Way and Indian ones like Missionaries of Charity, Chinmaya Mission, Art of Living and Prasanna Trust. All these brands may not be strictly similar, and that is what makes a study of these more interesting - to understand what are the things that they have in common. Specifics of the study Secondary data has been mostly used for the study. Numerous Spiritual Brands including Chinmaya Mission, Art of Living, Missionaries of Charity, United Way, Prasanna Trust and Mata Amritananda Mayi Mutt has been studied, with their websites and published material providing the majority of the data. Other websites have also been a source of information. Television programmes based on the Brands and speeches by their spiritual leaders were watched and observations made as part of primary data collection. The Strategic Perspective The first step in any strategic marketing process is to "find a need and meet it". Then tailoring a product to satisfy that specific need. After that of course comes the nitty gritty of the the actual distribution and hard core marketing of the product. This is where most of the strategy comes, where the branding comes. And socio-religious organisations in India have long been following this sequence with the strategic angle being given a fair bit of importance. Satisfying a need For a non profit organization with a religious bend, the first and main objective, of course, is salvation of the soul. There are also many more needs stated and unstated. In the present rat race peace of mind is a commodity that is in short supply. Consequently people have been trying out different methods to achieve inner calm. Religions have over the years provided succor to these aspirants to happiness. The second is a sense of belonging. Of being part of a group - a network which will give you support especially in times of crisis. Then again are the basic amenities of food, clothing and shelter. Swami Vivekananda once said quoting his guru Sri Ramakrishna ‘An empty stomach is no use for religion’2 . Street children without means for one meal a day and street walkers who had to depend on the wealthy clientele for survival needed much more than food for the soul. Even religious orders which were more concerned about the spiritual than material aspects and did not give more importance to charity over the years had to change to satisfy their target audience. Now for many spiritual brands charity has become one of the main objectives. In fact they are the reason many people become part of these religious orders.
  3. 3. 3 Where once religion tried to retain people with fear, now they try with more direct assistance; sin is no more the agenda, stomach is. For the corporate, the take home is that you have to clearly define a need and cater to the same. Although this is easy to preach many corporate don’t actually do it. Besides people’s need keeps changing and it has to be monitored closely for the company to be successful in the long term. Mission Statement Once the need is identified a mission statement which delineates the objective of the brand has to be formulated. This makes it clear whether an organization is having the same values and culture as the prospective customer or employee has. Whether their objective will gel with our objectives. Again the statement has not only to be there in the PC of the CEO but be clearly spelt out to the stakeholders. And of course … it has to be followed! Table 1 Mission Statement Missionaries of Charity To care for… "The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.". United Way The focus of United Way is “identifying and resolving pressing community issues, as well as making measurable changes in the communities through partnerships with schools, government agencies, businesses, organized labor, financial institutions, community development corporations, voluntary and neighborhood associations, the faith community, and others.” Art of Living “To strengthen the individual and society by offering programs inspired by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar that eliminate stress, create a sense of belonging, restore human values, develop life to its full potential, and encourage people from all backgrounds to come together in celebration, wisdom, and service”
  4. 4. 4 Chinmaya Mission “To provide to individuals from any background, the wisdom of Vedanta and the practical means for spiritual growth and happiness, enabling them to become positive contributors to society” Product Package Packaging of the services offered by the Brands are very important. The music, types of text, additional services, food, all determine whether people come for a sermon. And whether they continue to contribute to the cause depends on the causes espoused. Outside of the government it is the religious institutions that have the most number of educational institutions running in the country. These institutions take all types of hues and sizes. From primary school and kindergarten to professional post graduate colleges. From stand alone institutes to global chains. From Hindus to Christians to Muslims. Chinmaya, Don Bosco, Amrita, Christ… the list goes on. If you look at the charitable activities you find that Spiritual Brands are again in the forefront. They conduct blood donation camps, they are there to take care of the homeless, the tsunami victims… Table 2 Services offered Missionaries of Charity • There are 19 homes in Kolkatta which cater to refugees, ex- prostitutes, the mentally ill, sick children, abandoned children, lepers, AIDS victims, the aged, and convalescent. • Schools run by volunteers to educate street children • Soup kitchens, hospices as well as many other services as per the communities needs. Chinmaya Mission • Management Courses and Services • Medical Services and Training • Senior citizens' homes • Publications • Research in Sanskrit and Indology • Rural Village Development Projects • Schools and Colleges United Way • Helping children and youth succeed through engagement • Strengthening and supporting
