Your Church Brand: Much More Than A Logo

Your Church Brand: Much More Than A Logo
Chip Morrison


Question: Philip Morris paid 600% over book value for Kraft Foods when it purchased the company in the late 1980s (that’s like paying $600,000 for a house that’s worth just $100,000). What was Philip Morris paying all that extra money for?
Answer: The Kraft brand.

Your church brand, and the process of building and maintaining it (branding), is critically important to your success as a church.  While it’s difficult to quantify the value of a strong brand, its presence inspires members, focuses resources, communicates values, and moves seekers to action.  At its essence, a brand is your very identity as a church: your values, voice, personality, and appearance forged into one overarching concept.  Take away any of these elements and you’re left with a hollow, lifeless church.

The Brand Defined

There are literally hundreds of definitions of branding floating around in books and on websites.  Many of these definitions describe only the aesthetic elements of branding such as the logo, typeface, slogan, and colors.  In reality, the visual parts of a brand are probably its least important elements.  Going way beyond the visible, a brand is a set of values that defines your particular church; a key message that positions the organization in a desirable and different niche; a personality that gives life to the church; and a group of consistent visuals such as a logo that make your church readily identifiable.  Notice that the visual parts of a brand are just one-fourth of the total brand.

The 4 Parts of a Church Brand

1. Values

As Christians we should know better than anyone that it all begins with values.  It’s no different with branding.  Without a consistent set of values to define who and what you stand for, your brand will quickly become a flip-flopper, standing for one this month and another next month.  Such inconsistency is lethal because a brand’s power is inversely related to the number of ideas it stands for.  Let’s take Nike as an example.  What would happen if Nike decided to begin making sports cars… and soft drinks… and stuffed animals?  The power of the Nike brand would begin to erode with each new product introduced. (Such introductions are called brand extensions and they seldom work.)

To be strong, a brand should have a small group of core values that are non-negotiable.  The beginning of this process is easy for churches.  We must simply turn to the Bible for guidance.  But beyond the essentials spelled out in the Bible, much is still debatable.  For instance, one church could decide that one of its core values is to reach the homeless.  Another church could decide that it wants to reach Soccer Moms.  Both values are biblical.  Both approaches are part of fulfilling the Great Commission.  But most churches could not effectively undertake both of these activities simultaneously.  Just as it is with people, different values mandate customized actions.  Soccer Mom Church will probably do things much differently than the church targeting the homeless and vice versa.

Obviously, your values must be biblical.  But beyond that, it doesn’t matter what your particular values are so long as you have them.  God can bless equally the inner-city church dedicated to helping single parents and the suburban church focused on international outreach.  Pray and ask God to help you define what values your church will put into action.

After reading this don’t sit down and develop 279 core values for your church.  No church can have that many “core” values.  By definition, core values form an exclusive club.  Keep the number small and manageable.  Take this test: After developing your core values and presenting them to a small group, ask each member of that group to tell you what you just said.  If all of them can’t articulate your core values, you’ve gone overboard.

2.  Key Message

A key message is a single, unifying theme that underlies all of your communication activities.  For instance, Wal-Mart’s theme is “cheap prices.”  This theme translates into the slogan, “Always low prices. Always.”   It also translates into every commercial they run, newspaper insert they produce, employee they hire, and building they construct.  Everything Wal-Mart communicates has its origin in the cheap prices key message.

As you may have guessed, a key message and a slogan are two related, but different things.  A key message is bigger than a slogan.  While a slogan tends to change periodically, a key message has staying power.  For example, next year Wal-Mart might become “The Place to Save.”  In this case, the slogan changed but the key message did not.  A key message will likely endure as long as an organization’s position remains the same– which is generally at least a couple of decades.  A slogan tends to change every 3-5 years.

Some people find it helpful to think of key messaging in terms of a brand narrative.  Your brand narrative is the story line, magic words, and key phrases that make up your brand.  For instance, the Ronald Reagan brand narrative could be described in terms of the Cold War storyline, magic words such as “good” and “evil”, and key phrases such as “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  Notice how these various elements converged to convey a single, coherent message.  Regardless of how you feel about Reagan, the fact that he was a strong brand is unarguable.


