How to be More POPE-ular

I’m not Catholic, and so I have to confess (Haar!!) that I don’t pay much attention to the pope.

Sure, I know who he is, but that’s about it. On most days, he’s way outside my field of vision.

Recently though, I’ve been reading about how the pope has taken to randomly calling people on the phone who’ve written him letters.

Naturally, this raises some intriguing logistical questions:

  1. If the pope calls and you’re not home, does he leave a voicemail with a call-back number?
  1. If the pope calls, and given that nobody will ever believe you actually spoke with him, is it considered bad form to put him on speaker?
  1. If someone who’s really hard to reach like, I don’t know, the cable company, finally calls you back while you’re on the phone with the pope, is it OK to put him on hold for a couple of minutes?

Logistics aside and more to the point of improving your business, I have to say that when viewed through the lens of relationship marketing, what the pope is doing in calling people is nothing short of genius.

Here’s what I mean…

Most companies make “proactive customer contact” decisions based upon what’s logistically and economically feasible when applied to all of their customers:

  • My supermarket prints “Thank you, we appreciate your business,” on the bottom of each receipt.
  • My gas station flashes a message on the pump that says, “Have a nice day,” as I fill up.
  • My gym has a recorded voice which, as soon as a key-tag is scanned, encourages members to “Enjoy your workout!”

These are all reasonable things to do, of course. You can’t even shake every customer hand, let alone do something really special for each of them – it’s too expensive and it doesn’t scale.

And so instead, what most companies do is settle on some lowest common denominator “touch plan” – something that doesn’t use up too much time or cost too much money.

The result? Fully automated actions which while certainly efficient, have zero – and I mean zero – impact on the people to whom they are directed. 

Because while from the company’s point of view, “we are touching hundreds of people a day,” from the perspective of each individual – not one of whom benefits from or is even aware of that cumulative impact – it causes nary a ripple in the pond (why am I talking like Robert Frost?).

The pope faces a similar challenge. With nearly a billion Catholics on Earth (and who knows how many elsewhere), there are few “proactive customer contact” tactics available to him that can be applied and noticed by everyone.

Under these circumstances, the default approach would be to think big: How can we connect with as many people as possible at once?

Instead, he’s doing the exact opposite – singling out just a few people and giving them an extraordinary, moving, newsworthy, must-share experience. One they’ll remember for the rest of their lives (maybe longer).

As a solo professional, you can apply a similar approach:

  1. Treat different people differently. If you view all your relationships, whether that means clients or the much larger circle of “people you know,” as homogenous, you end up with lowest common denominator tactics. If, instead, you divide them into A,B,C groups of priority, now you can do special things for the A’s (because there aren’t so many of them) while using automated tactics for the C’s.
  1. Put all your eggs in a few baskets. If you get a call from the pope, that’s amazing. If you don’t … well, you never expected to, so there’s no harm done.Along the same lines, what if, instead of writing “thank you” on each of the 15 orders you’re going to ship today, you wrote nothing on 14 of them and used the time saved to write a nice, long note for just one of them? Here as well, the 14 people won’t miss your robotic thank you, whereas each day’s lucky winner will be noticeably impressed.
  1. Embrace random. Nobody but the pope knows when or why he calls someone; the sheer randomness is what makes it so powerful.You can do the same thing. Pick one person a day and send them a handwritten note (not the same person each day, that would be dumb). Or make one phone call. Or send one gift. The point is, nobody but you needs to know your system – all that matters is that you have one and put it into action.

Here’s the bottom line. I love things that scale (like this newsletter). But I’m also well aware of the fact that scale and individual impact usually move in opposite directions.

A billion times zero is still zero. Take a page from his Holiness and find ways to get your own flock talking.

8 thoughts on “How to be More POPE-ular

  1. Evelyn Starr


    I completely agree with this approach and use it often. It’s amazing how a few long and deep connections can propel your relationships to new levels.

    The one thing I’d add is that there is a significant personal benefit here too, especially if you are a solo. The lowest common denominator blast may or may not bring much in the way of responses, but the few extensive communications almost always do. And that makes YOU the sender feel good. In a highly technical world, it’s good for both sides to have that human contact.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      All good points, Evelyn. And knowing the way you hand-address your holiday cards, you are indeed walking the talk!

  2. Dee

    Definitely one of the best posts you have written, Michael. Because those thank you’s on the bags are indeed worth ZERO and the call, hmm made you think that you are special. I like all the analogies. Thanks for your continued words of wisdom.


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