CooBran 08-03-33  

Branding Faith

Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don't


Phil Cooke

Regal, 2006, 236 pp., ISBN  978-0-8307-4563-0



Phil Cooke is a consultant, strategist and media activist for religious and humanitarian causes.  His online blog at addresses issues of faith, culture and media.  Cooke seems to have mixed feelings about the branding of ministries, particularly with focusing on the key person, and he brings in his philosophy on other religious issues along the way.  His goal: "How do we share a life-changing message with a culture that has lost interest?" (28)



"Why do so many Christians do such a terrible job of presenting their message to the world?"  "How unbelievers perceive the Christian community could use a little help."  (9) 


"…in a media-driven culture, we need to do a better job of telling our story."  (10) 


Definition: Branding is "the story that surrounds a product, service, person or organization." (10)


"The issue is ultimately about perception…."  "What do people think of when they think of you, your product or your organization?" (11)   


"Our challenge today is how to express our faith in a media-dominated culture."  "How do we get our message heard through the massive and growing amount of media static out there?" (12)


Introduction: Losing Our Voice

Most successful ministries have an overarching theme to their life and ministry. (17)


"Episcopalians committed an unforgivable marketing sin: they forgot their brand because they lost their story." (20, quoting James Twitchell)


"This book…is about ideas.  It's about using the power of storytelling to create a life-changing impression of you and your organization in the minds of your viewers, church members, partners, visitors and supporters.  It's … about helping people clearly understand who you are and how you can impact their lives." (21)


Chapter 1. Living in a Media-Driven Culture

"Entertainment--not autos, not steel, not financial services--is fast becoming the driving wheel of the new world economy." (25, quoting Michael J. Wolf)


"No matter how you look at it, culture today is far more coarse, ragged and uncertain than it was a generation ago." (25)


"As advertisers search for more and more effective ways to connect products with consumers, they've stumbled upon the power of 'meaning.'"(26)


"Branding is about identity."  "Who we are is an issue of identity, integrity and purpose…"  "Religion is all about identity.  Who am I? Why am I here?" (27)


"In this media-driven environment, influence has shifted from the power of church and community to the power of corporate brands, and they wield enormous power." (31)


"Religious experience is what the core of branding is all about." (33)  


"Today media is about personalization."  People want their media customized. (33)  "Today the audience is in charge." (34)


"It doesn't matter if you have a great message if no one is listening." (34)


Chapter 2.  The Influence of a Compelling Brand

"At its core, branding is simply the art of surrounding a product, organization or person with a powerful and compelling story." (36) [Christianity is a compelling story.  Maybe the issue is liberating it from all the ugly and confusing wraps. dlm]


"It's all about competition and the need to distinguish the product from the rest of the pack."  (36) 


"Whatever the purpose, the goal is to win the hearts and minds of the largest audience possible and imprint an indelible story around your church, ministry or mission." (38) 


"Stories work because we want to experience the emotions, feelings and passions of others who have encountered the challenges we face each day." (39) A story is 'a splinter in your mind.'  "Stories drill deeply into your brain and explode later with meaning."  (41)  "Stories are like a compass to help us find our bearings, and they provide a place of belonging.  That's why stories have become the central focus of the art of branding; and that's how branding has become a religion for a new generation." (42)


Chapter 3.  The Power of Brand Perception

A brand isn't what you say it is; it's what they say it is.  It's about perception.  "In a media-driven culture…word travels fast."  It's tough to keep a lid on bad news.  (43)


"'Perception' is the language spoken by modern media."  "Perception has become a critical part of advertising campaigns, press releases and published statements." (47)


"Today, advertisers don't tell us about the product; they tell us how we're going to feel when we use the product." (50)  "…who you are becomes less important than how you're perceived." (51) [However, there is an opposite growing demand for 'authenticity.'  The best way to maintain a good perception is to be good. dlm]


"It's not the message you send, it's the message that's received that counts." (57) "So don't begin with your message; begin with your audience." (58)


"Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening." (60, quoting Dorothy Sarnoff)


Chapter 4.  A New Religion

"Branding helps us express ourselves to the greater community of believers."  "Brand communicates ideas, values and standards."  (66)


"To a secular culture, brands and religion have merged.  The truth is, savvy marketers and advertisers have tapped into our global human aspirations for a sense of belonging, value, meaning and worship, and have turned ordinary, everyday products into brands--and eventually, brands into religions." (66)


However, "I believe that we can understand and use the principles of branding without resorting to corporate dishonesty."  "Telling the story about a product and how it interacts and connects with a consumer doesn't have to be a debasing or dehumanizing experience." (68)


"Frankly, the Church has done a poor job of communicating with the culture, and it often comes from not understanding what questions fill the public's mind.  …too many religious leaders are answering questions the culture isn't asking." (69)


"To make an impact, we must take the time and effort to understand, relate to and love the very people who may think we're crazy.  Telling that story effectively is the heart of branding." (71) 


Chapter 5.  Telling Your Story

"Every time you use the word 'brand,' mentally replace it with the word 'image' or 'reputation.' (88, quoting Wally Olins)


"As a nonprofit, what's your ultimate expression of mission?  What are you here to accomplish?  What is the brand story you want to communicate…?"  "Our purpose is to discover the story or identity that makes the client different and sets the organization apart." (91)


