On May 13, 1931, the marketing world embarked on a new and revolutionary journey. This journey was led by Neil McElroy, an advertising executive at Procter & Gamble. McElroy was working on an advertising campaign for Camay soap and became personally frustrated with having to compete with other P&G products, as well as products from competitors Lever and Palmolive. This frustration led to an internal memo that changed advertising forever. In his memo, McElroy contended that each product in the P&G line should be marketed as if it were a separate business, so that the qualities of each brand would be distinctive from one another. In McElroy’s mind, each brand would then have a different consumer market and therefore become less competitive with one another.1 This concept of “product differentiation” still exists today and is the basis for what has become known as branding.
In the body of Christ, each church and each ministry is distinctive. These distinctions are not always readily observable, but they are there nonetheless. Distinctions are those qualities that set each church apart from all the others. All of these factors create a ministry “DNA” that is as individual as a fingerprint. Understanding this DNA and intentionally communicating its core components are the basis for ministry branding.
Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, Calif., is a congregation of 18,000 people who meet in the Forum (formerly the home of the Los Angeles Lakers). For years, this congregation had been known as the “Family of Faith.” During one of my early meetings with the church leadership, it became apparent that, while that phrase was certainly true, it was far too passive for this growing and vibrant congregation. After several hours of exploring their DNA through defining core values and branding issues, I will never forget the moment when it all came together.
“We meet in the ‘Hall of Champions,’ which is located on the ‘Avenue of Champions’ in the ‘City of Champions’ – we’re building champions!” said Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, Senior Pastor.
As we began to explore the implications of this brand and slogan, we quickly realized that if you are going to build champions, there has to be a reason. “To be used by God,” was the quick reply. Out of that encounter, a new brand was birthed: “Faithful Central Bible Church – Building Champions for Divine Deployment!”
The process communicating differentiation is designed to develop a unique position in the mind of the consumer that reflects the distinctives of your product. This unique position is the brand. The key to successful branding is aligning the consumer experience with consumer expectations. In other words, people need to experience the brand you project. Therefore, the brand needs to be both authentic and sustainable to be effective. Also, the brand needs to be integrated into all levels of leadership and communication.
So, when the leadership at Faithful Central Bible Church defined this new brand, their work was just beginning. The new brand raised additional questions. How do you define a champion? If you’re going to build champions, you ought to know what they look like. What does it take to be ready to be used by God? What steps do you need to go through to prepare people for deployment?
Out of that conversation, we developed a brand profile. We established eight characteristics of a champion and 16 ways in which champions are built. We developed a comprehensive brand identity that changed the “Family of Faith” into the “Family of Champions.” In turn, becoming a “Family of Champions” made Faithful Central’s new brand the organization’s most valuable asset. The “champion” concept was a natural for them and one that resonated with both the church and the community.
Clearly, then, good brands always come from an organization’s “DNA.” For a church, this means the unique origins, purpose, location, constituency, message, and a hundred other factors that all contribute to the brand. The essence of a true brand is deep within the values of the organization. As such, all successful branding efforts need to begin in the heart of the leadership.
From there, the brand needs to be passed on. Faithful Central determined early on that the leadership team would need to embrace the new brand and come to intimately know the brand profile. This was accomplished through training, documentation, vision casting, and even testing. That’s right – the leadership was periodically quizzed on their knowledge and understanding of the new Faithful Central brand. Every effort – every event – had to go through the screen of “How will this build champions?”
Branding experts tend to agree that developing brand loyalty is the ultimate goal of marketing. In their article on customer loyalty, Alan Dick and Kunal Basu define brand loyalty as consisting of a consumer’s commitment to embrace the brand’s promises, return to the brand, and tell others about the brand.2 Further, Richard Oliver goes so far as to say, “True brand loyalty implies that the consumer is willing, at least on occasion, to put aside their own desires in the interest of the brand.”3
To achieve ministry brand loyalty, the brand needs to be launched in a clear and compelling manner, and then communicated with consistency. In the case of Faithful Central, before introducing this new brand to the congregation and community, the leadership spent five months integrating the concepts into their thinking process. By the time the brand was launched, the leadership was not only aware of the new brand, but were enthusiastic endorsers of it.
