5 million U.S. households without TV. My house is one of them.

A laptop sitting on a chair hooked up with an HDMI cable to live stream content.
Bye bye expensive TV service, hello HDMI cable. Photo from flickr: tawalker


USA Today  published an article about the 5 million U.S. households without TV. I’m very proud to say that my household is one of them. After interviewing more and more college students (my target audience) without TV, I decided to try it . It was a struggle at first because I was so used to relaxing in front of the TV, but now I can’t imagine having TV service.


Some notes on the lifestyle:

– I physically HAVE a TV, but if you turn it on, nothing happens. But, I can play DVD’s on it and hook up my HDMI cable to stream anything from my computer to my TV. Some of my friends have taken it even more to the extreme by removing their TV altogether.

– I find I read a lot more now, which is great!

– I can live stream pretty much anything I could want (presidential debates, etc.). The only time it failed me was my Thanksgiving tradition of making fun of the poor people freezing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The live stream wasn’t working.

– In the rare event that I want to watch a sporting event live, I go somewhere and watch it, which is no different from what I was doing before because I wouldn’t pay for ESPN.

– It doesn’t limit my capability to keep up with advertising trends since so much is also online now.  If someone mentions a particular commercial to me, I’ll bring it up on YouTube. If I see an ad campaign that intrigues me, I’ll go online to check-out their broadcast ads.

– My only costs now are my internet service and my $8 something a month for Netflix. I’ve heard rumors that cable companies are trying to figure out how to charge people like me for watching so much online, but I haven’t seen anything concrete yet other than faster speeds costing more.

– As the article points out, I’ve often thought about what I’ll do when I have kids. Although, I had two four-year olds running around my apartment this weekend and I found, in the absence of any toys, that Netflix’s Batman cartoons worked really well to keep them busy for a while.


Church marketing: Marketing thoughts for an open and affirming church

As a favor to a friend and as community service in my field, I wrote the following about church marketing, and particularly marketing an open and affirming church. Some details have been removed to keep the church’s information private. 

This letter is in response to your inquiry about marketing your church. In the below write-up, I focused on your recent transition to an open and affirming church and how you can actively talk to those who fit the description of wishing to attend a church like yours.

The below is based on my experience in marketing (which you can find at www.linkedin.com/nfinkbeiner) and the community that the church resides in.  These are merely my thoughts and reflect a unique marketing view as compared to the suggestions that you will probably receive from other marketers.

Don’t create a marketing plan, create a movement

What I am proposing is something not unheard of, but unique in the marketing realm, especially for churches. I am suggesting that you not create a traditional marketing plan. Instead, I’m recommending that you create a movement. That doesn’t mean you won’t need a plan, but this plan will be more loosely organized, less controlled, and go way beyond increasing the number of visitors to your church. This will focus on the fundamental role that your church plays in the community.

I am recommending that you focus on your recent transition to an open and affirming church and make that your church’s mission in everything they do. Every aspect of the church must live and breathe this movement and mission or your efforts will be in vain. Think Westboro Baptist Church, but positive vs. negative.

So, instead of developing advertising and spending money on media placements, I’m recommending that you instead focus your efforts and finances on hiring an experienced movement facilitator to come in (OFTEN) and walk you and your congregation of a process of taking a look at every aspect of your church, your church’s interactions with the community and see how the message that “everyone is loved and everyone is welcome” (or something similar, “open and affirming” is too stuffy and vague) can be incorporated in every aspect of what you do.

Ask everyone’s help

Imagine one of these sessions (all hypothetical for this portion of my write-up). The facilitator is leading your church through the discussion and hands and ideas are shooting up everywhere.

