How Pirates Invented Branding
In the 18th century, pirates knew they would be more successful if they could capture a ship without a fight. This was best accomplished by intimidating merchant vessels to surrender. Some pirates did that with primitive branding.
A famous example of this is the pirates’ use of the skull and crossbones flag. This dark symbol was essentially the pirate logo. It struck fear into the hearts of anyone on the high seas. This same icon had previously been associated with the bubonic plague, so it was already closely associated with the idea of death and horror.
One specific pirate went above and beyond with his personal branding. His name was Edward Teach, but he is better known as Blackbeard. Teach wore heavy clothes to make himself look bigger. He grew his namesake beard to darken his face. He even stuck lit matches under his hat to act as his personal fog machine. All of these elements were done deliberately to menace his adversaries and build a legendary persona.
In her TED Talk on rebel designers, design critic Alice Rawsthorn explains how Blackbeard is one of the best historic examples of building a globally known brand. Even in an era before modern marketing, Blackbeard and other pirates understood the importance of good branding.
What is branding?
A brand is more than a name, or logo, or slogan. A brand is a unique identity. It’s how your audience views your organization or company. It’s a story your audience tells themselves about who you are. Everything you do to influence that outside perception is branding.
We tend to think of branding in terms of the corporate world, but it’s just as important in the church. Your church’s brand is the collective reputation of those familiar with you. Your brand is the general idea or impression people get when they see your logo, hear your name, or enter your building.
Some churches have a stronger brand than others. You may have preconceived notions when I mention Elevation Church or Westboro Baptist Church. The alternative to not having a brand is not being known at all. By electing to ignore branding, you’re making it OK for people to ignore you.
Branding boils down to one question: what does your church want to be known for?
How can branding benefit the church?
If you have to ask whether or not your church has a brand, the answer is probably no. Cultivating a strong brand presence takes time and intentional guidance. It’s not something you back into accidentally. It’s something you need to grow gradually.
Ultimately, this comes down to who you want to reach. Are you trying to become a force for good in your community? Does your community even know who you are? Should they care?
Branding helps you to establish a clear identity with your audience. This is not always something you can control, but it is something your church can influence—for better or worse. A good brand isn’t something you can fake. Your brand is all about who your church’s authentic self.
If you want your church to matter to people, maintaining your church’s brand should matter to you.
How do we create a brand?
Now that you understand a little more about the history of branding and how it impacts your church, how do you create a brand? Where do brands come from? Can you order one from Amazon?
Building a respectable church brand takes time and patience, but here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction.
- Hold a meeting with your church leadership to discuss branding
- Identify what target audience you’re trying to reach with the brand
- Create a brand style guide to make sure the brand is consistent
- Do an in-depth brand audit to check the state of your church’s brand
- Conduct a brand survey to gauge what your audience thinks of you
- Look at some other examples of churches with good brands
- If needed, do a brand refresh or complete overhaul
- Live out the brand in everything you do and say
None of this should be rushed or done without considering what’s best for your audience. They should be the ultimate decision-maker for your church brand. Your church doesn’t exist without people and neither does your church brand.
The goal of your church brand should be to lower barriers to getting your target audience to engage with your church. Be sure every brand element—from your name to your logo—accomplishes that one objective. Make your brand consistent and authentic and the rest will follow.