Spirituality and Marketing: An Amalgam
Religion is a highly inappropriate topic for the workplace, and only has an institutional connotation that manifests into the practice of rituals, adhering to dogmas and attending services. Spirituality, on the other hand, deals with life’s deeper motivations and an emotional connection to God and is a highly appropriate subject for discussion.
It seems that the world is smitten by the spirituality bug and marketing academics are oblivious of this development. Spirituality is increasingly impacting the beliefs and behaviours of consumers around the world. A USA Weekend poll conducted in July 1998 revealed that 47% of Americans viewed spirituality as the most important element of their happiness. They care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, along with authenticity, self-actualisation, spirituality, and self-expression. They tend to be both inner-directed and socially concerned; they want to be activists, volunteers, and contributors to good causes. It’s 2020 and there is a massive influx of spiritual information, currently crowding the pages of popular newspapers, television programmes, and the glossiest mainstream magazines. Meditation classes are offered at the United Nations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi uses visualisations and relaxation techniques to inspire the world, while political matters of spiritual and religious importance are the frequent subjects of public questioning and curiosity.
Companies have increasingly begun to use marketing as a spiritual practice to delve into a deeper wisdom, product offerings, and how they can help clients solve their problems. No jargon, no gimmicks, no trickery, just a deeper ‘wisdom’ in their marketing. Companies have started to use collaborative methods to co-vision with what the customer wants and help them see beyond their limitations.
The root of spiritual marketing is clarity - the unwavering perception of how to do self-promotion. If you are clear about what you want and what you offer, your prospective customers will instantly know whether or not you offer what they need. A deep appreciation for a clear pricing strategy because consumers know the rule, “if you have to ask how much, you probably can’t afford it”.
Companies have realised that spirituality is the human response to God’s gracious call to a one-on-one relationship with Him. Therefore, companies encourage customers to trust the transfer of their (profitable) divine goals and perceptions. What follows is a spiritual bond between the two parties where neither can survive without the other, built on a dynamic system of data projections from both sides.
The Big Fat Business
Not only has mainstream spirituality gained popularity, but it has also become a big business. New age spirituality is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and some of the most popular contemporary spiritual teachers and gurus are among the wealthiest people in the world. Right from “You can deprive the body, but the soul needs chocolate” to ‘Yoga-inspired athletic wear’ line of products, established companies and secular corporate firms are increasingly using spiritual appeals to identify and bond with consumers. It is one of the fast-growing industries. India’s estimated spiritual and religious market is over $30 billion. Studies have found that women comprise two-thirds of the active spiritual market consumers, particularly high income, educated, and middle-aged females but the men and youth market is also growing.
Patanjali and Art of Living’s line of body care products and brands have created a niche for themselves in the market. The ageing of consumers in the western and Indian societies, coupled with their level of affluence, now permits them and the business community the luxury of seeking more meaning in their lives. Organisations like these are widening their reach in the production and distribution of these consumer goods. Furthermore some of these have entered into backward integration to source raw material as well. Once sold only at their ashrams or particular outlets, today they can be found online or in supermarkets or even in kirana stores. While FMCG companies need to invest a lot of time, effort, and money in branding and advertising their products, these spiritual gurus already have a huge number of devotees as their loyal consumer base.
It’s to no surprise that such companies come up with unique, targeted and sound vocabulary and phraseology: “oneness”, “loving ourselves”, “we deserve”, “meditation”, “letting go”, “touching the void” among many others. Such marketing campaigns give an exotic edge, help unfurl competitive advantages, pep-up the spiritual image of the company, and facilitate the psychological transfer of ethics. Having a deep connection with clients and the community is what makes these business marketing techniques work.
The Magical World with Less Documentation
Given the paucity of research on the topic of spirituality, bountiful opportunities and several interesting issues could be researched. For example, does the incidence of spirituality match with global macro-economic trends and how would these trends impact consumer behaviour and marketing practices? What is the relationship between rising incomes and economic development with the propagation of spiritually inspired ideas? Is spirituality increasingly used as a means of identity preservation and as a reaction to deterritorialisation?
To explain these dynamics in the marketplace would require both strong qualitative and quantitative research. Scales that measure spirituality may be engineered by incorporating spiritual variables comprising both beliefs and practices. The need is to comprehensively conceptualise the concept of spirituality and delimit its boundaries so that its conflation with the concept of religion is not misunderstood and fairly appreciated.
Authentic spirituality is non-conceptual, and this presents a serious dilemma for spirituality in marketing for most of what attracts people is conceptual. Therefore, most authentic companies strike a balance between marketing and propagating non-conceptual bias, so that there is enough conceptualisation to hook people, but not too much to badly interfere with the marketing process.
Said more simply, companies are all doing something inside themselves that is creating their outer results. Their inner state of being is creating their business or lack of it. Their inner spirit is doing their marketing. To paraphrase the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. If you don’t consciously select where you want to go, you go where your unconscious wants you to go. Companies are having a great time skewing our unconscious minds.
As of today, spirituality in marketing is still a slippery construct, and only a systematic segmentation program of inquiry will provide meaningful and actionable insights. It’s a mystery yet, but if the business invests in its spiritual aspect, it will reap many unanticipated rewards, both financially and by gaining joy and bliss in doing their own business.
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