  • A couple that attend the traditional service point out that most of the people who are seeking an open and loving church go to the Koinonia service. But, that many of these people stop by coffee hour between the services. The couple admits that there isn’t much interaction between the two groups. They vow to step out of their comfort zone and say hello to visitors and make them feel welcome. They also vow to remember these visitor’s names the next time they come and invite them to meet for lunch the following week.
  • The man in charge of the visitor’s table raises his hand and says, “You know, coffee mugs are a great gift, but I was thinking, if we are trying to communicate that God loves everyone, why not spend the extra money and give them each a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel?”
  • The lady in charge of booking outside groups also raises her hand, “It didn’t occur to me until now that we have a lot of support groups meeting here. Yes, we offer them space, but does that really communicate that they are welcome? Perhaps one of us should be there each week just to say hello? And maybe bring them a snack?”
  • A congregation member points out that the website could use some updating to really communicate the new message. When visitors reach the website, the message that everyone is loved and welcome should stand out and be the first thing they see. There should also be more of an emphasis on communicating the different service times and styles of worship so that visitors can choose the one they are most comfortable with.
  • Everyone at the church must make a commitment not to judge and to step out of their comfort zone.


Empower them to act

The idea is that it’s not just the church leaders or a committee flaming the fire; it’s the entire congregation. But, beyond that, the church community must feel energized and empowered to take action and represent the church on their own (note, there is a danger in this, but I still recommend it). Imagine the possibilities:

  • A guy is standing on a busy street corner in Battle Creek with a sign that reads “God hates [a homosexual derogative].” An older member of the church drives by and sees this. She was going to go shopping, but she decides instead to take action. She calls a couple of her friends and they gather supplies and head out. The guy with the sign is still standing there, but with him are three older women with signs that say “No he doesn’t,” “Jesus loves you” “Not at our church” and they put the name of the church on the signs so people will know what church loves and supports them. Note: This one is especially powerful because it’s older people taking action instead of young people. People perceive older people to be less welcoming of alternative lifestyles, so the shock of seeing older people supporting them will be even more powerful.
  • A couple of church members are talking about a church that always hands out “You are going to hell” style propaganda at the annual town festival. They decide to create their own hand-out and spend their time at cereal festival handing out their flyer to let people know that not all Christians think the way of the other church.
  • A member of the church reads an article about a new LGBTQ group forming in the community. Even though he doesn’t fit this lifestyle, he decides to join as a friend of the group to show them that there are those in the community that care about them.
  • A church member decides not to sell his van, but to instead use it and go around his neighborhood and ask his neighbors without transportation if they would like to join him at church.

Contact the media when action happens

When something dramatic happens or if you know something major is going to happen, call up your local media sources and let them know. They may come out, they may not, but it’s still worth the phone call.  The action must be unique and significant for the media to pay attention (and please don’t contact them if it isn’t . This means your meetings you hold don’t count. But, taking the examples above, the older women standing next the man with the derogatory sign, for example, should be reported to the media immediately. Just in case it doesn’t last long enough for them to get there, snap a close-up, high resolution photograph and email it to them. Consider also posting it on your website and social media sites.

I would also recommend creating video testimonials from a wide variety of people at your church on the subject of everyone feeling welcome. These do not need to be professionally done. In fact, they will probably seem more genuine if they aren’t. Post them on YouTube and Facebook and embed them into your website.

The commitment

As you can see from the above, this isn’t a marketing campaign. It’s a movement and that means the church, if they choose to do this, must agree to a long-term commitment. This isn’t a month or even a year campaign; this is a radical change to how the church is involved in the community.  There must be a long-term and serious commitment to this movement or it will not work and could potentially backfire (people thinking you just were “in it” if you could get new congregants out of it).

The biggest commitment will be time and effort. Again, I recommend you hire a facilitator, someone who is very knowledgeable in change movements, to come in regularly to meet with your church and keep the momentum alive. Your church will be facilitating a lot of discussions, making a lot of changes based on suggestions, and need to find a way to celebrate and encourage positive changes within the church and the community. As a pastor, you will probably find that this is taking up a majority of your working hours each week.

In regards to costs, there will be the cost for the facilitator, any costs from holding the meetings (you know people love food at those), and additional costs based on changes. An example of a cost based on changes is above in the coffee cup example. The coffee cup is a lot less expensive to give out to new people in comparison to the book, but it’s not going to be nearly as effective either.

Another factor to consider when looking at the costs of something like this is in comparison to a traditional advertising and marketing campaign. Although I believe heavily in traditional advertising and paid advertising for many organizations, I don’t think it will be effective for your church. Your target audience is used to people paying lip-service to their cause, but not being willing to take action. So, you could spend $20,000 to $50,000 per year in advertising (which would probably be the minimum in your market using newspaper ads or radio or billboards to effectively get your message across), but, in my opinion, it would be a lot less effective than creating the above described movement.

