Are you branded? The task force to develop a strategic plan had just sent its proposal to the congregation when a young man emailed task force members, “To do these activities we need a clear message of what we offer, what benefit people get when they attend, and how this is different from other churches or organizations.
“In short I feel we need to define our ‘brand’ so we can craft a consistent communication message and ‘live our brand’. The new vision/mission statements are a good start but we really need to be more focused. If we don’t communicate our brand promise then make sure our ‘product/service’ and church family live the brand, it will be very difficult to get people to attend and stay. They may expect to experience ‘x’ (i.e. what we communicated to them) but when they come to church they get ‘y’.”
Branding in the church? It’s not as farfetched as you may think. Livestock branding has been used for thousands of years to identify cattle with the “logo” of their owners. Businesses have also used branding for decades to communicate the essence of a product to their audience. A “brand” usually consists of a logo as well as a compelling tagline that convinces you to try it.
It’s not about clothes or shoes. It’s about attitude.
It’s not about the quality of the chocolate. It’s about the convenience of eating chocolate that doesn’t melt in your hand.
Branding also promises a certain level of quality for a product. When you go to the grocery store do you buy national brands or store brands? If Meijer Corn Flakes are $1 less than Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, which box do you buy? If Costco underwear is $8.00 less a three-pack than Calvin Klein underwear, which pack do you purchase?
National brand-name merchandise is attractive to many people because it guarantees product quality. You know what you are getting when you buy Banana Republic clothes, Merrell hiking boots, or Oakley sunglasses. We all have our favorite brands of clothing and food for which we are willing to pay more than “generic” prices because we know how they are going to fit and taste. Even more, branding confers a certain status when we proudly display our designer brands with accompanying logos.
John Wigger, history professor at the University of Missouri, has written extensively about Methodism in early America. He says that in the 19th century no American could fail to know about Methodism. “Methodism provided a great many Americans … not only with a source of spiritual meaning, but also with fellowship and community, with comfort and aid in times of distress, in short, with a sense of belonging that all people crave. The extent to which Methodists were able to accomplish this is what most clearly distinguishes their movement from the other denominations of this period.”
He continues, “Early American Methodism’s leaders understood the nature of the post-revolutionary cultural marketplace, in effect designing an innovative marketing strategy… No company could match Francis Asbury’s nationwide network of class leaders, circuit stewards, book stewards, local preachers, circuit riders and presiding elders. They led the movement’s system of class meetings, circuit preaching, quarterly meetings, annual conferences, and quadrennial conferences – all churning out detailed statistical reports to be consolidated and published on a regular basis.”
Methodism was the most recognized and talked about denomination in the 19th century because of our cutting edge brand. Since 1968, when The United Methodist Church was formed, our formal “brand” as a denomination has been the cross and flame. While the cross has been the Christian “logo” for 2,000 years, the double flame, originally symbolizing the joining of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church, reminds us of the Holy Spirit power that undergirded the Wesleyan movement.
But notice the tagline, which was added several decades ago. “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” is the trademark phrase that describes who we are as United Methodists. Our brand promise is that anyone entering a United Methodist church will find disciples of Jesus Christ who are welcoming and compassionate and who engage the world.
So why do local churches need their own brand? Why can’t we just use the cross and flame? And isn’t our mission statement a brand?
10 Things Churches Need to Know about Branding
- Branding as part of a church marketing strategy is not giving in to the secular world. While businesses sell products, we sell faith in Jesus Christ and must find effective ways to reach our community. After all, it’s been fifty years since churches simply had to open their doors for worship, and guests would stream in.
- Our brand is not our mission statement. Our mission statement reflects what God is calling our congregation to do. By contrast, our brand tells the world who we are and why they should come to Grace United Methodist Church.
- The cross and flame isn’t enough. Most United Methodist churches proudly display the cross and flame on their building. However, a local church brand needs to be relevant to its particular constituency. The brand should remind people: “Oh, yeah, that’s the church that …”
- Branding may get guests in the door, but they will not stay unless the brand aligns with the church’s mission and their initial worship experience. Don’t pretend to be who you’re not. Rather, become who you are called to be and do what you are called to do.
- A brand normally consists of a compelling logo and a snappy tagline. The brand needs to be memorable, containing an image and a few words that provoke curiosity about who you are.
- Ultimately, your guests won’t remember you by your brand, but they will remember how welcoming you were and whether they felt included. If your brand promise (what people feel after they’ve visited your church) matches your branding (what you say they can expect) then you’ve got it!
- A consistent brand will assist in telling your story. It helps people remember you and lessens initial fears and barriers about visiting your church because they will know what to expect. However, even the most creative brand cannot guarantee growth if you do not have systems in place to invite, welcome, and assimilate guests and if you do not have a clearly articulated, supported, and implemented mission and vision. Brand does not substitute for effectiveness in ministry.
- A brand is a marketing tool to create awareness of and generate interest in your church by the population you are targeting. Thus, creating a brand entails not only knowing who you are as a community of faith but knowing the hopes, dreams, and unmet needs of those you hope to engage. The logo does not have to be overtly religious, nor does the tagline have to include the word “Jesus.”
- Branding is a product of our culture. Church brands help to distinguish us from other churches in the area, United Methodist or not. Brands may also be more attractive to the non-churched or de-churched than the churched. According to new research by a Duke University marketing professor and colleagues in New York and Tel Aviv (http://today.duke.edu/2010/09/brandreligion.html), people who are not deeply religious care more about commercial brands than religious people do. For the non-religious, brands convey a sense of self-expression and self-worth that is not as important to people who find their worth in religious expression. Brands are designed to resonate with those we are attempting to reach by saying “Come, try us!”
- United Methodist Communications has a wealth of resources about marketing and branding. Check it out! http://www.umcom.org/site/c.mrLZJ9PFKmG/b.6281897/k.56F6/Church_Marketing_Plan.htm
Can United Methodist churches recover our cutting edge? I believe we can. It’s time to be branded again.