Learn church marketing lessons from Iowa bicycle ride
August 9 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

When 10,000 bicycle riders take off from the Missouri River on Iowa’s western edge to ride nearly 500 miles to the Mississippi River on the eastern edge, every driveway entrepreneur and business on the route oils its cash register drawer. The whisk of wheels and soft grinding of chains on bikes that number 20,000 some days is the sound of a fiscal funnel pouring into the small towns the swarm will pass through like hungry, thirsty locusts.

While riding in July in the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) I noted the differences between those who successfully market their products to stand out in a sea of similarity and those poor souls who could only watch the swarm swish past with few riders peeling off to purchase their wares. These observations may be helpful as you consider how your church can gain notice and ride the crest of the wave instead of being washed away in anonymity.

Of course, the comments that follow assume you are tending to the main purpose of proclaiming Christ from your pulpit and urging your members to live for Christ in their daily lives. But to those who live around us, zooming past our church houses and cute, quippy signs asking what is missing in CH_ _CH, we are as anonymous as the pavement on which they drive.

1. First, know your target audience’s real and felt needs.

Yes, they need Jesus, but they are not going to find Him driving past your church, no matter how insightful your sign or how colorful your inflatable playground.

At RAGBRAI, several consistent food vendors carefully set up their shops at strategic, timely locations. We could always find Farm Boy Breakfast Burritos about 15 miles out from our overnight town; just the right distance to stop for breakfast after an early start.

Around noon, we always came to a farm where Tender Tom’s Turkey had set up for lunch. By late afternoon when we were starting to wonder if we could make the next overnight town, the Pavlovian chug of the engine churning Beekman’s homemade ice cream could be heard over the next hill.

Stopovers for water, power drinks, bananas and snacks were spaced at frequent intervals. Why? Because some riders needed these things. All riders didn’t need them every time, but with so many riders, someone stopped at every offering.

If you are going to offer a service, be consistent. If you’ve tested your idea and you believe it is good, don’t worry if no one shows up the first time. You have to offer it several more times before you know if it was a mistake. There are lots of people out there. Everyone will not like your idea, but some will.

At one town a line of customers stretched before every food vendor except the funnel cake truck. Someone who knew that funnel cakes sold well at the county fair mistakenly assumed cyclists were the same audience, and they offered something health conscious cyclists avoided.

2. As in real estate, location is everything.

Those driveway entrepreneurs who set up their wares at the bottom of a hill were lucky to sell a single cookie. No one is going to stop when they have momentum. Accumulated speed is too important and must be nourished to carry them up the next hill.

It is tough for your church to gain the attention of people on a roll. Steaming downhill, wheels spinning, momentum on their side, most people think they’ve got life by the handlebars and are in control. It’s when their momentum slows at the top of steep hills they didn’t expect, when it seems impossible to press the crank one more turn, when wind, sun and weariness beat them into despair that they are glad to see homemade ice cream — or a loving Christian church offering a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.

3. Adjust your offerings to changing circumstances.

On the day a cold rain soaked riders we wanted only to get to the overnight town and into a dry tent and dry clothes. Signs that offered ice cold drinks, shade, air conditioned rooms and ice cream were oddly out of place and pathetic.

On the other hand, the gas station with an endless supply of hot coffee had a line looping around the entire store. Can you change your plans to accommodate changing circumstances? If not, you may seem strangely pathetic to the observers you are trying to reach.

4. Tout your identity.

The famous cereal box philosopher Cornfucious said, “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same horn shall go untooted.” People passed out free drinks, bananas and fruit roll ups as we rode, but for the life of me I don’t know who they were or who they represented. If you’re going to give water to people who walk their dogs in front of your church on Sunday mornings, invest in a sticker that says who is giving the water.

Better yet, be sure and speak and smile to the person.

Think ahead, too. One group held out icy pops for riders to grab as we rode by. They had thoughtfully cut the top off the plastic wrapper and had trash cans set up a half mile down the road.

5. Broadcast your message.

The most successful vendors had someone barking out their offerings a hundred yards down the road. People are moving. Keep your billboard message to seven words.

One little girl told riders cookies were available at the next corner. “What kind?” I shouted as I went past. She shouted “Chocolate chip.” Had I known that a few seconds earlier, I would have stopped.

Shout it out. Use media, posters, calling cards, email blasts, your web site, social media, sandwich boards, and signs on your buses. Tell folks what you are doing. Don’t be shy.

6. How are you different?

You are not unique because you say you are one of a kind. You are unique and exceptional because of something you do that’s unique and exceptional. What is it?

On RAGBRAI everyone has Gatorade and water. What do you have? If you have Gatorade and water, why should I choose yours over another? Price? Flavors? Yours is colder? Easier access?

It’s a crowded, jumbled world; seldom more so than when 20,000 cyclists are vying for the same 8-foot wide swath of pavement. To make sure part of the searching, teeming crowd passing your church every day knows you are there and that you offer something they need, you would do well to heed the messages from the vendors who try to stand out at RAGBRAI.
8/9/2010 9:29:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

Lida Korgay
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8/22/2017 6:53:20 PM
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