The results

Despite what some marketers will tell you, it is very difficult to judge whether or not a marketing campaign is working. For more on this, read Addressing the question: Measuring advertising ROI.

With that said, I think the movement vs. a traditional campaign is going to have the best chance of success. Not only will this campaign reach those in the LGBTQ community, but it will also reach those who are looking for an open-minded, accepting church.  In addition, this approach has the added benefit of enhancing the mission of your church as an open and affirming congregation and one who is spreading the word of God to all people.

Ultimately, how well this movement works is entirely up to your and your congregation’s commitment. If you do this campaign half-heartedly or don’t keep adding wood to the fire of the movement, it won’t be successful. Also, if everyone is not on-board, it won’t be successful either. Think about it from a traditional business perspective, a company can do all of the advertising in the world, but if you walk-in and have a bad experience with an employee, none of that advertising matters to you. And, you are likely to tell your friends, which will overrule any positive advertising effects they have had too.

Within a couple of months, will you see dramatic increases in attendance? Probably not. This type of campaign will take a long time to show results. This is mostly due to the skepticism of the target audience and their perception that this is a short-term campaign vs. a long-term commitment to making them feel welcome. Also, building a strong reputation takes time in general.  Very few organizations gain a solid reputation overnight. Most take at least a year if not more depending on the size of the market area. Finally, people are busy and distracted now more than ever. Reaching them will take repeated exposures to your message in a variety of ways before it will finally “click.”

Thank you

I’m not a long-term candidate for advice or consultation on this project due to the distance of where I live compared to you now and my lack of interest in doing any consulting work, but as a form of community service, these are my thoughts for your consideration.  Thank you for allowing me to share them with you.  If you have any questions about this write-up, please feel free to contact me.

Nicole Finkbeiner

The Polarization of America, a Communication Perspective, Part 1: We Stopped Listening to the Other Side


I think almost all of us can agree that America is extremely polarized right now. The middle, the bipartisan, the moderate, whatever you choose to call it, is either gone or silenced. In the Polarization of America, a Communication Perspective parts 1 and 2, I’d like to add two of my thoughts on why we, in America, are experiencing an extreme polarization.

A couple of disclaimers:

  • My expertise is communications and marketing only. I also recognize that my expertise is limited and that there are people with much greater expertise than I in these fields.
  • If you read into any of this as leaning politically in one way or the other, you are reading something into it that I didn’t put there.
  • I believe, like most large-scale societal issues, that there isn’t one answer or two answers. There are a lot of contributing factors. Again, this is limited to my thoughts based on communications and marketing only. Other subject matter experts will have differing theories and views. I encourage them to share them as well.
  • I do not claim to have the right answers to the concerns I bring up. I offer my best at a solution and hope, by publishing this, that together we can come up with the right solution.

Part 1: We Stopped Listening to the Other Side

A couple of years ago for one of my masters courses, we listened to an audio interview of Jaron Lanier where he shares his views on how the Digital Age is changing our world. Part of that interview focused on his essay on Digital Maoism. And, part of this essay focuses on the hive mind, which is “a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force.”

The hive mind has many facets, but the part that I think is shaping the polarity of America is how the Internet became an easy way to not have to listen to any viewpoints that didn’t agree with our own. Basically, we can now go to our “hives” without ever seeing or hearing something that is counter to the thinking of our hive.

True, in America, we had this ability prior to the Internet. You could choose to walk past the book in the library that didn’t agree with your way of thinking or refill your snacks while the TV reporter gave the opposing political expert his or her air time. With the Internet, however, you don’t have to “walk past” the other side(s) or try to tune them out. Instead, you can go directly to your side. The Internet made it much easier to only hear the viewpoints that you agree with and, more importantly, not listen to any opposing viewpoints.

