If you’re in any kind of ministry nowadays, you’ve probably heard quite a bit about branding.
And, while it’s easy to dismiss the idea as something that’s “only for big companies like Coca-Cola or Geico,” the truth is, branding can be a critical part of any ministry’s success.
And that’s not just because it’s a magic bullet either.
It’s because a good brand (and brand strategy) can bring a sense of purpose and focus to an otherwise rudderless operation.
Here are a couple quick tips on branding that I’ve learned over the years.
What exactly are we talking about here?
While opinion can vary from one place to another on how exactly to define branding, there are a few things that are always involved.
For starters, the basic definition of branding is that your brand is your promise to your customer or in this case, those attending your church!
This includes more than just “what you do.” Everyone is fairly aware of the basic things (or at least the stereotypical things) that go on within the four walls of a church.
But branding your ministry means getting into the nitty-gritty details of what you believe, as well. Why do you prioritize certain beliefs or traditions? Why do you structure your services the way you do? What about your church gives it the best value?
These are the things that make a brand. They can be the very things that convince people to give your congregation a try, and they can be the focal points of your ministry that keep them attending as well.
Think about it, even with things as silly as peanut butter, branding can make a difference. Even when they’re marked a whole dollar or two higher than the generic versions — which are usually right next to them on the same shelf! — people will still opt for Jiffy, Peter Pan, etc.
Because they know what they’re getting. It’s not just peanut butter, it’s quality, it’s a known recipe, a dependable taste, a steady consistency, and often it even comes with the extra bonus of knowledge about how it was manufactured due to publically touted company policies.
Understanding your goals
Thus it naturally follows that coming up with your particular “brand” will involve creating definitive goals of who and what you are as a ministry. What are you trying to accomplish? What are you aiming for?
Again, this can seem like an obvious answer, but please, think it through carefully. Because in reality, it can be a bit more nuanced than one might think.
For example, say Joe the car repairman decides to leave the dealership and open up his own shop.
Sure, Joe’s Auto might fix automobiles, but that doesn’t necessarily answer the question of what the business is or what it’s trying to accomplish that would push a customer to pick it over other auto shops.
I mean, there are probably a dozen shops within a hundred miles of Joe’s, right? If he wants to be noticed—in other words, if he wants to build his brand—he’s going to need to define clear goals that stand out amongst the crowd.
Maybe Joe has a ton of experience on many cutting-edge models from a variety of car manufacturers. Then maybe his objective can be to offer services for “cars, trucks, and anything that moves on two wheels.” Or perhaps he insists on not taking advantage of his customers and always saving you a buck. Maybe his repair work is stellar and long-lasting, or he has a quick turn around, even when a job is unexpectedly dropped on him.
Whether it’s Joe the auto repairman or your local ministry, you need to find what it is that sets you apart.
And then, once you’ve got that goal and focus, you need to weave it right into your brand.
PRO TIP: Remember that you can’t be all the good things at once. When trying to define your top priorities and focus for your brand message, keep in mind that no one is going to believe you if you’re focusing on having a million different strengths all at once. You need to find which one or maybe two of these things is your strong point and focus on that. Geico provides a good car service with a lot of perks, but their real selling point is (all together now) that they can save you 15% or more on car insurance. They found their top selling point, that thing that helped them differentiate from their competition, and now everyone knows it.
Understanding your customers ...and competitors
I use the terms “customers and competitors” here because in many ways what we’re doing is the same thing as any local business.
While knowing what your ministry is and what you’re trying to work towards are both vital parts of building your brand, the other side of the coin is knowing your customers (e.g. your congregants).
This isn’t just a quick “put yourself in their shoes” kind of thing, either. Trust me, it’s worth taking the time to learn about who will be involved in your ministry, from church members at a church to homeless at a shelter, to the unsaved on the mission field. What makes your “customer” tick? How do they think? What motivates them? These are all factors you’re going to be aware of as you craft your brand.