Creating Your Key Message

Just as a slogan originates in the key message, a key message is born out of your values.  To discover your key message (and all other parts of your brand) look to your core values.  If one of your main values is to be seeker focused you will probably aim to be casual and modern.  Your key message might be, “contemporary and casual.”  In this example, then, everything you communicate—from your building, to your employee dress code, to your print materials, to your advertising, to your events, to your music—needs to convey contemporary and casual.

In practical terms, this means you’d have to dump coffee and donut time in the basement for a sexy new coffee bar.  It also suggests you’d have to update the signage in your church that pre-dates the Eisenhower administration for new signs branded with your colors, typeface, and logo.  It also requires the leaders of your church to consistently convey the message in their actions, words, and attitudes.  It also means your advertising should feature modern, fun imagery and themes.  No pews, no senior citizens, no pastors in business suits.  There are no shortcuts here.  Every compromise you make will dilute your message and diminish your chances of reaching seekers and skeptics.

The Anatomy of a Slogan

In the name of all that is good and holy, please do not include the words “Real,” “Relevant,” or “Relational” in your slogan.  We’ve heard it a thousand times already.  It’s like the old “Got Milk?” slogan that has been slandered into everything from “Got Tires?” to “Got Sod?” to “Got VD?.”  Be creative people.

Now that the rant about creativity is behind us, let’s return to the example above of the “contemporary and casual” church.  This church needs a slogan that conveys its key message in a way that is creative and has resonance.  Depending on the demographics and other characteristics of the church’s target audience, the slogan could take many different forms.

If the church wants to reach a college-age segment, its slogan might be, “This ain’t your parent’s church.”  This slogan is edgy and speaks of a rebellion many in this group might find attractive.  If you were targeting a 20- or 30-something audience you might express this key message by saying, “A modern church with a casual feel.”  You get the idea.  The point is that the slogan should be interesting, compelling, and understandable to your target audience.

3. Personality

Once you’ve defined your values and key message, you need to determine the personality your brand should take.  It’s sometimes helpful to think of your brand as a person.  Just like people, brands can have different values, different things they like to talk about, and different personalities.  Although these areas are related, great diversity can exist among them.  For instance, 2 people could each value their families immensely.  One person, however, might mostly talk to his family about sports, history, and camping; the other person might primarily discuss sailing, cooking, and literature.  Similar values, different key messages.

Similarly, two people with the same values and the same key message might have radically different personalities.  The first person might by gregarious, adventurous, and emotional.  The second person might be serious, intellectual, and predictable.  Both personalities are fine, but they’re very different.  So it is with your church.  You must pick a personality.  Do you want to be fun, exciting, and adventurous or stable, conservative, and formal?  As long as you have your target audience in mind and a commitment to discerning God’s will for your church, it doesn’t matter.  But you must define your personality and stick with it.  Just as your values and key message should permeate your church DNA, your personality should be omnipresent.

4. Brand Icons

To complete your brand, you must decide on a logo, typeface(s), colors and other presentation elements.  As you may have guessed, your brand visuals should come last and need to flow out of your values, key message, and personality.  (Those people who develop a logo before defining who and what they are have it backwards—how can they compellingly represent an undefined brand?)

There are a number of inexpensive do-it-yourself approaches to creating a logo.  They all suck.  If you’ve successfully defined your unique values, unique message, and unique personality it follows that your logo and other brand icons will be unique.  You should not use off-the-shelf software or a precariously talented secretary for this step.  You need to find professional help.  Locate a graphic designer who understands branding and appreciates your mission sufficiently well to accurately convey your brand.  This logo stuff tends to sound corny, but if you do this final part on the cheap your brand will suffer a slow and painful death.  Inject life into your brand by spending $300-$400 for a good graphic designer to create your logo and other design elements.

After your brand icons have been developed, be sure to use them consistently.  Keep logo proportions and colors the same.  The logo should always be on the same spot on your mailings, newsletters, etc.  Use the same fonts consistently.  Don’t allow the flyer with a poorly reproduced church logo to be distributed.  It’s usually best to give one person the responsibility of ensuring the brand is consistently communicated.

That’s all folks.  That’s branding in a nutshell.  This sometimes mysterious process is actually pretty straightforward.  If you get confused, it helps to think of your brand as a person. Ask yourself, “Would I want to interact with someone with her values, who talks about those things, who has that personality, and looks like that?”  If you can answer yes to these questions, you’ve got the beginnings of a strong brand.

From: Your Church magazine. June 2002
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