One man speaking, another rolling his eyes.
This photo is intentionally not from the U.S., but is a great illustration of my point. The man does not look like he agrees with the other man at all, but at least he’s there, listening, instead of choosing to avoid information. Or maybe there’s just something REALLY interesting on the ceiling. Photo from Flickr: Direitos Urbanos

Our tendency to avoid information that is counter to what we believe to be true is well-documented in Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Whenever we face information that does not agree with information we have in some way, we must resolve the dispute in our head. Although there are a variety of ways to do this, a popular way is to avoid information that challenges our currently held beliefs and that is what we can do by never going to an opposing viewpoint’s website and, instead, go directly to only those that agree with us.

But what about the biased media? Fox News and MSNBC to name two? True, they don’t have opposing viewpoints on there, but my thought here is that they adapted based on the Internet hive mindset. Many news organizations did and still do invite a variety of viewpoints to chime-in on issues. But, since the Internet became popular and people got used to not having to listen to the other side, many of the news organizations adapted to meet their viewers’ new preferences of not listening to point-counterpoint.

So what’s the solution? Personally, I try to avoid biased sources of information and/or balance them by openly listening to the opposing side(s). I’ll admit though, it’s very difficult to do and I’m sure I still approach the opposing side’s arguments with my own biases as a defense. However, from an overall societal standpoint, I’m unsure. Perhaps someone with a historical background has some thoughts on how societies have overcome similar polarization in the past.The best I can come up with is that it would have to be a conscious, cultural change; we would need to become a society that values open, respectful debate again.

Increasing donations for your non-profit organization

A jar that says "donations welcome" with money in it.
From Flickr: HowardLake

Especially in this challenged economy, a lot of non-profits are struggling to increase donations to the organization to cover rising costs and increased responsibilities. Many local non-profits I know are struggling and I feel for them. It’s tough out there for everyone and there is more and more competition for every donation dollar available. So, how can you increase donations for your non-profit organization? By asking a few friends and family to become “secret shoppers” by donating something to your organization and documenting how easy or hard it really was.

Story 1: Donating Clothes

A little over a month ago, a couple of trash bags were dropped off at my front porch with a note asking me to fill them with unwanted clothes and put the bags back on my porch the following Sunday. According to the note, the bags would be picked up and taken to a designated charity. “Perfect!”, I thought, “I need to clean out my closets anyway.” So, I filled those bags to the brim with clothes I didn’t want anymore and set them out Friday evening.

Saturday came and went, and the bags were still there. Sunday came and went, and the bags were still there. “No problem, they just missed me” I thought, “I’ll just drop them off at the non-profit myself.” So, I loaded the bags in my trunk and promptly forgot about them. About two weeks later I found them, so I took a late lunch to drop them off. I pulled up to the organization at 1 pm. That’s when I learned from a sign at the door, that the organization only accepts donations three days a week and Wednesday wasn’t one of them.

So, the bags came home in my trunk again. The problem was, I’d already forgotten the crazy days/hours that the non-profit DID accept donations. So, I went to their website and spent a good 10 minutes trying to find out where on their website it mentioned donations of goods. I found it, but no hours were listed. At that point, I grabbed my keys, went to another organization that I knew accepted donations every day of the week, and donated the clothes to them instead.

Lessons from Story 1:

  • If you are going to pick up donations, make sure you do.
  • Make sure your hours are convenient for your donors (the same goes for businesses too).
  • List hours and days that you accept donations on your website (and on your voice mail too).

Story 2: Donating a cell phone

I have an old cell phone that I would like to get rid of. At the beginning of November, I received a solicitation letter from an organization whose mission I’m passionate about and one of the things they were asking for was cell phone donations. Again, perfect!

So, I got on the organization’s website to find out how I could donate the phone (it’s not a place you can just walk in to). There were two forms of contact they listed. The first one was an online form to fill out so someone could contact you. The second was to call them. Considering it was about 9 pm, the online form looked like a better option, so I filled it out with a message and two forms of contact and submitted it. Two days went by and, nothing. No phone call, no email.”Ok,” I thought, “I’ll just call them.” So, I got on their website, found their phone number, and called.

