Biblical Marketing

…for entrepreneurs who want to honor God & love their neighbors (while turning more of them into customers)

Arousing desire for your offering within the constraints of God’s design

Perhaps the most foundational question for Christians interested in marketing is about desire versus lust, and need versus greed.

When people worry about this, they tend to be thinking about whether they might be crossing a line in provoking Sam to lust after what they’re selling. Whether they are playing off Sam’s greed.

I’d like to suggest that while that’s a question we need to deal with, it misses a more fundamental one:

Are you yourself trying to sell because of greed?

It’s all very well to worry about the potential speck in Sam’s eye—but you don’t want to forget about the log that might be in your own.

Proverbs 28:25 says that a greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched. So the first thing I always try to assess, before I even worry about Sam, is how my own heart stands before God. Am I acting in faith and submission to him, or am I motivated by greed?

In other words, this comes back to the fundamental issue of leadership. Am I serving God and Sam—or am I serving myself?

Everything flows from this. When your marketing is focused on leading Sam to making a good choice, the problem of provoking greed or lust is minimized naturally. So you can spend far less time worrying about it.

To get a bit deeper into the issue at hand, let’s run through some basic principles:

Principle 1: greed and lust are perversions, not intensifications, of natural desires

Adam and Eve did not sin by desiring a delicious fruit. They did not sin by desiring to be wise. Both those desires were good—even though they were not for things they strictly needed. God delights to give us good things (Matthew 7:11); the reason the prosperity gospel is so popular is because, like all good lies, it contains a kernel of truth: “For Yahweh God is a sun and shield; Yahweh bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Of course, we know our greatest treasure is in heaven—but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t bless us in this life too.

No, the problem Adam and Eve had was not that they desired good things. And it was not that they desired them too much, either.

It was that they tried to get them in a way that God had forbidden

I think many Christians assume the problem with greed or lust is in the intensity of the desire. Desires become “greedified” when we want them too much.

Not so.

Take sex, for example. The modern world has twisted sex pretty horribly—lust is a major feature of it. Yet the problem is not the intensity of the desire. Song of Songs is replete with rather steamy metaphors and evinces a very strong desire between a husband and his wife. If intensity was the issue, a husband would be sinning by being “too” aroused by his wife. Yet that’s not the picture we see in the Bible at all. The solution to intense desire here is not to avoid it, but to channel it into marriage (1 Corinthians 7:9)! If anything, intense desire is commended because it encourages the kind of singular devotion that marriage is supposed to model.

By contrast, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:28 that even a very moderate, “normal” desire for other women is no less than fornication of the heart. The world calls this lustful intent “window shopping;” God calls it “adultery.”

This gives us a very important principle:

Desire is not “greedified” by being intensified. Rather, greedification happens when desire becomes disordered. When we want to pursue a desire, whether small or great, in a way that makes us a law unto ourselves, that is when trouble arises.

Just like leadership itself, it comes back to honoring God and submitting to his rule, to his blueprint for human living.

So this first principle ensures we have our priorities in order. We’re not worrying about provoking Sam to desire our offering too much; we’re worrying about provoking him to desire it in a way that defies God. And this should be true whether or not he is a regenerate believer.

Principle 2: good leadership balances your responsibility to Sam with his accountability to God

It would be convenient to say that all the onus of greedification lies on Sam. But since we are leading him, some of the responsibility certainly does fall on us. Moreover, I’m inclined to say that since we don’t know him, we should assume the best and treat him as a brother. Therefore, we must be careful not to cause him to stumble (Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 8:13).

This means you have to judge for yourself whether what you’re saying is likely to entice him into sin. “Woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:7). This is a responsibility we have to take seriously. You need to have a clean conscience when you publish your marketing material. You need to have some confidence that nothing you’ve said is likely to cause temptation.

This doesn’t mean you have 100% certainty that no one could possibly twist your words in ways that suit their own depraved predilections—otherwise we would all be paralyzed by fear! The fact that someone could be tempted by his own desires to misuse your offer doesn’t make you responsible for that, any more than our own misuse of God’s good gifts makes God responsible for it (James 1:13-17).

