In your opinion, who is the greatest marketing genius of all time? As I have asked other people this question, the most frequent responses have included Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga, and other influential people.
Now, imagine yourself sitting in a “Marketing 101” class in college. Your professor says,
“Class, today, we have a special guest professor who will lead today’s class. This man is the single greatest marketing genius of all time. Based on the astonishing number of people around the world that claim to be his followers, no person in the history of the world has made a more profound impact on the hearts and minds of people and nations than this man.
Besides the religion he started, Christianity, all other major world religions are still concentrated around the areas where they were founded. As noted by Andrew Walls, Christianity is the exception.[iii] A hundred years ago, 80 percent of Jesus’ followers lived in Europe and the United States. Today, about 70 percent of his followers live in the southern hemisphere, South America, Africa, and the East.[iv] Christianity has been on the move since it began. By 2050, only one-fifth of the world’s Christians will be non-Hispanic whites. Most of these will be conservative and charismatic.[v]
The calendar system used by most of the world is based upon his birthday.
Most commercial retailers in the United States are able to stay in business only because of the gift sales generated in conjunction with Christmas, the world-wide celebration of his birthday.
The Bible, which tells his story, continues to be the best-selling book in history. Despite on-going attempts to burn it, ban it, and ridicule it throughout history, an estimated 6,000,000,000 copies have been printed. Translations have been made available in more than 2,000 languages and dialects. It continues to be the best-selling book, year after year, but the New York Times Best-Seller List and others started excluding it many years ago due to its consistent dominance on the list.[vi]
Ninety-two percent of the first 138 colleges and universities founded in America were begun specifically for his followers, including Harvard and Yale.
According to Harvard professor Harvey Cox, the words of this man’s famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ are ‘the most luminous, most quoted, most analyzed, most contested, most influential moral and religious discourse in all of human history.’[vii]
The movie made about his life, The Jesus Film, remains the most-watched movie of all time.[viii]
For centuries, people all over the world have named their children after his followers.
Throughout history—and, even as you read this—people have attempted to snuff out his message through persecuting his followers with mockery, social isolation, imprisonment, and even execution. Yet, his followers continue to multiply exponentially throughout the world.
Please welcome to today’s “Marketing 101” class, Jesus Christ.”
Does this seem bizarre to you? Is it odd, to say the least, to think of Jesus as a marketing expert and practitioner?
Before we move forward, let’s clarify some working definitions:
Whether we’re trying to strategically influence constituents, customers, members, employees, donors, friends, or even our family members, we’re all trying to influence people to respond in specific ways. You’re a marketer. A strategic influencer. An intentional leader. More than that, you want to be a good one.
Most of us have accepted the concept of Jesus as a carpenter, leader, and a religious figure. Many of us even consider him to be our savior, healer, friend, master, and God. Much has been written about the theological, historical, and even sociological implications of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ministry. In fact, there are more biographies about Jesus than there are about any other human—more than 100,000 biographies about him in English alone![ix] In the noble effort to help individuals live more like Jesus in the “spiritual” aspects of our personal lives, many books have been written on subjects like “how to pray like Jesus,” “how to treat people like Jesus,” etc.
Accepting him as a religious figure is easy, but why is it more difficult to view Jesus as a marketer? Isn’t “marketer” a label too common, ordinary, non-religious, and unspiritual to be applied to Jesus? It’s hard to imagine Jesus engaging in “human” and “worldly” endeavors like marketing. Afterall, for a large percentage of the world’s population, he is considered to be fully God. The Bible says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36). If you believe the Bible, you believe that he created it all. Surely, Jesus didn’t face the types of marketing challenges that we face every day in the marketplace of commerce and ideas. Did he?
Yet, Jesus was also fully human. The Bible teaches that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. 100% divinity. 100% humanity. He was just as human as you and I. As a marketer seeking to influence people strategically, he felt the pain of rejection. He felt the joy of getting his point across, seeing a life changed, and knowing that people were buying into his message.
Everywhere he went, Jesus presented a fork in the road for people, obligating them to make a choice. People would never be the same after meeting him. Throughout the recorded events of his life, he sought specific responses to an invitation. That imperative invitation was this: “follow me.”
He invited professional fishermen to drop their nets and follow him.
He invited a rich young ruler to sell all of his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him.
He invited large groups of people to leave their closest family members to follow him.
Not only was Jesus interested in marketing this invitation to humanity, it was his entire purpose for coming to earth. According to the Bible, he descended from heaven to earth to bring a message, a message of love, hope, and freedom. He was the “word” that “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The entire purpose for his life was to deliver a message, the message about himself, to humanity. He was the message that he came to broadcast to the world. He came to influence in a laser-specific, strategic way. He came as a marketer. As such, he demanded a response from the world. As far as Jesus was concerned, there were only two things a person could do with him: follow him wholeheartedly or reject him completely. There was no middle ground. Either way, a response was required.
You might say, “Well, Jesus wasn’t selling anything, so how could he be a ‘marketer?’” Forget about blue light specials and Black Friday discounts on what Jesus was offering. The price to truly accept his message and to follow him? Everything. His life. The follower’s life. Costly. Valuable. Demanding. Jesus was marketing an invitation to an exchanged life: the good, bad, and ugly of the recipient’s life in exchange for Jesus’ flawless life.
[i] Leonard Sweet and Frank Voila, Jesus: A Theography (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 104.
[ii] Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America, The World Factbook, (2010 estimates), https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html (accessed July 26, 2014).
[iii] Timothy Keller, Jesus the King (New York: Riverhead, 2011), 134.
[iv] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. 3rd ed. Vol. 3, Future of Christianity Trilogy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 275.
[v] Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2004).
[vi] Russell Ash, The Top 10 of Everything, 1997 (New York: DK, 1996), 112.
[vii] John Ortberg, Who Is This Man: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 62.
[viii] Franklin Foer, “Baptism by Celluloid,” The New York Times, February 8, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/08/movies/baptism-by-celluloid.html.
[ix] Leonard Sweet and Frank Voila, Jesus: A Theography (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), x.