Reading another fascinating book: The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited, by Emanuel Rosen. Great reference for anyone in advertising, marketing or PR.
I read Rosen’s original version of this book, The Anatomy of Buzz, while I was still in the Sea Org. Hubbard had made the comment one time that marketing was mostly “wog” tech, and therefore marketing people should study books on the subject. Hubbard had quite a library of marketing and advertising books, interestingly enough. So I studied probably hundreds of these texts. When I was running my own unit in Los Angeles, I could even get away with actually using what I was learning – I did things like demographic studies, focus groups and so on. But at the Base, it became impossible to apply these books. Sure, Hubbard said to read them, but a suggestion to do something that the books recommended resulted in blank stares, or accusations that one was “off-Source” or “squirrel,” particularly if they had anything to do with – gasp! – psychology. So it was always a struggle to apply anything in these marketing books. And of course these days, it’s impossible.
So it is with the subject of “buzz” – word of mouth.
The Church has always depended on word of mouth, whether it knew it or not. I did studies as early as 1982 that showed that the bulk of Scientologists, over 70%, found out about Scientology through word of mouth, a friend or family member, sometimes an acquaintance. Scientologists were always the best promotion for Scientology.
And as an interesting wrinkle in this datum, we found that the most enthusiastic disseminators were new people who had just gotten into Scientology themselves. So the positive buzz had a potential viral effect. Great, so how could they possibly mess this up?
Easy, by mishandling more people than they handled well.
When we were running the Dianetics campaign in the 1980s, we were channeling hundreds, even thousands into the orgs every week. These were people who had bought the book, read it, and requested more information. The “More Information Cards” were keeping Div 6es alive. But on the downside, I was getting horrendous reports at the time of mishandlings – stat push, crush regging, rudeness, you name it. A huge percentage of people were just getting blown off. The orgs were being supported by the few that were getting through. I was hearing the same thing from FSMs – they didn’t want to take their new people into the orgs.
Another study I did at the time showed a huge falloff as people went up the Bridge. The biggest falloff was from Div 6 to Div 2, something like 60 or 70% never made it past that point. By the time you got up to the OT Levels, it was less than 2% left. Scientology was surviving on volume. Even with the huge percentage of people being mishandled or blown off (or just losing interest), enough were getting through to create a boom.
But Scientology wasn’t looking at the downside. The majority of people going into orgs were having negative experiences. And those people talk. And according to some studies (for instance, Pete Blackshaw’s book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000), negative buzz spreads faster and farther than positive buzz. And with the rise of the internet, with the proliferation of blogs and chat groups and forums, those opinions get a very broad distribution.
There’s no substitute for treating every customer who walks in the door like gold. Ever been in a Starbucks and have them mess up your order? You immediately get an apology and a coupon for a free drink. Just like that.
Complain about how you were treated in a Church of Scientology? That’s “entheta.” You’re an “enemy.”
And here we get to the crux of why the church can’t change, will never change, their public image.
In The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited, Rosen emphasizes that the most important thing any company can do about “negative buzz” is listen to it. Find out what your customers are complaining about. That tells you what to do to fix it, and turn negative buzz to positive buzz.
The Church makes two erroneous assumptions that prevent this. First, they promote the myth that “any buzz is good.” You hear various versions of this: “it doesn’t matter what people say, any mention of Scientology creates interest.” It’s a myth. Sure, maybe if you’re a movie star, news that you had a meltdown or got arrested gets you mentioned. It piques people’s curiosity about you. But if you are an organization that services the public, negative buzz reduces your sales and traffic, period. In all my years in Church marketing, I never saw negative press increase Church traffic and income. Quite the opposite.
Second, Scientology assumes that anyone complaining is an enemy. They are to be “handled in ethics” or “disconnected from” or discredited. Certainly no one listens to what they are saying!
And that’s a shame. As I’ve said before, everything the Church needs to know to fix their image is on my blog and Marty’s blog and Steve Hall’s site and many, many others. They could go through all of the sites and forums and get a list of exactly what they need to do to fix the Church.
But will they? No, of course not. All they can do is attack, discredit, disconnect. Which just feeds into more negative buzz. The Church appears arrogant, defensive, cult-like. Because that’s what they are.
The fact is, they are way past are past the point of being able to turn their negative image around. A 2008 Gallup poll showed Scientology to be even more unpopular in the US than atheists.
As I mentioned earlier, Scientology’s number one asset in creating good buzz has always been Scientologists themselves. The problem is, most Scientologists in the Church no longer disseminate. And new people disseminating? What new people? So, no positive buzz. When was the last time you heard about a major celeb disseminating? When was the last time you heard Tom Cruise disseminating? A subject can get so negative, so toxic, that no one wants to be associated with it. And there goes any positive buzz.
And even when they try to do something – advertising, sponsorships, events, press releases – to improve their image, it inevitably backfires. Not to harp on the Rose Parade, but that caper resulted in overwhelmingly negative buzz on the internet. Just google “Scientology Rose Parade” and you’ll see what I mean.
There’s no substitute for really taking care of your customers, listening to your customers, even listening to your critics, and being humble enough to change what you are doing. Unfortunately, these are all things Scientology will never do.