Brand 101: 2021 presents opportunity to evaluate brand identity as every church ‘relaunches’

The current “COVID pause” that churches and businesses are enduring imposed many types of hardship throughout 2020. While things are definitely not “business as usual”—especially for churches—the “new normal” that seemingly everyone has been talking about throughout the pandemic will be accompanied by opportunity to jump start your ministry’s brand.

This article is the first in a two-part series on church branding. To read part two, click here.

New year, new you

While it’s true that churches across the Northwest Conference have found creative ways to shift their ministry online and serve many people from a distance, at some point in 2021 the doors will be open again, and your ministry will have the chance to “relaunch.”

Many people have used the time away from church buildings to explore other worship settings. And many who previously did not attend church may be looking for new ways to emerge from isolation and experience community.

Simply put, when it’s time to go back to church, your brand will be part of the decision-making process for those who are looking for a new place to call home.

What is brand?

“Brand” is one of those words that gets applied to so many different things that it’s lost its meaning over time. Let me be clear at the outset: Your brand is not your logo.

Your brand is the perception of your church as it exists in the mind of each individual, family or community—formulated over time by various levels and types of interaction with your organization.

Another way to say it is, your brand is your reputation. Your brand is what people think of you.

In an ideal world, this reputation is a close to accurate reflection of who your church really is, and what its ministry priorities and offerings are. You can’t control what people think of you, but you can act to influence their perception.

Brand vs. branding

If brand is what people think of you, then the process of branding is doing what you can to control the narrative about your church. Branding your church is about clarifying your mission, vision, values, offerings and organizational personality, and then crafting a strategy to use the tools at your disposal to consistently communicate truth about your brand.

The companies and organizations with the most effective branding are those who have taken the time to put definition to what’s “on the inside”—what their brand is and what they want their brand to be—and then invested in a strategy for communicating that value proposition consistently using messaging, visuals and in-person experiences to attract the right people.

This strategy and toolset is often referred to as “brand identity.”

Why does brand identity matter?

The goal in creating and maintaining this strategy is to align what comprises your brand (values, beliefs, reputation and personality) with your “brand identity.” If your brand identity doesn’t align with your brand, people won’t connect.

In my observation working with churches and nonprofits over the years, many have already taken the time to process through the big ideas about their brand. They have at least written down mission, vision, core values and how they want to be understood in the world.

But most have not invested enough in the next step, which is the creation of a strategy, visual identity and tools to accurately portray those big ideas across every possible point of interaction to consumers.

This is the number one area of disconnection for most churches—the quality and construction of the visual identity, website and marketing and communication efforts does not reflect the quality of the actual church experience.

Think of it this way: If your church were a person, then your clothing, hairstyle, cars, house, social media postings, and much more are communicating to others about your brand identity. And that brand identity is being used to formulate reputation.

Since your church is a church, it’s your logo, color palette, photography, signage, website, social media properties, messaging and in-person interactions that make up your brand identity.

Here’s a quick summary thus far:

  • Brand – What people think of you
  • Brand Identity – What you’re saying and doing to influence what people think of you
  • Branding – The process of defining brand, creating brand identity and crafting messaging and visual identity
  • Messaging – The words you, your team, and your congregants (brand ambassadors) say about you
  • Visual Identity – Logos, graphics, colors, patterns, photos … anything that can be seen and communicate about brand identity

Are the external signals of brand identity doing their job to convey truth about your brand?

Brand assignment this week:

  • Ask three people who don’t go to your church to take a look at your website. Have them:
    • Describe what they think is important to your church based on what they see.
    • Explain what they think the vision, mission and core values of the church are (without looking it up).
    • Choose five words to describe your church.

In Brand 101 Part 2, we discuss how to go about evaluating your brand identity and choosing a design partner to guide the process.

By Bryan Malley, NWC Director of Communications