Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Branding Religion

As I finish up "Branded Nation", one recurring point is that product saturation leads to indistinguishable goods which leads to branding (putting a story to your product to differentiate it). It seems as if religion fits into the process.

There is a relative abundance of religions in North America. Numerous Christian sects have given the consumer power of choice. While specialization could occur, niche markets can never be very big or competitive. Instead, large suppliers tend to dominate. However, to be a successful large supplier one needs to meet mainstream needs. Thus goods tend to become interchangeable. As a result of this relatively superficial differences are exaggerated, stories are told about interchangeable goods creating a sense of uniqueness. In this sense, what the consumer wants is the best bargain with a strong sense of differentiation.

Of course, to my mind these two things are mutually exclusive. True differentiation will never have mainstream appeal. Bargains can never get produced for anything other than a broad market. So the competitive environment a consumer creates demands the production of brand.

So how does this apply to religion? Well it means the demands that people have for their religion to be consumer oriented may have quite a few unintended consequences. It certainly means proselytizing that is based on meeting consumer needs may be a slippery slope. And what does this imply? To me it means for a religion to keep any sort of authentic, not branded, identity, there will always be a cliff that the consumer must jump off. While some may argue that religion should be a smooth transition building on previous beliefs, I wonder if this strategy can only function as an exception and never as a rule?

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