The Separation of Brand and Identity
I recently dined at the new restaurant in town. It occupies a building that was formerly an old restaurant. It had a new sign, the front of the building was renovated, and the new owners were promoting a fresh new take on the place. Local advertisements showed delectable-looking photos of food and the logo for the new restaurant was modern and sleek.
You can imagine my surprise when I stepped into the place and there was an immediate musky smell. The lighting was dark and the carpet was old and sticky. The place was, in a word, dingy.
The brand of the restaurant did not match the identity.
It got me thinking about how churches often provide a similar experience. They set up their brand to appear a certain way, but inside it feels like an old, dingy restaurant.
Churches are beginning to take marketing and communications more seriously. This is a good thing. We should consider how to leverage marketing techniques to help advance the Gospel. A result of the new attention toward marketing is thinking about the brand.
Unlike a decade ago, churches are evaluating the design of their logo, are building websites and apps, and in general are trying to cast themselves in a better light. However, they’re often misrepresenting themselves, and this is causing frustration and confusion for newcomers—much like the new restaurant in town caused me confusion.
Before we consider a few ways churches can bring their brand and identity into better alignment, let’s define a few terms.
What is a brand? Some consider it to be their logo, but really it’s more than that. It’s the sum of what people picture in their minds when they think about an organization. The brand is the sum total of the emotional response people feel when they think about you.
What is an organization’s identity? It’s who they are without trying. It’s their culture and unspoken norms. Think about it this way: The identity includes those things that are so ingrained that the “regulars” don’t even notice them anymore. It’s the “way things are done.”
The problem is, churches are becoming so good at branding that it often doesn’t match up with their identity. They’re overpromising and under-delivering in a way that tricks people to get them in the doors but sends them out with a bad taste in their mouth.
This is causing an epidemic of people in our churches who leave unsatisfied. They leave with unmet expectations. They leave distracted from the Gospel. Churches think they’re “being all things to all people” with clever branding and cool marketing stunts, but are in reality becoming more of a “stumbling block.”
Fortunately, it’s possible to build a brand that aligns with identity. Here are a few tips…
Do a real assessment of who you are and what your organization’s culture is like. If you’re a traditional church with traditional values, play off of that. Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not.
Don’t over sensationalize or over-hype your church. Make true statements about who you are. (i.e. If your Bible teaching is highly intellectual, don’t advertise it as practical, down-to-earth, relevant teaching.)
Don’t use stock photos that misrepresents who you are. For example, if your church has only one young family, don’t use lots of stock photos of young families. If your church has no diversity, don’t use photos that show multi-cultural groups.
God made your church to have the identity he wants it to have. It’s possible to help people have good thoughts when they think about you, as well as a nice looking logo, website, print pieces, etc. (in other words, a positive brand) while still accurately reflecting your organization’s character and culture.
Choose to avoid being the new restaurant in town: the one that looks shiny and new from the outside, but is a bundle of disappointment on the inside.