There’s no denying Apple Computers has been on a roll lately. Just a few months ago they debuted the iPad, a revolutionary touch screen computer that really has no competition on the market now or in the foreseeable future. Perhaps most amazingly, they packed all of this cutting edge technology — gyroscopes, microprocessors, next generation lithium batteries, ambient light sensors, 3G data transfers, GPS and a high-resolution touch screen — into a price point well below a standard-quality hearing aid. Next week, the iPhone 4 will hit store shelves, and it promises to dramatically change the way users communicate with the world around them. The feature I’m most excited about in the iPhone 4 is the ability to shoot true 720p HD video straight out of the box, on-the-fly. My Canon 450D can’t do that, and comparable cameras that can still cost four times as much as the new iPhone, and they can’t transfer pictures to the Web, edit video through iMovie, stream custom playlists through Pandora, help me find my way through an unfamiliar city or make phone calls to my friends on the other side of the world. The feature that is definitely getting the most hype, however, is the second camera built into the iPhone; the camera built into the phone’s face, which allows users to make video chatting as simple as dialing a phone number or clicking a name in their contact list.
If you haven’t seen a demo for FaceTalk yet, take a look. If you’re a tech-type person and you still don’t follow Apple news, you may be interested to know that FaceTalk is going to be released under an Open Source license as well. That’s Apple Computers’ proprietary technology — with an Open Source license. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Doesn’t that just make you want to run out and buy an iPhone for everyone in your family? It sure makes me excited, and, although I’ve had a computer with video chat capabilities for years now, I’ve yet to go through the trouble of setting one up. Why is it that everything just seems so much more meaningful when it’s packed into a 3″ x 5″ glass box that you can drop into your shirt pocket?
This ad is so powerful because it’s not selling you an iPhone; it’s selling you a connection to your loved ones. It doesn’t spend an ounce of energy showing off the ridiculous capabilities of this new handheld computer; it shows you how your friends and family will smile when they know you’re calling.
Companies have been using this strategy more and more lately. When I worked for Chick-fil-A, establishing emotional connections wasn’t just a part of our marketing strategy, it was the key mission that drove the business model for the corporation. Whether it was preparing a special sandwich just the way a customer liked it, greeting regular guests by name, offering first-time guests a free sandwich, no strings attached, or refilling drinks before customers even realized they were running low, everything that Chick-fil-A does is about building emotional connections with customers to keep them coming back week after week.
It works. Chick-fil-A knows it. Apple Computers knows it. Coca-Cola knows it.
Understanding this emerging marketing strategy was a big part of my mass communication courses in college. In many ways, it makes me uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel good to know that companies are actively trying to play with my emotions in order to win my business. Is that right? Is that a way to make business more human, or does it take away a little bit of our humanity?
What can the church learn from Apple Computers? How much value do we place on emotional connections within our congregations, to keep people coming back week after week? How much value do we put into establishing emotional connections with people we come in contact with who may not be ready to buy into our theology yet, but want to learn a little more about we’re offering?
As powerful as these ads may be, they certainly don’t reach everyone the first time around. Still, Apple and other companies persist, trying new methods and new techniques to keep their products on the forefront of people’s minds. Is the church being just as persistent in its efforts reach out to new audiences, to those who might have already heard the message, but still haven’t seen the light? Or are we more concerned with repacking our message again and again to make it seem like we’re offering something new without making the personal investment necessary to truly build emotional connections with the people we seek to serve?