Rather, you must be careful not to frame your offer in a way that actually, in itself, tempts Sam to sin. While he can greedify your offer all on his own, you can also greedify it in ways he would otherwise never have contemplated.

For example, one of the more aggravating features of modern advertising that I see often is a play to selfishness. Kit Kat have been doing this lately in New Zealand with fancy-shmancy chocolate wrappers that say things like, “Me time” and “Do not disturb.” A lot of products pitched at women try to justify the purchase in terms of, “You deserve it.” This kind of thinking is so pervasive that we often don’t even notice it—but worse, we often unconsciously emulate it.

As biblical marketers, we must do better. Of course, Sam may still buy because of self-aggrandizing reasons. But we should not be playing to those kinds of justifications. Indeed, one very powerful technique for increasing trust with genuinely good customers is to emphasize reasons not to buy. For instance, I do this quite often when selling copywriting training products. I will talk about “shiny object syndrome” and urge people to think carefully before buying—and not to jump on the bandwagon just because they feel like, “This time things will be different.”

Principle 3: some offers are more susceptible to greedification than others

I’m assuming you’re not offering Sam something flat-out wrong, like porn or whatever. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that in this day and age, but I am.

That said, there are still plenty of offers which lend themselves more naturally to greedification than others. For instance, a lot of commodity and luxury items can easily play to vanity. There’s nothing at all wrong with selling a good watch, for example—yet many people might be tempted to buy a watch because they like the idea of flattering themselves more than they like the idea of staying out of debt.

I have one customer—a Lutheran—who sells hand-made jewelry. She does a great job. She emphasizes the story of how each piece came to be, relating it to certain places and emotions, like a pendant she was inspired to create after a quiet morning in a garden. And she provides many high-quality photos so Sam can examine the items carefully.

Because of her approach, she tends to attract good customers. People who genuinely appreciate beauty. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who buys from her has the purest motives. No doubt some are vain or proud or haughty. Yet it wouldn’t matter even if someone spent all their child-support money buying a brooch instead of honoring their parental obligations. The point is not that her customers never have mixed motivations for buying—but rather that she doesn’t tempt them with these motivations. She appeals to the objective beauty of her pieces, to the objective goodness of enjoying something created with love and skill. That is where her duty lies. Sam’s duty to God is out of her hands after that point.

If you’ve been in business for a while, you probably know the kinds of temptations your customers face; the kinds of ways your offer can be framed to entice people to sin.

If you’re new to your industry, you might need to ask other people you respect, and have a careful think about it yourself.

Either way, I’d encourage you not to be afraid of provoking desire for your offering. Remember, if Sam is a good customer, he already desires it—probably quite a lot. You are not manufacturing something in him that didn’t previously exist; indeed, that is quite impossible. Rather, you are reminding him of what he already wants, and showing him how to get it, because you are aiming to serve him.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether a particular technique for building desirability with your marketing is permissible or not. But let me help you work through the issue a bit more by giving quite an extreme example:

You may have seen some breathless, hypey videos selling products that teach you how to do better on dates. One very common technique they use to increase Sam’s desire for the product is to ask him to imagine the results of learning to be a smooth, suave gentleman who can butter up the ladies with his silver tongue.

Yet there is nothing inherently wrong with learning to do well on a date. There is nothing wrong with asking Sam to imagine that—provided you’re asking him to imagine the right thing. You could ask him to imagine improving his “hit-rate” at one-night stands. Or, you could ask him to imagine overcoming his shyness around that special girl at church that he would like to have a good, God-honoring relationship with—a relationship that ends in marriage.

This is why I’m focusing on principles rather than techniques.

So to close this section, let me leave you with what I think is the foundational question to ask of any marketing technique you’re considering, any turn of phrase you’re pondering, any way of framing your offer that you think might work well:

Am I attracting Sam’s desire with something good that God approves of…or am I tempting him with something that serves only him?

Next: using fear to heighten urgency