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Branding the Church, Part 3: Toward a Brand Development Process

This is the third post (post 1, post 2) in a series on branding in the church. I am at a church that is currently articulating the process we intend to take to formulate our brand and I am grateful and excited as we have some members who are gifted in this area and are working hard toward that end. Here is the process we currently have laid out that we will follow. Again, as noted before, a logo may be the highly visible piece of the project, but must follow identifying your message. This process is designed to protect that principle and result in a comprehensive communications plan with recommendations for internal and external communications practices.

  • Assessment of the community and our place within it.
    • Trends
    • Distractions
    • Uniqueness
  • Goals – What are we trying to accomplish and how will success be measured?
  • Identifying Target Market
  • Framing Key Messages for each target market
  • Visual Identity
  • Logo Signage Uniforms (Nursery aprons to softball uniforms)
    Typography Stationary Newsletter / Bulletin design
    Powerpoint templates Color Palettes Tag lines (including church name)
  • Strategies for Communicating Key Messages to Each Target
  • Marketing Mix
  • TV/Radio/Newspaper Social Media Print Collateral
    Telemarketing Web Email
    Community Events Billboards Internal Marketing
    Partnering with other organizations
  • Implementation and Management – Who will manage the plan on an ongoing basis?

As you can see, this process is about a lot more than developing a logo. And that is as it should be in the branding process. It’s about identifying the message and then tailoring that message to the audience. Is this process going to be quick? Unlikely. Will it be holistic and push the church forward? Undoubtedly.

*This process is not my own. This is the plan outlined by a committee working on this rebranding project. Thank you especially to Mary Jane and Kay who are so invested in this process.


Branding the Church, Part 2: A Logo Development Case Study

My interest in church branding comes less from an intentional pursuit of the subject matter and more because God continues to place me in situation where I get to help a church think through its brand and how to visually depict that brand. In the first post, I outlined two key principles involved with branding. The piece of the branding process that people are most interested is the logo. It’s a visible, tangible product.

In this post, I will provide a case study of one church that I served and the logo progression. But we must start here: Developing a logo is about capturing the church’s message in the graphical formation. The message can – must – precede the logo. Let me depict through the presentation of 3 logos that have been / are used by my former church the progression of that message.

As a reference, the church’s stated mission is “training and deploying risk-taking disciples into their mission field.” With each logo, I will make some short commentary on the logo as a depiction of the stated mission (the message the logo should proclaim).

Logo 1: This was the original logo of the church including the full name of the church, a full tag line and three distinct Christian icons. Now for the commentary. This was a useful logo, but, in short, too busy. There is so much going on (Cross, Bible and crown!  That is a lot of Christian symbols!). But it is the inclusion of the tagline that I would like to highlight here. It reads, “Discover the lasting solution for lasting peace.” That tagline is a powerful message, but disconnected from the mission of deploying disciples on mission.

Logo 2: This next iteration of the logo is greatly simplified. It took away a lot of the busyness. The challenge here is that there was nothing distinctive about it at all. Other than having a cross, there was nothing that would portray the church’s message in any unique way. To be fair, moving to this logo was intentionally a stopgap measure until a longer term plan could be developed.

Logo 3: There is much that could be said about this logo from its boldness to its clarity to its simplicity. But I especially want to highlight the message of the logo. As the church clarified its message, three elements became important in the strategy of the church: worship of Christ, growing disciples and mission. Each of those three was intentionally included in the logo. Worship: The top right corner of the logo is a sunburst to depict him who is the light of the world (John 8:12). Discipleship: Notice that the “G” is bursting out of the borders, intended to depict how God’s people grow as disciples. Mission: Layered behind the “G” is a half sphere so that the world is always in perspective.

Conclusion: What makes this progression noteworthy is not the improved graphic sensibility (which I think is quite drastic!), but the clarity with which the church’s message is portrayed. Logos are highly visible elements in the branding process. They are not, however, stand-alone. They are designed to send a message. Clarifying the message becomes the framework for developing a logo.

Recommended Vendors: I have had the privilege of working with some great Christian branding experts.

  • The Branding Shed – James Dalman is the artist who designed the new logo for Glasgow Church as depicted here. We had done the hard work of defining what we wanted (Worship, Discipleship, Mission). James developed the visual depiction of that message.
  • Aspire!One – Aspire!One’s specialty is helping church’s think through the strategy – that is, formulating the message – and then put it all together in a brand strategy. If you need help formulating your message, the team at Aspire!One is great. I’m looking to tap some of their expertise at my current church in the near future.

Branding the Church, Part 1: Two Key Principles

This coming week, I will be speaking at the Communicating Church conference on the campus of Carson-Newman College in Tennessee on church branding and identity formation. Now, words such as branding and marketing often make church people squirm because it’s too corporate. After all, Jesus never used the latest marketing fads, such as Twitter, did he?

In the next couple of posts, we will explore the idea of church branding and how to go about it. But first, let’s start with a couple of key principles.

A brand is a promise

The very first lesson you learn from any book on branding and marketing is that a brand identity is a promise. It’s a promise about who you are, what matters to you, why you exist and what people can expect from you. In short, your brand is the promise you make to your community.

The Big Question

Have you articulated the message you want to send? Yes, most churches have mission statements (which, incidentally, I would contend are part of marketing your church), but that is the simple part. After all, the Bible outlines the mission of the church: to make more and better Christians. The challenge is shaping the way you operate to communicate that mission so that people who visit know what they are getting into.

