In a totally different segment of my life, I’m a partner in a new coffee and donut shop in Lexington. We’ve been open just over six months. In the past couple months, sales have started taking off.
We had one particular Saturday when sales crushed all previous highs. I texted a partner who manages the store, “What in the world happened today?” There must have been a $500 order, I figured. Or some big news story about us had run, and I didn’t know about it. Or they ran a promotion that I wasn’t aware of.
His response: “We make really good coffee and donuts.” (It’s true. They’re really good. You should come try if you’re anywhere near Lexington.)
His was the perfect response. Our total advertising budget so far has been $200 — the cost of two banners to hang outside the store. From the beginning, making good donuts and coffee and providing a friendly face at the counter has been the primary focus. And thanks to social media, perhaps now more than ever, if you give people good substance, they’ll create the buzz for you. I’ve come to love searching for the shop on Twitter to see what people are telling their friends about us.
Now for what it’s worth, at least in my opinion, it does have a pretty good atmosphere. And we have done a lot to invite people. It’s not like we just made good donuts in a decrepit building and hoped people would show up. A nice atmosphere is important. Inviting people is crucially important. But a quick look at the reviews shows what’s of most importance — “Are they selling something good?”
Yes, some self-promotion there, but nearly all of our early success is my partners’ doing, so I don’t feel too bad giving us a public pat on the back.
A friend told me this weekend about an opposite experience. A new brewery opened where he lives about a year ago. He explained that the owners had started with a ton of money and not much brewery knowledge. They invested the majority of their time, energy and money into creating an exciting atmosphere and a lot of buzz.
“For the first three months,” he said, “it was the hottest place in town. Everyone had heard about it. They were waiting for it. And the whole place just looked impressive. You had to go. But there was a problem…
“The beer was terrible. Really. Terrible. They spent all their time and money creating a cool place, but you can only live on that for so long.”
He went on to explain that they sought help (fortunately for them, they had a lot of money — a rich uncle or something), got better with the beer, and survived, but not after going dead and nearly having to close.
Buzz vs. Substance
Most of us only have enough energy and money to do one well. You can create a big buzz, or you can work on having great substance. Would it be good to have a little of both? Of course! But only a very few can invest big-time in both.
Invest in buzz, and you can turn out a big crowd initially. But how long will it last before they realize the sizzle was better than the steak? Given the advent of social media and today’s increase in options, frauds can get exposed and abandoned quickly.
Invest in substance, and the growth curve may be slower initially, but I believe you have good reason to expect increasing momentum.
This gets at some of what I was suggesting in “The Christian Bubble.” Beware of focusing more on buzz (i.e. exciting programs, events, and spectacles) than substance (i.e. Offer the Gospel! and make disciples that become apostles and pastors). All the way back in the 1930’s, Deitrich Bonhoeffer was pointing toward this as a major problem in Germany. It looked a bit different, but I think it was the same issue at root.
In some of our situations, the “buzz” may last for more than a few months — perhaps several years or even decades. But eventually, when substance is lacking, the fraud gets exposed.
On the other hand, focus on substance, and the initial build may be slow. But I hope it gives us opportunity to ask, in the middle of a great movement of faith across the land, “What in the world is happening?” and to hear in return, “We make really good disciples (who make disciples, who make disciples…)”
And of course, a real movement of that sort comes only with the movement of the Spirit. We plant seeds. God makes them grow. Are we invested in planting good seeds?