And then there are your “competitors.” Whether we’re talking about other, similar ministries or even forms of entertainment that compete with the attention of your congregants, you are going to want to study them as well, and again not just as a formality!
Take a look at others that are or have been successful in your area. What has led to their success? What mistakes have they made along the way? What do you want to do better than them?
Of course, when it comes to other ministries, we’re all part of the body of Christ, and I’m not advocating treating them as “competitors.” We're all on the same team. But it really does help to understand what other ministries around you have done right and wrong as you prepare to minister.
PRO TIP: If you’re reading this because you’re in the throes of a starting a new ministry, here’s an article I wrote called "The Ultimate Church Plant Digital Marketing Guide" that addresses everything you can do to start your new ministry brand off on the right footing.
Brand Strategy: Communicating your brand to the world
As you can imagine, branding and marketing go hand in hand.
Creating an awareness and poignancy to your message (the brand) and promoting the brand and the ministry it is connected to (marketing) are complementary elements and both deserve equal attention in your plans.
When you brand yourself, you want your brand strategy to have a consistent delivery and message that is properly represented in all forms and mediums that you use in your marketing.
From things as lax as social media memes all the way to announcements during your Sunday services, online ads, email campaigns, and even billboards, you’re going to want to make sure that everything is displaying your brand in as accurate a tone as possible.
To recap, some primary goals that you should have in mind when coming up with your branding strategy are that you are trying to communicate:
- What your ministry focus is.
- Why your ministry matters and how a potential congregant can benefit from it.
- To communicate why your ministry is the best option for them to try out!
There are quite a few ways to go about these goals. Here are a couple of the most important ones I’m aware of.
I see you there, rolling your eyes. But seriously! Probably the most important thing here is going to be a good, recognizable logo. Wherever you market yourself, you want your logo. It’s how you’ll be recognized, and it will develop a familiarity with both potential and existing congregants that you can’t get out of even the best ad or slogan.
After all, a picture’s worth a thousand words!
Set the tone
I’ve hinted at this one a couple of times so far.
From creating a “brand voice” through which you’ll articulate and deliver your message to having consistency in delivering that message across your marketing platforms, you’re going to want to make sure that whenever and wherever anyone hears about you, they’re going to get the same “vibe.”
Honestly, there are a lot of factors that go into brand strategy, and I don’t have room for all of them here. For now, though, here’s an excellent checklist that Siimon Reynolds from Forbes created to help create a great brand. It’s a quick read, and some of it is more “business focused, but many things on the list directly relate to how to develop a good ministry brand strategy.
Building your brand equity
Finally, you’re going to want to keep brand equity (consider this the “long game”) in mind as you go.
The more brand equity you have, the more customers will trust you over your competitors or other generic options available to them. A solid, dependable reputation as a brand is going to help bring emotional security into the buying decision.
Now, please don’t get skeeved out by my bringing emotions into the matter. Yes, that can get dicey with morally corrupt businesses—as we’ve seen in abundance historically—but I’m not talking about lulling congregants into a false sense of security in order to get them through your doors.
I’m talking about communicating the cutting edge superiority of your ministry in a way that leaves your congregants endorsement-happy of your ministry even after they’ve started attending.
If you have new congregants coming and staying that’s a good sign that your branding is working on a higher level than just luring in new people. Your ministry is genuinely delivering what you’re promising!
And that, my friends, breeds content, a happy congregation like nothing else!
Branding your ministry
Hopefully, by this point, you’re starting to realize that a good brand is a lot more than just a well thought out logo.
From big mega-churches to brand new church plants, every ministry can benefit from a well thought out and created brand along with a well-executed brand strategy.
In many ways, it becomes the focal point of who you are as a ministry in the first place!
If you’re interested in seeing some of these branding suggestions I’m talking about in action, check out my site and see how I incorporate everything from our logo to our business focus, and product features right into who and what we are!