The brand was announced to the community and congregation by means of a postcard that simply said, “The Champions are back at the Forum!” with a picture of the highly recognizable Forum on the front. It gave the date and time of the kickoff service on the back.
That Sunday morning, the air was charged with electricity. A marching band was playing in the parking lot. Everyone received clap-sticks and a program when they entered the door. The arena was set up half-court. The auditorium was divided into eight sections (one for each characteristic of a champion). They even had a “pregame” show describing how the champions at Faithful Central would overcome their adversaries. The service was all about celebration from the first song. The choir, wearing Lakers jerseys, rocked the house. Then two basketball teams took to the court. The Champions from Faithful Central were taking a beating – until “Coach” Ulmer came to the game and turned the tide. After soundly defeating the adversaries, the teams retired to their benches and Bishop Ulmer began to challenge the congregation about what it meant to be a Champion for God.
The impact was immediate, powerful, and memorable. More importantly, Faithful Central has stayed true to its brand by continually reinforcing it in print, media, the spoken word, and personal experience. They are committed to “Building Champions.”
Remember this – a ministry brand is the symbolic representation of the total experience with the ministry and serves to create associations and expectations around it. When people hear the term “brand,” they often immediately think of a name or memorable tagline, or perhaps a particularly striking logo or symbolic design scheme, or even a level or lack of quality. However, a brand is not any of these things; these things are simply the reflections of the brand.
A brand is the container for an individual’s complete experience with your ministry. It is a bundle of functional and emotional attributes, benefits, experiences, and symbols. Ultimately, as already stated, the brand is an organization’s greatest asset.
However, a brand must reflect a consistent experience to be a true brand. Every time an individual encounters your ministry, the brand experience needs to be the same. Every phone call, every letter, every video, and every worship experience needs to convey a consistent and intentional message about who you are.
In many ways, a brand is like a cup of coffee. This morning I poured myself a cup of coffee. It looked like coffee, it smelled like coffee, the package said it was coffee; all of the indicators were in alignment. It was definitely coffee that I put in my cup.
Now I tend to prefer a little cream and sugar with my coffee. So, I added the sugar to make it a little sweeter, and I added cream, which changed the color. But it was still coffee. Any expert would agree.
However, what would happen if I decided to add some orange juice to my coffee? What would I then have to drink? It wouldn’t be coffee. It wouldn’t be orange juice. It would be this indescribable mixture of tastes that would not be very appealing. Even though I like both coffee and orange juice, the thought of putting them together is just not appealing.
When people have mixed experiences with your ministry, it is like coffee combined with orange juice. They have difficulty defining you, and they are not sure who you are – they have brand confusion. Most people will not deal with brand confusion; rather, they will simply walk away. Therefore, to develop a brand that works requires an intentional commitment over a long period of time.
Remember – branding happens! You can’t get around it. You can simply choose to let it happen and deal with the consequences of brand confusion – or you can make an intentional commitment to build a brand that is authentic and consistent.
Three requirements exist for a strong brand:
1. Consistency. Your brand must stay focused for an extended period of time. Frequent changes to brand strategy result in brand confusion.
2. Frequency. You need to reinforce your brand at every level through constant repetition – in a hundred different ways. Just when you think everyone is getting tired of hearing you reinforce your brand is probably when they are just starting to get it.
3. Anchoring. Every good brand has an emotional anchor. An associative memory already established in people’s minds provides the foundation for brand recognition.
Additionally, an authentic brand must develop from the inside-out. As Sergio Zyman, chairman and founder of the Zyman Group, states, “An effective brand strategy starts with a thorough examination of your brand’s DNA, the building block that determines how your customers see you and how well your brand meshes with their needs.”4
Brands are more about aspirations than reality. People respond to brands that reflect who they want to become. The goal is to inspire people to aspire to a life within the brand. If your brand is not doing this, your vision is not big enough, your purpose is not clear enough, or your brand is not strong enough.
As mentioned previously, consistent and clear messages through all levels and all media are required to build an effective brand. There are several keys to building and maintaining an effective brand. First, we have discovered that four components exist in defining your brand:
1. Brand Services. What values, services, or products do you provide?
2. Brand Personality. What are the human qualities that describe your ministry?
3. Brand Distinctives. What sets you apart from others?
4. Brand Benefits. What benefits do people experience as a result of what you do?
These four components need to be carefully explored and defined as the foundation of all branded communication.
