The ubiquitous nature of social media has changed everything from corporations to churches. While branding used to be reserved for products like Barbie and Kleenex, or a corporate image such as American Express that was built on the public trust. It was used to create customer loyalty and confidence. Brand identification was formed around logos, jingles and memorable slogans. The right mascot can serve a product for life.
In the last decade, the concept of branding became a unifying tool, not just of marketing, but for managing, recruiting, and planning company strategies. The idea is to create a holistic unifying principle – or mission – for the organization, which will motivate and direct the decisions of corporate executives, accountants, designers and mail clerks, and thereby create a consistent public image. An excellent introductory book on the subject is Integrated Branding by Seattle-based consultants Lynn Parker and F. Joseph Lepla.
It was inevitable that churches should latch on to this method. After all, most churches have a specific mission that directs their efforts. Christians pride themselves on living in accord with certain tenets and values, and they have always enforced certain standards. People guarded their reputations from public attitude and cultural taboos. Long before newspapers, public image was important. As Jesus said, “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit… Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:18,20) Consistency is a mark of morality.
But branding is about more than integrity or even evangelism. Branding is essentially a corporate model. It is market-driven. The question is, should we be directed by polls and popularity, or by service? And are these motivations mutually exclusive?
There are (at least) two books about the spread of religious marketing. Brands of Faith, by Mara Einstein, (Routledge, 2007) is about the author’s religious journey as a Jew, which led her to examine religious observance and attendance across the board. She studied how synagogues, churches and faiths market and identify themselves, and offers some advertising tips along the way. Einstein now has a blog with the same title, which can be found at http://www.marketingreligion.net. Phil Cooke, the author of Branding Faith, examines the use of faith branding throughout the world. More of a manual, Cooke describes marketing plans and how the steps can lead to a higher public profile. However, he also warns against the dangers of branding, including “technology, chasing relevance, and conflict with the concept of marketing.”
As a minister, I can appreciate the importance of creating a positive and honest public image. But our websites are no more important than the depth of our worship, or helping the outcast. We need to do good works before we can advertise them.
If our mission motivates our actions, then it can be a powerful tool. But if its just a slogan we fall into the same media mentality that we should counter. Where do we put our faith? The question remains.
next week: Branding yourself?