In 1966 John Lennon was quoted in an interview having said that “The Beatles were more popular than Jesus”. The comment drew an obvious fire and brimstone reaction from religious leaders and the arising controversy threatened the success of their pending US tour.
Clearly he didn’t mean he WAS Jesus or had any aspirations to be anything similar (although their later time in India dressed in robes and chanting with the Maharishi might have confused some on that point). What he felt was that the ‘reach’ of the Beatles and their influence on popular culture was as big as Christianity.
It was quite an egotistical statement all the same, but it was brought to mind recently as I was accused by a delegate at the eCommerce FDIH conference in Copenhagen of doing the same. Thankfully, unlike Lennon, I was not shot dead.
The step change
In my ‘Digital DNA’ speech I make a point about step-changes. That there are certain moments when everything changes. A pivot point that is only evident in hindsight. Like winning the lottery. Your life ends up being viewed in terms of ‘before and after’.
I show this slide in that speech with the crucifix in the centre, splitting the screen in two. “This is probably one of the most famous Before & After moments in history” I quip “but let me show you another, relevant to consumerism”.
I then introduce the audience to the BG/AG concept – Before Google or After Google.
Consumers born as AG shoppers (after 1997) have very different expectations from life from the beginning. They have grown up in a world of instant information, maps that place them at the centre, You Tube offering instant demonstrations, opinions and entertainment. They are simply wired differently than BG consumers. This has huge implications for brand strategy and consumerism.
Finishing the speech that morning, I had to walk straight from the stage to a waiting airport transfer as I had another event to get to later that day. As I exited the hall I was grabbed by an eager delegate, anxious to ask a question. It was clear I was in a hurry so we walked and talked. I thought I had interested him so much with my content that he wanted more. I thought he was Inspired, wanting my opinion on his burning business issue. He did not!
“Who do you think you are comparing Our Lord Jesus Christ to Google?” he asked. “What gives you the right to propose that Google is bigger than Jesus”? Now clearly he had misunderstood the analogy and had somehow heard “Google is bigger than Jesus” but I thanked him for his ‘contribution’ as the conference organiser bundled me into the taxi, shielding me like some secret service agent.
It was my first religious heckle, not something you ever really expect on the international business conference circuit! But it got me thinking about relevance and reach in today’s society nonetheless.
Now the delegate had his beliefs and I respect them, and he is certainly entitled to air his challenge, regardless of the fact that it was based on his misunderstanding of what was actually said. But is Google bigger than Jesus – that’s now the question he has indirectly posed.
Reach and relevance are interesting things. Having one is a good start, having both the ideal. Religion (and I will declare my non-creationist God beliefs here!) has reach. Global societal reach. But so too does Google (well near global except in China, but there’s only a few hundred people living there, right?). So both have global reach.
But it is Relevance you want to focus on, the same thing every business needs to watch like a hawk.
Fading daily relevance?
Religion gives its followers a guideline by which they are to live their lives. A set of ethical, moral and societal values by which to live. Strip all the 4,200+ world’s religions back and you’ll find they all propose broadly similar ideals based around respect, love and generosity. But in today’s society religion seems to have lost some of its daily relevance. Those guidelines seem to have less traction, those preaching less connection with the end user.
Look at the Catholic faith in Europe for example. Examine it as you would a business. It has excellent ‘reach’ with a ‘store’ in every city, town and village. It has a massive consumer ‘base’ and is the incumbent player in many markets. But it has problems. Big problems.
Its brand advocates and ‘high frequency users’ are greying, literally dying off (which ironically supports one of its ‘products’ in the funeral!). It also is failing to attract new employee talent. The brand is haemorrhaging users and cannot attract new employees. It refuses to adapt to societal changes, refuses to allow its employees to marry or acknowledge the worth of the female employee. It is a business with reach but significant slipping relevance. It is a religious Kodak.
To stay relevant you have to change. It really is that simple. Without embracing change, your relevance as a brand or business slips a little every week. And one day you wake up and your business is over. It’s the frog metaphor.
Drop one into a pot of boiling water and he’ll jump straight out. But let him swim around in cool
water being slowly brought to the boil, and the temperature change is so subtle it goes unnoticed until he”ribbits” no more. Unless you stay relevant someday you will croak your last. Just Ask Nokia.
Silicon valley versus the sandals
So back to the question: Is Google more relevant than Jesus? In most of our everyday lives the answer is probably yes. Now I am not suggesting that technology has replaced spirituality or that religion and spirituality have no place in our modern society. Far from it. You could argue the opposite – that technology has made society become more insular and distant, that what we need today are better spiritual connections instead of more human-to-machine relationships. But in terms of daily relevance, John Lennon would probably agree. Google wins.
Google provides us with an answer to every question. Google maps guides you to where you need to go. It facilitates practically every purchase you may need. You Tube will entertain, educate and instruct. Someday soon that Google driverless car might become an everyday reality for us all. Plus the thousand other projects Google is working on that will improve our lives.
People are far more likely to turn to Google today than anywhere else. It is an active verb and the world’s second most valuable brand (after Apple). It has more daily relevance for most than religious guidelines laid down thousands of years ago.
So is Google bigger than Jesus? Well probably yes if we judge ‘bigger’ as ‘relevance’. Should Larry and Sergey start growing long flowing beards and wearing leather sandals? Possibly not. Of course if Jesus was here today he’d have a blog, You Tube channel and a fantastic App called ‘Swipe Right for Spirituality’.
The message here: stay relevant. Keep your finger on the pulse of what consumers want, how and when they want it, and how you can surpass their expectations. Take your eye off relevance and you might just find yourself preaching to less and less shoppers every Sunday.
Even John Lennon understood relevance and acting on it…
“When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me’. You should just scream” – JOHN LENNON
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