  5. 5. 5 families • Improving access to health care • Promoting financial stability Mata Amritananda Mayi Math • Schools to colleges of higher education • Multi speciality hospitals • Soup kitchens • Providing homes to the homeless • Succour to the victims of natural disasters like Tsunami, Katrina.. Art of Living • Organise Executive Training programmes • Various levels of education • Trauma relief in areas of trauma and disaster Prasanna Trust • Home for homeless • Education and executive training • Blood donation camps Of course churches, mosques and religious institutions of other denominations have always been educators, but of a spiritual kind rather than anything material. In fact the church was very critical of the natural sciences. Then how come things changed? And why did they start diversifying, both concentric and conglomerate? The question here is, if the need has been delinated is the product and services offered suitable to satisfy the need? Competition If anybody thought that consumer products are having a tough time of it with massive competition then there is another category where competition is even fiercer, if that is possible. It is among the spiritual brands. Once the fear factor of God diminished people started moving away from religion. They had also to fight against the different media of entertainment as a leisure time activity. With the choice available in the religious market place the competition also hotted up. On the demand side things were not looking up and on the supply side the numbers were going up. But luckily for these brands the stresses and strains of everyday life had started to catch up with people and they needed a prop very badly. Just that the offerings had to be more stress reductive than salvation more therapeutical than theological3 . What differentiates many of these brands from consumer ones is the fact that many are unwilling to look at competition as enemies. On the other hand they study them and find out things that are of worth in each and incorporate them into their own teachings albeit under different names and words.
  6. 6. 6 Segmentation, Differentiation & Positioning With the increasing competition, differentiation and the communication of this differentiation has become important and what the brand promise is decides whether the ‘believer’ will follow that creed or not. Art of living(AOL) is all about Joy, there is lot of dancing and singing in all the sessions. But Sri Sri Ravishanker became popular with his Unique Selling Proposition(USP) of Sudarsana Kriya. His face has an innocence which is also a hall mark of his success. AOL is more upper income in Brand Image than say a Mata Amritananda Mayi Asram. Prasanna Trust under Swami Sukhabodhananda is even more upper crust. He is one of the best orators around and the Prasanna Trust website claims that a Times of India poll on ‘who talks best’ rated him the best in India. Mata Amritananda Mayi is known as the hugging saint and in her case also innocence is a major factor for success. Swamy Chinmaya was a proponent of the Bhagavat Gita and it is the Mission which popularized Gita as a text for the stressed out executive. Mothers of Charity’s beneficiaries are all among the lowest of the income categories, the so called scum, people who nobody wants. Their uniqueness is their simplicity and commitment to service. Christian institutions have been more oriented to the service aspect than the spiritual and Missionaries of Charity is no different. The reason for this is also dependent on the fact that Asian nations are more spiritual than western ones. A study shows that 80% of people in Asia is spiritual as compared to 33% in Great Britain.4 When it comes to United Way the spiritual aspect is the least among the Brands studied. As of now Kabbalah Centre a Jewish sect is the least service oriented of the Brands studied. They are mostly a spiritual organization. If different sects selling the same product – God and peace of mind – can have so many ways of differentiating themselves it is surprising that many companies refuse to do so going along with me too products and communication. Secularism & Globalisation: But even with all this for a Spiritual Brand to succeed long term the need was to get people of all cultures and nationalities to follow the order. The conflicting claims, ideologies and warring religions, who insist that theirs’ is the only way to salvation also have created a need for something more secular. Art of Living and Prasanna Trust are but two examples of the latest trend of secular Spiritual Brands which draws from the teachings of different philosophies, blending together Vedanta with Gestalt, NLP, Reiki, Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Scientology et al. They quote Shankaracharya, the Bible, and Osho with equal felicity. Instead of the old beaten methods like Homa and Puja they have break dancing to group and peer counseling sessions. These educational not for profit organizations and have found large takers in the corporate sector where executives are constantly stressed out and are in search of methods to combat the problem. They have become such huge successes that some have followers in more than a hundred countries world wide. Globalisation if ever there was one! In fact United Way which was started by church leaders in the US and the International Red Cross which was started by a Christian Evangelist, Henri Dunant in Switzerland respectively is as wide spread and secular as you can get these days. Companies can no longer think local but have to be globally oriented.
