Most of us exist in three places during the day. Work and home are identified as the two largest places with a distant third being “some other freaking place”. The goal of most location marketers (most “brick and mortar” sanghas are destinations ~ more on this later) is to make your place that third some other place. Like it or not, if you are happy with work and home then that place is a relatively relaxing and comfortable place. It is a place that fosters an atmosphere that is amiable to a large number of people. Do you like to dawdle at the local McDonalds? No? That’s because they don’t brand themselves that way. They want you to go through that place like a Mexican burrito through a Norwegian’s intestinal tract and the décor, lighting, paint and furniture reflect that. But look at Starbucks or Borders. They want you to stay and feel comfortable.
You can take a cue from Borders. They want a wide array of individuals to utilize their services. Their strategy is for you to “Enter and Explore”. The feeling is low-key and welcoming. Informal lectures at a zen center on a variety of topical issues can round out a monthly Dharma Talks that includes book talks, poetry readings, cooking classes and discussion groups. Things that will be of a general interest to zen center attendees and those that are scared of a zen center. Perhaps a small cafés to include wireless connections for families not interested in the liturgy. A zen center could host a local book club or begin a tea tasting class (I would also suggest craft-brewing but that may ruffle some feathers).
I bring up these possibilities because when you view a zen center from the inside your view is jaded by experience. What you see as a welcoming place, others see something forboding and austere. This is where you make a decision. How do you want the community to view your Zen Center in particular and Zen practice in general? Imposing or inviting? A community resource or a community novelty? You are the one presenting a brand at this point.
You compete largely with other agencies and entities for providing a mindful alternative to hucksters slinging enlightenment in a satin sheet or headphones that ease colonic discomfort. These things are silly but they are branded well and for that reason people relate to it. Big Mind is nothing more than a successful branding campaign with a dull-witted and slow “zennie” pretending to steer the boat while marketers keep it on course. These corporations are certainly not the only competitor to traditional zen centers: the Internet has become so firmly ingrained in our collective lexicon that we believe most everything to be easily found with one or two mouse clicks.
Can you create a successful brand in the minds of a community that would normally never even think of heading to a Zen Center? What methodology exist for shaping an understanding that isn’t snake-oil sales and side-show antics?
Experience, authenticity and wisdom is what is provided but brand management will present that to the community. What does your zen center currently mean to the community (brand identity) and what you want it to mean (brand aspiration)? Staying true to this mission is what separates the marketing wheat from the chaff. It separates success from simple ambition. You aspiration should drive what outreach and education your organization engages in and how information is presented. Do you present information in a similar way to both kids dressed up as Furbies as you would a bunch of geriatric Zennies?
Most non-profits have a mission statement. With a good brand, the mission statement puts into words how to deliver the aspiration. Most people scoff at a mission statement but it sets the tone for how an organization will create policy and grow. Is your main purpose education? community engagement? what? A mission statement addresses this.
Ok. I am out of steam. My internet connection has been cutting out and I’ve written far too much. Please comment if it moves you. I am hashing out some projects at work and trying to apply them in a mindful manner for the benefit of others. Your input benefits me as much as it benefits others that read this blog (I think). Maybe this gets you thinking or maybe not….Its gotten me rolling thats for sure.