A Word of Caution

Sending the wrong message here is very dangerous. For example, maybe your church has a very formal, high church feel to it and the culture is that most people dress up in suits for the guys and dresses or skirts for the girls. Though that is your culture, your website is very informal and all the pictures of on the website show people in jeans and T-shirts. Imagine the disconnect when someone visits your church for a Sunday worship service wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Imagine how out of place and uncomfortable s/he will feel. That is but small one example of how your brand – your promise or message – has failed to deliver.

A brand is a promise. That means it must be true. It can describe where you are moving to, but you must actually be moving to make that promise a reality. You must deliver on the promise you make.

Your church already has a brand identity

Your church has a name, right? So right there, you are already involved in branding. You have a name that identifies your church. Maybe you have the name of your denomination in the church name. Maybe not. Maybe you have a slogan or tag line that you often use. Maybe you are a very family friendly church. Maybe you want to be known as the family friendly church and are working toward that end. Regardless, your church already has a brand identity.

The Big Question

Who is controlling that brand? If you, as a church, are not intentional about shaping the message of your brand, someone else will. So let’s go to the example of being a family friendly church. Your church looks at your community and sees the opportunity to reach several young families that are moving into the area. Great. You have just identified a target market. But what happens if one of those young families visits the church and has the following experience.

  • They wander around the building for 10 minutes trying to find the nursery for their 2-year-old son because there were no signs pointing them to the nursery and no greeters to assist them.
  • Finally arriving at the nursery, no one greets them. They look around, trying to figure out what to do next. Eventually someone comes and brings the kid into the room, but no sign-in was required.
  • The parents are now getting a little uneasy. Will their son be safe in there? You can see their perspective on the church is already tainted.
  • After the worship service, the parents return to pick the kid up. Everything goes alright, except they realize that they never had to prove they were the child’s parents. Could just anyone have walked in their and claimed their son?
  • Walking back down the hallway, they realize he face is swollen and he has a big rash. The parents recognize it immediately as an allergic reaction. Their son has a dairy allergy that was inflamed by the goldfish served as a snack in the nursery.

What are those parents going to say after the service? When they have dinner that week with some friends, what message will they send about the church? This is precisely why controlling the brand is so important. It is imperative for the church to identify it’s message and then labor to control that message so that what people experience is what you wanted them to experience at your church.

A Word of Caution

The big danger here is thinking that branding is just about having a logo that you pop on some letterhead or business cards. The logo is an important part – maybe the most visible piece – of your brand, but it goes far beyond that. Your brand is your promise and it must be reflected in everything you do from using a logo to the rules governing your nursery to the structure of your programs. Your church has a brand. You already send a message to your community about who you are  and what they can expect of you. Are you determining what that message is, or are those in your community determining it for you?

Interact: What is your church’s message? Does the way the church operates accurately reflect that message?

Digging Deeper: Here are two resources to help you as you begin to think through branding your church.

Apple – The Purple Cow Company

While there were many aspects of Purple Cow that challenged me, I am left here with two major concepts…

  1. Remarkable rarely comes through better advertising. It comes with making a product that stands out.
  2. While a purple cow would be quite the site, after a while, even a purple cow wouldn’t seem that remarkable anymore. That leaves an organization with two choices:
    1. Soak every last drop of profitability out of their purple cow, desperately trying to hold onto marketshare.
    2. Invest the profits of the one purple cow into developing their next purple cow.

As I reflected on what this looks like, I was struck by the dichotomy between Apple and Microsoft. In the interest of full disclosure (in case you don’t already know this about me), I am a big Apple guy. That said, consider the difference of approach. Microsoft in the late-80’s and throughout the 90’s built this empire on the back of Windows. Now, they are desperately trying to hold onto their marketshare and profitability. With the possible exception of the XBox, they have done little to no innovation. They have simply tried to tout the virtues of their product.

Conversely, in the mid-90’s, Apple was dead. The multi-colored fruit company was hemoragging money and hadn’t had a good product in ages. Their major innovation in that time, the Newton, failed miserably (a bad combination of awful hand-writing recognition and being way too early on the curve for PDAs). Then, desperate for a modern OS and a new future, Apple bought Next, bringing Steve Jobs back to the company. 

Consider the course Apple has taken since then and the accompanying purple cows…

  1. In 1998 Apple introduced the iMac. In retrospect, this purple cow turned out to the hinge on which the entire history of the company turned. Many people laughed at the idea of a colored company with a hockey puck for a mouse. Well, they laughed until Apple sold millions of them and became relevant again.
  2. Instead of just riding the profitability of the iMac, Apple reinvested in the next big thing – digital music. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod (and the iTunes music store – the first legally downloadable digital music) and had themselves another purple cow. Unlike the Newton, which was way before its time, the iPod hit just on the very front edge of digital music going mainstream. Apple sold millions and made millions. This gave Apple a two-pronged profitability structure – computers and iPods.
  3. Then, right as the market for digital music players was nearing its saturation point, Apple released the iPhone in 2007. On the strength of the money made from selling computers and iPods, Apple innovated another purple cow and completely changed the cell phone industry. 

What’s next for Apple? I don’t know. I’m not privy to those conversations! But that’s not the point anyway. The point is that instead of just trying to maintain a once-remarkable product and squeeze every penny out of it, Apple continued to reinvest and innovate, looking for the next puple cow.

Interact: How do churches ride out their once remarkable products? How could they reinvest (not profitability, but momentum/resources/etc) into developing a new purple cow?

Just for kicks, enjoy this Mac vs PC commercial that highlights well the difference between investing in improving your product versus more advertising…

A Modern Day Parable

This video is sharp – cutting right to the heart of the way that many churches operate.  From the bumper stickers to the “greeters” who are otherwise engaged in conversation, it’s no wonder that when a church does manage to get a visitor to come, they don’t stay!  Thanks Deb for sharing.

Interact: What part of this video is most true of your church?