  7. 7. 7 Brand Identity The first step of the brand building process is to decide on the brand identity factors and then communicate them to the target audience. This is a part and parcel of creating an awareness for the brand. We will take a look at some of the identity factors of the spiritual brands Name: Some of the names are based on the person who founded the order, Mata Amritanandamayi, Mahirishi Mahesh Yogi, Swamy Chinmaya and Sri Satya Sai, but others have been given specific names that are more globally viable. Missionaries of Charity, United Way have a Christian base but Art of Living has a Hindu orientation. Prasanna Trust as a name is neither here nor there. Logo: Most of the Spiritual Brands have a single logo across the world, there are others which differ from country to country, some with minor, others major variations. Figure 1 Logos Dress Code: Dress code generally is simple with the nuns of Missionaries of Charity and Sannyasinis of the Amritanandamayi Math wearing predominantly white sarees, while that of Chinmaya is the traditional ochre colour. The Swamis of Amritanandamayi Math wears predominantly white, that of Chimnaya Mission and Swamy Sukhabodhananda of Prasanna Trust Ochre Positioning statement: The Spiritual brands have clear cut mottos and baselines which indicate their positioning in the competitive environment of the religious marketplace. At least Identity factors is one area where most companies do put in some amount of thought and effort and off and on you can see rebranding exercises where companies pour in crores of rupees. Table 3 Positioning Statement Art Of Living Motto: Serve society and strengthen the individual Baseline: We care for the world, we care for you Chinmaya Mission Motto: To give maximum happiness to maximum people for maximum time. Missionaries of Charity Motto: Trust, surrender and cheerfulness Prasanna Trust Baseline: Roots of responsibility, wings of freedom
  8. 8. 8 Sri Sathya Sai Baba Ashram Motto: Love all, serve all Promotion All Spiritual Brands use various means of promotional activities. In this internet age it is not surprising that they are very much present in the world wide web. Table 4 Websites Art Of Living Chinmaya Mission Missionaries of Charity, United Way Amritananda Mayi Math, Prasanna Trust Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram Sri Sathya Sai Baba Asram Kabbalah Centre Brand Ambassadors In most cases the role of the brand ambassador has been occupied by the founder of the order itself. In some cases the baton has been handed over once they died. There are of course cases where celebrities in other fields have taken over the roles. Table 5 Brand Ambassadors Art Of Living Sri Sri Ravishankar Chinmaya Mission Swami Chinmayananda Missionaries of Charity Mother Teresa, Sr.Nirmala Kabbalah Centre Madonna, Demi Moore Amritananda Mayi Math Mata Amritananda Mayi Ma Prasanna Trust Swami Sukhabodhananda Sri Sathya Sai Baba Asram Sri Sathya Sai Baba Use of mass media All these brands use media like posters and banners to announce their events. But TV is their favourite medium. In fact Amritanandamayi Math has its own secular channel Amrita TV and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram has a spiritual channel called Maharishi Channel. There are a number of spiritual channels like TBN, EWTN, GOD, Shalom, Aastha and Sanskar. Other popular channels also have specific timings(mainly in the early mornings and early evenings) where the spiritual programmes are telecast. Banners, posters, bill boards and leaflets are commonly used medium of communication. Mata Amritananda Mayi has also had a documentary shot on her called “Darshan – The Embrace”, while Mother Teresa’s “Something Beautiful for God” was shot by Malcolm Muggeridge.
  9. 9. 9 Table 6 Mass Media Art Of Living Sanskar, regular TV channels, leaflets, banners, posters Chinmaya Mission Regular TV channels, leaflets Prasanna Trust Leaflets Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Asram Maharishi TV(own), Sanskar etc. Amritananda Mayi Math Amrita TV(own), Sanskar etc. Missionaries of Charity Regular TV channels(Italian TV), EWTN, leaflets Trinkets CDs having sermons and devotional songs, photographs, calendars, sacred threads, chains and rings with symbols like crosses, T-Shirts with messages emblazoned across them are all sold. This bring them additional revenue as well as free publicity. This is true across almost all orders. In fact musicals are one of the best promotional methods seen. Books Books are a major medium of promotion, not only to create awareness about the order but to get the message across. These maybe specifically written by the founder or one of his/her disciples. It maybe the hard copy of sermons and interviews or it maybe just the biography of the founder. In fact book publishing is one of the major activities most of these brands are involved in and some come out with dozens of titles a year. Of the Brands Missionaries of Charity themselves are not into book publishing*. But there are numerous biographies on Mother Teresa and books on the Mission published by commercial and catholic publishing houses like Harper Collins, Ignatious Press and Oxford. Table 7 Books Art Of Living, Sri Sri Ravishankar God Loves Fun, Celebrating Silence, I am the Sky, Science of Breath, Time, Guru of Joy, Bang on the Door, The Way of Grace etc. Chinmaya Mission, Swami Chinmayananda Art of Man making, Meditation and Life, Holy Geeta, Say Cheese, Lead Kindly Light, Wandering in Himalayas(Swami Tapovan) etc. Sri Sathya Sai Baba Ashram My Baba and I, Pathways to God, Love of Conscience, Transformation of the Heart etc. Prasanna Trust, Swamy Sukhabodhananda Celebrating Success and Failure, O Life, Relax Please, O Mind Relax Please, Wordless Wisdom etc. Amritananda Mayi Math Ammachi: A Biography, Bhajanamritam Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa* Mother Teresa: Missionary of Charity,
