Global Leadership Network UK & Ireland

GLN UK & Ireland

Finding Your Niche – Mike Hill

Mike Hill shares his thoughts on the Church's response to COVID-19 and perseveranceDear Friends

There can’t be anyone who couldn’t celebrate with Colonel Tom (recently promoted from Captain) on the occasion of his 100th birthday. This wizened old man who set out to raise £1k for the NHS Charity has now, at the time of writing clocked up £32.8m!

What was it that lay behind this? My guess is that there will be a surfeit of articles trying to get behind the secret of his success, though actually his secret is not that secret.  He had a simple idea; to walk with his Zimmer frame 100 times around the garden of his care home and try to get some sponsorship.  What was remarkable about this?  After all, plenty of people have rowed across the Atlantic and raised comparatively small amounts of money.

What then was Tom’s secret?  First, he was 99 years old. Most people’s default idea of people of that age is that their contribution to life is now over. Clearly Tom didn’t think so!  Interestingly, the Bible’s witness would incline to agree with the good Colonel.  Remember Abraham and Sarah?

Second, he was a proud soldier.  Most of the media pictures of him were in his blazer with his medals proudly on show for us all to see. This would have had a massive impact on a certain generation as well as other groups eg. British Legion members. Remember how Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived lack of patriotism cost him in some areas at the election?  Inadvertently, Colonel Tom tapped into a large niche market of givers who, in the face of actual and perceived times of hardship for many, gave generously. He was on a roll…

At the present time there is a huge flight to online content. Churches are closed for the foreseeable future. There has been a tremendous effort from churches to get their stuff online. Early signs, as I have previously noted, are that people have connected in greater numbers to online services than average Sunday church attendances. However, many churches are only looking at the number of online ‘hits.’ What you really need to know to get the real picture, is how many of those people actually stayed on your output for any length of time.

The big issue is how do you attract people to your site and how do you retain them online once they have logged in?  Is there anything distinctive about your website?  Are there any lessons that we might learn from Colonel Tom?

Finding your niche

Content that is aimed at everybody is basically aimed at nobody.  Call me a pessimist but I never thought that our 8am Holy Communion Service would be a big hit with families of young children.  Neither did I think that action choruses would play out well with the hymn singing middle age members, apart from the odd “down with the grandchildren” granny!

Back in the eighties, I remember the look on my bishop’s face when I told him that the most helpful book I had read most recently was George Barna’s little book entitled, “Marketing your Church.”  The very concept was horrific to him!

Why?  Because his immediate assumption was that this would simply distort the Church’s message and create a culture of easy believism.

I tried to explain that I had no intention of back-throttling on the offence of the Gospel, but that I wanted to think more about how the basic content of our worship and our preaching might be better targeted at particular subcultures.  The net result of this thinking was a congregational plant which (without my input!) grew exponentially.

Finding your niche will be especially important if you want to thrive online. Who is this for?  What is their thought world? How can we remove (often inadvertent) barriers to people staying online? This is a challenge, but get it right and it will make a difference.

Keep it simple

As a young man I recall a visit to J Walter Thompson, the advertising agency in Nightingale Square in London. Obviously, this was before the internet had been launched. I was interested to be told that the best-selling UK newspaper was aimed at an averagely intelligent fourteen year old. No prizes for guessing which paper that was! I don’t think this is necessarily the final word on the subject, but too much stuff on the internet is wordy and uninteresting (this article?) and doesn’t retain the attention of searchers. As Seth Godin reminds us, we/you need to be “remarkable”!

What do you want people to give?

Money? Their lives? Their loyalty? You might like to answer this question before you start.  Colonel Tom was very clear. He wanted donations to bolster and acknowledge the idea and the commitment of the NHS. There was a link to a page where you could easily donate and it worked.  Something in the public imagination was gripped by the idea of this noble centenarian who walked 100 times around his garden to raise money.

Before people give you their attention, it will help if you can ignite their imagination.  The more you can do this, the more effective your online content will be.  The amazing thing is – and this is intriguing – I don’t think Colonel Tom had a clue that he might grab mass attention in this way.

A simple idea, executed well, delivered into a previously unknown niche in the donation marketplace with a clear goal and BANG!  The idea exploded on to the internet with unforeseeable results.  It makes you think…

Mike Hill
CEO GLN UK & Ireland


Upcoming FREE GLSnext Online Events

21 May, 4:30pm
Navigating Difficult Conversations
Sheila Heen with host Danielle Strickland
More details

Helpful Links

Strategic Mission Mindset – Kate Coleman
A short course to help you develop your church strategy

Thinking for a Change – DCL Course
A course to develop your thinking

Leading Through Crisis with Craig Groeschel
A 2-part GLSnext Event Series with notes

Talks to Lift You Up
A selection of GLS talks to encourage you during this challenging time.

Leading and Succeeding in the Age of Disruption
PDF notes from the very helpful GLS session last year. Members can watch the session here.

Your Comments and Questions

As ever, do get in touch if you would like to comment or ask any questions.