Your Brand is Your Reputation
Your brand is more than a clever logo. It’s more than a gorgeous website. It’s more than a catchy slogan on a postcard. Your brand is your reputation. So the question is what sort of reputation do you have?
Look around you. How many different logos and brands do you see? More than five? Ten? I stopped counting at twenty. Brands and marketing messages are constantly all around us, so why do I feel positive feelings toward one brand and negative feelings toward another? Why do we tune in to the latest product announcement from Apple and ignore the latest developments from Blackberry? It all has to do with their reputation.
See, for every interaction I have with your company, your church, or even you personally, I learn a little bit more about who you are. I learn how you work. I learn how you think. I learn what’s important to you and what’s not and through all of these touch points you begin to establish a reputation with me. This is what good branding is ALL about-building a positive reputation with the people you hope to influence.
Now, if all this talk of branding in the church turns your stomach a little bit and you feel like you’d just rather opt-out altogether, know this-reputations happen. Whether you like it or not, you are building a positive or a negative reputation right now-you can’t stop it, so remaining neutral is impossible. The people in your community and mine are forming positive and negative impressions of us every weekend. So how clean is your building? How helpful are your staff and volunteers? How engaging is your service? How helpful is your sermon? All of these are the bricks and mortar that form your reputation, whether positive or negative.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil. That sounds to me like someone wanting to make a positive impression on people. Sure, not everyone responded positively, just as you and I won’t be able to control the negative reactions some have towards the work we feel like God has called us to do, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to ignore the way everyone perceives us.
So, the sooner we come to grips with it the better-reputations happen. The question is are you actively working to build a positive reputation or creating a negative one by ignoring it altogether? Here are a few suggestions on how you can improve and control your brand’s reputation.
Go internal before you go external
In my experience, when a church or an organization wants to improve its brand reputation, often the first step is to go external-we buy billboards, TV spots, radio spots, newspaper ads, etc., with the idea being to create more exposure. The trouble with this approach is that the traditional advertising platforms are so expensive, noisy and crowded that you risk spending a ton of money to make almost no impact.
Instead of putting all of your advertising resources into external platforms why not leverage your cheapest and most effective advertising weapon-your congregation! By using your time, money, and resources wisely to craft great experiences and truly helpful environments you give your congregation something to invite their friends and family to. I’m not talking about creating a spectacle, I’m talking about creating an environment where people know God is speaking to them. When you do that, they can’t help but talk about it with their friends.
This past March we hosted our third-ever Seeds Conference which sold out two months before it opened. How did we do it? Web banners? Twitter campaigns? iPad giveaways? Expensive brochures? Nope. In fact, our advertising budget for the conference was $0.00. So how did this happen? Well, we’ve worked really hard the previous two years to create an unforgettable conference experience for all who attended. We’ve been generous with our time, resources, and knowledge and people have responded. They’ve told their ministry friends and fellow pastors about us so the event essentially sells itself.
Look, I’m not saying all traditional advertising is a waste of time and money, but I can say it definitely isn’t a magic bullet, and often times the best solution is to improve the events and environments you already have. Maybe that means improving your worship experience. Maybe it means cleaning up your building a little bit. Maybe it just means becoming more aware of the feelings and needs of people outside of your faith community. Whatever the case may be, don’t underestimate the value of leveraging the voices and influence of your congregation.
Service leads to influence
This coincides with so much of the first point that I won’t repeat too much of it here but I would ask you this tough question-are you using your advertising budget to promote yourself or serve others?
Our mandate as followers of Christ is not to promote, but to serve. Certainly, not all promotion is bad, but by providing useful information, like links to popular worship songs from recent weekends, to full-service video replays, we can genuinely serve people and by doing so we’ve found that our voice only gets louder in their lives (Jesus was right, go figure!).
With the rise of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook we now have an opportunity to better serve our community. Rather than using them to simply hype the next event on the calendar, we can be so much more responsive to their wants and needs. These platforms allow us to ask questions, respond to requests, react to complaints and point people to resources they can use and by serving them, we gain influence with them. Think about it, you’re much more likely to consider coming to our next conference simply because we served you by providing free resources and knowledge here on this site.
Stop abusing your one and only voice
I wrote about this a little more extensively here but I think the point bears repeating-if everything is awesome, nothing is awesome. In other words, when you tell me that EVERY weekend is going to be “incredible” and that I simply can’t miss it, pretty soon, your words start to lose value with me. And while I’m not saying that you’re not genuinely excited about your church, but after a while, if you’re not careful, your excitement can begin to sound like like hype and your brand’s voice doesn’t get louder, it gets quieter because people start to tune you out.
Remember, the way of the world is to always over-promise and under-deliver. That’s because of sin. From the beginning it’s always over-promised and under-delivered but what makes Jesus so amazing-he’s just the opposite, he always over-delivers, he’s always better than you thought he would be. Isn’t that how our churches should be? Shouldn’t they be the kinds of places that exceed people’s expectations? Let’s let others find us to be more loving, more giving, more selfless and more helpful than they thought we would be and in doing so we’ll reflect Christ to everyone we meet.