I called around 2:30 pm on Friday, well within most business and organization hours, but the phone just kept ringing and ringing. Finally, it went to an automated system that told me to press zero for the operator. I did and the phone started ringing on and on again for a few minutes. then, it said no operator was unavailable and asked me to dial another extension. The problem was, I didn’t know any other extensions for the business, so I hung up and called back again to get back to the main menu. This time, I pressed the number for the Executive Director. Again, ringing then voice mail. Her voice mail informed me that she was out of the office November 16 and 17. Good to know, but it was mid-December and her voice mail was still talking about November.

As a final ditch effort, I looked at their website again to see if there was an email for another staff member or contacts for their board members. I found a board and staff page that talked about how dedicated they were to the organization, but gave no names or contacts for me to use.

Lessons from Story 2:

  • When you send out a solicitation for a particular item, give the person any easy way to donate the item.
  • If you have an online form for people to use to contact you, follow-up with those daily If the person that usually does it is on vacation, make sure someone else is covering for them.
  • Make sure your phone system is easy to use and up-to date.
  • List multiple contacts on your website.

Hopefully by now you are mumbling, “Neither of those donations should have been that hard,” and, if so, you are correct. Both should have been very easy donations to make, but the organizations made it difficult to the point that I donated the clothes somewhere else and the cell phone is still sitting here. But, my real point is, your organization may have similar problems that are preventing you from increasing donations and, if so, you need to find out what they are and fix them. So, grab a few friends, convince them to donate to your organization in a variety of ways, and ask them to document what they see as your strengths and weaknesses. Take those, and work with them to make your non-profit more donor-friendly.

For further reading, visit:

Small business marketing strategies for “Small Business Saturday”

Ten marketing and pr lessons from FailBlog (and why it’s my favorite blog)

Effective Marketing using the Broken Windows Theory

Do you REALLY want to hear from your customers?

4 insane but true things about digital media growth

An area that I see growing currently and think will continue to grow is businesses outsourcing elements of their web presence that were previously done in-house. For example, a large number of college campuses have transitioned over to using Google’s Gmail or another cloud e-mail as their e-mail and web calendar function for employees and students. But it doesn’t just stop there. Businesses are now using blogs instead of newsletters to communicate with employees and customers, social media sites as their main communication medium with customers, public relations sites to send out news releases instead of e-mailing editors directly, etc.

For one of my Michigan State University classes, I was asked to discuss where I think digital media will grow and how it will impact careers in marketing and public relations in the future.  Below is my answer:

An area that I see growing currently and think will continue to grow is businesses outsourcing elements of their web presence that were previously done in-house.  For example, a large number of college campuses have transitioned over to using Google’s Gmail or another cloud e-mail as their e-mail and web calendar function for employees and students. But it doesn’t just stop there. Businesses are now using blogs instead of newsletters to communicate with employees and customers, social media sites as their main communication medium with customers, public relations sites to send out news releases instead of e-mailing editors directly, etc.

Figure shouting by using an RSS feed
Companies are using external media sources vs. their own website to communicate information

One of the ways that I think this trend will most impact businesses is that websites will become less important.  Instead, a company’s blog, social media pages, and external media hosting sites will become more important. This has several implications both for a business and those looking at a future career:

  1. Businesses may no longer need to host their own website. This will free up server space as well as time previously spent by the IT department maintaining the server/back-end portion of the website. This may limit the number of IT jobs, or it just may change them as IT departments focus on other aspects of a business.
  2. Transliteracy skills will become more important.  As mentioned above, content is more important than design. With this in mind, it will become very important that those promoting companies on the web be able to communicate their message across various digital media platforms (podcasting, video, tweeting, etc.)  I would not be surprised if we see the words “transliteracy skills” showing up in job postings and in application materials.
  3. Online reputation management and protection of confidential data will become even hotter topics as businesses struggle with the two-way communication aspects of social media and storing their data on external servers. I can see a whole new market for online protection businesses because of this trend.
  4. Funds previously spent on advertising purchases will begin to fund new positions in public relations and marketing.  Most of the tools that will be used now are free (such as most social media) or low-cost in terms of dollars, but do require a large amount of time and maintenance.  I think companies will begin to shift dollars from advertising towards hiring more staff in their public relations/marketing departments to maintain all of the digital media tools that the company uses.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree?

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