Brand 101: How do you go about evaluating and updating your brand identity?

The human brain is programmed to identify things quickly. If something is not clearly labeled, we will automatically give it our own label. Branding is about attempting to control what label gets applied to your church via brand identity—messaging, visuals and experiences.

In a healthy brand environment, decisions about website design, promo material design, social media and marketing visuals, signage, apparel and more all flow from the curated brand identity.

So how do you go about distilling the big ideas about your brand down to actionable words and visual elements you can use to help control the narrative?

What’s a healthy process for brand identity creation?

Every freelance designer, small design studio or large branding agency has a unique process to guide clients through branding. While brand designers often approach the challenge in their own way, the process always involves a funnel-like method aimed at distilling many points of information down to a set of parameters that can be used to develop symbolism, styles, colors, words, logos and much more that communicate brand identity effectively.

Here’s an outline of the questions and process often used by professional designers to create visual identities that reflect the essence of the brand identity.

  • What is your mission?
  • What is your vision?
  • What are your core values?
  • What does your church do on a practical level?
  • What does the name of your organization mean to you?
  • What is your positioning statement (often called a tagline)?
  • Define your 3-5 key audiences and provide as much demographic information as you can about the expected behavior of each group as they interact with your brand.
  • What is the personality of your brand? To spur your thinking in this area, ask yourself: “If someone were to describe your church as if it were a person, what characteristics would they use?”
  • What visual characteristics of your brand might capture the key aspects of your mission, vision, values and position?
  • What imagery might capture some of the conceptual ideas from Mission, Vision, Brand Characteristics and Positioning Statement?
  • Are there color, styles of illustration or photography that should be avoided based on history or specifics of your key audiences?
  • List similar organizations and competitors and define how you are different from them.

An experienced brand designer will take your church’s input on these questions, help identify challenges and opportunities, point out conflicting inputs and ask follow up questions designed to gain a deep understanding of who you are and who you want to be, before putting pen to paper to create anything visual.

This outside perspective will often bring new ideas to the forefront, challenge existing assumptions and should result in a tightly defined and agreed upon plan to move forward in the creation of brand messaging, strategy and visual identity, often called a Creative Brief.

Whether you choose to work with an experienced team or agency, or a less experienced freelancer in the creation of the visuals, it’s absolutely critical that there is a process in place to guide design. The results of the process will be the lens through which you evaluate the success of proposed visual solutions and all future design, marketing and communications efforts.

How do you choose a partner?

The visual identity systems that best communicate brand identity don’t stop with a logo. In fact, I’ve heard a logo described as the “period at the end of the sentence,” or the flag you fly to identify yourself. This is because no logo can say all there is to say about a brand identity. It’s but one tool in a toolbox—and all the tools in the toolbox will be needed to help with the fix.

Graphic design, as a profession, covers a wide range of areas of expertise. There are illustrators, publication designers, website designers, production designers, font designers and on and on.

If you’re searching for a partner to guide you through branding, it’s important to connect with a person or team that can show experience in creating and executing a brand identity system. The designer you work with will need to both be able to design a logo, color palette, typography system and set of initial styles that solve your problem AND apply that system in appropriate ways across print, digital and promotional channels.

When you’re deciding who to partner with, take a comprehensive look at their body of work. Do they show work that might resonate with your audience? Can they demonstrate systematic thinking beyond logo design? And do they have any past experience or clients in church or nonprofit branding?

Once you’ve narrowed your list of partners down, ask questions. Interview them as if they were joining your team, because in many ways, they will function that way in the short and long term. How will they approach the challenge? What’s the estimated cost for various phases of the project? What are the final deliverables and who will own the intellectual property?

What’s the ROI?

The branding process is often illuminating, sometimes surprising and should be fun. It’s not always easy, but at the end of the journey you should be equipped with messages and visual tools to better influence perceptions and attract new people to your ministry.

The return on investment is that a fresh brand identity will be a jumping off point for the coming relaunch of in-person worship, future website design, marketing and communication efforts and everything you do to convey brand to the world for years to come.

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

By Bryan Malley, NWC Director of Communications