"…we usually focus on the personality that leads that ministry."  "…the Christian community has bought into the concept of celebrity in a big way."  (92)  "…the pastor or ministry leader is the hub of the brand."  "I may take some flak for that thinking, and to be honest, I personally don't like it either."  (95) [I don't either. dlm]


"…in the media, people ultimately want a relationship with a person….  So to develop fund-raising, partnership or resource relationships, focusing on the leader is key." (95)  "We call this technique 'personal branding.'" (96) 


The stakes are high.  It's about being truthful and telling the real story without inaccuracies and falsehoods.  You better have the background and credentials to support your billing.  It's easy to lose credibility in "a world of video cameras, databases and information retrieval."  (99-101)


·        Branding Question #1: What's the Point? (103)

·        Branding Question #2: Who Are You? (107)

·        Branding Question #3: What Are Your Gifts and Talents? (What are you really good at?) (115)

·        Branding Question #4: What Makes You Different?


Chapter 6.  The Right Branding Tools

"The medium we choose to deliver a message has a significant impact on the message itself." (130)


"It's very nearly impossible to tell the truth in television, but you can try very hard." (132, quoting Malcolm Muggeridge)  "We can't be too careful in how we present an eternal message on a temporal medium." (134)


"The medium is viewed differently in diverse locations and cultures.  Choosing the right medium for the message and the right medium for the audience is critical." (138)


"In the religious community, we often forget the single greatest result of powerful branding: word of mouth advertising, or 'buzz.'" (146) 


"We live in an age of influencers, with some researchers saying that at least 1 out of every 10 people is someone the other 9 ask for advice….  After all, we're drowning in information, and people are looking for answers they can trust." (148)


In a world of clutter you trust your friends.  "That's why friends sharing the news about your church, ministry or nonprofit is so important." (149) "Hearing from another person is critical….  Ultimately, it's about trust.  This is especially true for a younger generation that grew up with advertising." (150)


Chapter 7.  Great Design

"Aesthetics, or styling, has become an accepted unique selling point…." (152, quoting  Virginia Postral)


"…young people today speak the language of design."  "We live in a design-driven generation…." (153) 


"Beginning today . . . symbols will be replacing words." (154, quoting Jodi Bernstein)


Brand unity is important.  Frequently all the products and services look different.  You want every 'touch point' to tell the same brand story. (157-59)


Chapter 8.  The Dark Side of Branding

"He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower." (160, quoting Dean Inge)


"…the three most dangerous areas of branding are (1) technology, (2) chasing relevance, and (3) a key conflict with the concept of marketing." (160)


"…like most media issues, branding can have unintended consequences and sometimes seriously negative implications for the culture." (161)


"While the Internet is growing, our real friendships are shrinking." (165)  "One of my biggest concerns is how technology affects our behavior." (167)  "Technology is moving forward, so does that mean we are destined to live our lives in isolation?" (168)


"Another great concern abut a media-driven culture is television's tendency to trivialize everything it touches." (171)  "It's difficult to portray the transcendent through the same medium that broadcasts the World Wrestling Federation or American Idol." (172)  "Creativity is important, but at what expense?" (172)


"In the past authenticity had to do with proof."  "Today, authenticity has to do with feeling. … it's simply an emotional response.  Be very careful when people describe you or your ministry as authentic, because in a postmodern value system, it's only meaning is that you resonate with that particular person." (174)


"I've spent my career helping the Church speak the language of the culture, and being contemporary and relevant is part of that equation.  But in that process, I've discovered that most people work so hard to be relevant that they spin hopelessly into irrelevance.  How?  Most … mistake relevant for trendy." (178)


"Don't be so focused on the next big thing that you forget about those things that are always in style." (quoting Robyn Waters)  "To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal."  (180, quoting Simone Weil)  "Ultimately, to truly be relevant, stop trying so hard to be relevant." (182)


"What we need to realize is the fundamental point of being in the world but not of the world.  This is a very real tension between wanting to attract the largest possible audience while knowing that our very message will drive many away.' (188)


"I've discovered two key things to consider in effective marketing: First, don't change who you are.  Second, stop trying to make the church identical to every other organization in the culture." (189)


"Perhaps we've had to rely on marketing simply because nothing else is happening inside the church itself.  The great tragedy today is how anemic so many churches have become." (191)


"But I worry that we've so strongly bought into the American way of life that we've become more identified with capitalism and democracy than with faith." (193)


Chapter 9.  The Branding Imperative

"Customer service is vital in a secular business, but it's absolutely critical in religious and nonprofit work." (197)


"We call the places where a customer or potential supporter encounters your organization a 'touch point,' and it's vital that they receive the best treatment possible, no matter where they choose to encounter the ministry." (198) 


"Remember, your employees are the embodiment of your brand." (198)


"Spend time with employees and volunteers.  Whenever we brand a ministry, it's critical to understand the thinking of your people; and the only way to do it is to listen." (204)


Many churches and ministries have become more effective and professional.  At the same time, some ministry managers have become PDA zombies with little human contact and a corporate mentality that puts finances over mission. (209)  "I began to see 'mission drift' in certain organizations when the focus went from community to commodity." (211)


"Branding isn't just a matter of brochures and website designs.  It's the story of your organization expressed through customer service, building design, uniforms, procedures and policies, employee training, and much more." (224)




* * * * *

Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.

To discontinue receiving book notes, hit Reply and put Discontinue in the text.