Secondly, there are five branding targets:
1. Staff, Board Members, and Volunteers – These people need to fully integrate the brand into their work, communications, and behavior. If the leadership doesn’t get the brand, no one else will. It is worth taking time to develop brand advocates among this group, since they have such a high level of influence.
2. Donors/Congregation – The funding base of a ministry needs to catch a vision of the brand in a way that inspires them to a higher level of commitment – personally and financially. These people are probably already familiar with your ministry, so the brand needs to be clearly defined for them in a memorable way.
3. General Public (potential donors/congregation) – These people are not as familiar with your organization. Every encounter they have with you defines the brand perception in their minds. This is where your actions and behaviors need to match your rhetoric in order for the brand to be authentic.
4. Media (TV, radio, newspaper, etc.) – By proactively defining how you want to be perceived in the media, you avoid being misperceived. Many ministries just want to avoid media exposure altogether. I believe this is a wrong approach. It is better to build media perception over time and develop relationships with the media than to allow a single negative event define you. This happens all too often.
5. Beneficiaries (those who are served by your organization) – The people you touch, whether it is your congregation or others you serve, need to see your brand lived out before them with consistency.
If your branding is consistent across these five target groups, you will build “mindshare,” which is the amount of mental real estate you own in the public’s mind when they think of your “charitable category.” Charitable category is a classification of a cause or ministry focus. Branding is the process of making your ministry the one people think of first and feel the best about in your specific charitable category.
Ministry brands run into trouble when they don’t understand their charitable category. In people’s minds, each organization can only be about one thing, or it will become lost in the trash compacter called short-term memory.
Long-term memory requires compartmentalization so the data can be filed for future reference. If a ministry’s brand is not clear and the charitable category is not well defined, the mind does not know where to file the information.
That said, the best ministry brands are built on two things:
1. Excellent and trustworthy work – You can’t build a good ministry brand unless you are truly making an impact in people’s lives.
2. A single consistent message over many years – Branding takes time. Do not give up on your brand and do not change your brand easily. As I said earlier, just when you think everyone is tired of hearing about your brand, they are just beginning to get it.
Ministry brands that follow these two guidelines make relevant connections with people. They build trust, they build loyalty, they build advocates.
So, as a recap, here are seven keys to building a successful brand:
1. Start at the top – A brand has to come from the ministry’s DNA and has to honor the heart of the leadership.
2. Every opinion counts – Gather a broad range of perspective when defining your brand. There are often components about your organization (good and/or bad) that others see but you may miss.
3. Pursue brand alignment – Everything needs to be in sync: every experience, every document, every encounter. I often liken brand alignment to competitive rowing. The team follows a process with four parts: catch (placing the oar in the water), drive (pulling the oar through the water), extraction (lifting the oar out of the water), and recovery (positioning the oar for re-entry). The success of the rowing team is the precision and harmony with which they complete this process. The more tightly they sync their movements, the faster the boat is propelled. This is true with branding as well.
4. Win hearts and minds – The brand needs to have an “aspirational” component to it. This is a greater dimension than an inspirational component. To inspire is to animate or influence, but to create aspiration is to cause a passionate desire for something greater.
5. Train for change – People resist change. You can overcome this resistance, but it takes work. People resist change for four primary reasons: perceived personal cost, lack of confidence in the decision-making process, lack of participation in the process, or lack of understanding about the need for change. Overcome the resistance by intentionally addressing their concerns in advance.
6. Tell the world – Develop strategies to get the word out about your brand to all five target groups. Your strategy may be different for each group.
7. Stay brand focused – Drift is easy, focus is not! Revisit the brand components frequently. Keep them in front of you in every way possible. Make your brand the wrapper that surrounds everything you do.
What about Faithful Central Bible Church? The execution of their brand communication has not been flawless, but their consistent commitment to the core message has been effective.
You can walk the streets of the community and ask, “What is Faithful Central Bible Church all about?” The response will be clear: “Faithful Central is building champions for divine deployment.”
What would people say of your ministry if you asked the same question?