  10. 10. 10 Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: Missionary of Charity, Servant of Love: Mother Teresa and Her Missionaries of Charity Magazines Many of these brands also publish periodicals regularly. This varies from fortnightly, to monthly to quarterly. Missionaries of Charity doesn’t have a regular magazine, but on the other hand have a monthly e-newsletter which is sent by the Lay Missionaries of Charity, a part of Missionaries of Charity*. Table 8 Magazines Art Of Living, Rishimukh Chinmaya Mission Tapovan Prasad Sri Sathya Sai Ashram Sanathana Sarathi Amritananda Mayi Math Matruvani, Immortal Bliss(Quarterly) Missionaries of Charity* You did it to me PR/Publicity Stories and myths are the basis of a brand. How you propagate this credibly is very important in brand building. PR, Publicity and word of mouth play a major role in this. This is one area where the commercial brands are lagging behind the spiritual ones. Biographies play a major role in this exercise. So do the devotees. If modern brands can get their customers to promote the brand through referrals there is nothing like it. But hardly do we ask clients to do some marketing for us. And good biographies of companies and their founders are few and far between. Those like Nuts! of South Western Airlines has helped a lot in building their image. Conclusions for marketers: In conclusion what we can take home is that there are a number of things that we can follow from the successful Spiritual Brands. But unfortunately which we don’t do. The target audience has to be clearly defined, need found, products properly packaged and the need satisfied. The mistakes corporate make is that they don’t look at things from the customers/consumers point of view. If we look at religions they never talk of what it provides them rather what the members can get out of it. There is a clear customer orientation which many organizations lack despite the lip service given to it. There is differentiation even among the spiritual brands to overcome the competition, brands have to be built block by block using different kinds of techniques. But what builds Spiritual brands are love and salvation but commercial brands talk of targeting people, marketing warfare and flanking attacks. They are also unafraid to log on to other successful philosophies. Isn’t it high time that we saw our customers as our friends, people to love than making them a target of our product and promotions? The value and culture aspect is one thing many marketers forget to look at. If we basically don’t speak the same language as our customer and have the same culture,
  11. 11. 11 values and aspirations, we are unlikely to succeed in the long term. But the researcher for one has never seen a marketer or an advertising professional study the consumer say on the Roackeach parameters before coming to some important strategic decision. But more than all these it is the stories, the myths about the sect and its founder that make the brand. That defines the culture and values. These stories have to be genuine, if possible unique and dramatic(as in miracles) and it has to be clearly communicated to the audience. In the case of the different Spiritual Brands these stories are published as biographies; as experiences encountered in the prayer meetings. Just like Infosys did with Narayanamurthy or like Walmart did with Sam Walton we could be taking the brand to a new dimension. Presenting the consumer with a tangible living entity with whom they can identify and empathise with rather than a cold, distant conglomerate represented by a name and a logo. Reference and word of mouth are the best possible promotional tools and these are areas which commercial brands have to seriously think about. This is pure common sense. Some body else talking about you is likely to be listened to more than if you were blowing your own trumpet. If somebody else says something good about you it would be more credible than if you did it yourself. The Musicals and bonhomie of the Satsangs and group activity is a major crowd puller since people from time immemorial has felt the need to be part of a group and this need itself is the basis of what we call society. The commercial brands also have used this idea sparingly with a few clubs and teams, the Harley Davidson club being the best example. Again this is an area of opportunity for ‘ordinary’ brands. The study of Spiritual Brands is one which is likely to become biased, based on the researchers beliefs, but done objectively it is a great exercise to understand how abstract concepts can be sold to the Target Audience. This paper has tried to study what are the common areas of strategic intent that the Spiritual Brands have considered. But, there is more scope to study further and in depth in this area and this paper just scratches the surface of the concept. References: 1. Einstein, Mara, Brands of Faith, Routledge, N.York, 2008, p14 2. Letters of Swami Vivekananda, 4th Edition, Ramakrishna Mission, Calcutta 1976, pp81-2 3. Cimino, Richard and Lattin, Don, Choosing My Religion, American Demographics, 1999, p 62 4. Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2002 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
  12. 12. 12 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16.