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What's Your Ministry's Brand?

Jim Misloski

Branding used to refer to what cowboys did to cattle in the west to differentiate their cows from all the other cattle on the open range. But in the 21st century, the word "branding" has become part of advertisers' vocabulary as they've tried to differentiate their products from all the others on the range. The discipline of branding or establishing a recognizable identity in a world that's oversaturated with messages is becoming one of the most valuable skills in our day -- especially for your ministry.

What Is a Brand?

The overload of information in our society has made it increasingly difficult for an organization or product to get people's attention without a brand. Put very simply, a brand is the following.

A Single Concept -- A brand is a single word or single-minded concept in the mind of the customer. For instance, when people think of Volvo, they think of "safety." Mention Federal Express, and people think of "reliable overnight delivery." Martha Stewart turned her passion for hostessing into one of the most powerful brands today. What do people think of when they think of your ministry?

Graphic Identity -- A brand is also a visual mark or word or combination of both that stands for that single-minded concept. The Nike "swoosh" or the Golden Arches are examples of brands that actually own real estate in your mind. These companies can confidently display those marks without the words because whenever people see the mark, they automatically think of the word.

A Shortcut -- Finally, a brand is a shortcut to trust. Anything you can do to help busy people navigate through the overload of information will be perceivedas a welcome help. Shortcuts save time and simplify people's lives.

What Does a Brand Do?

Branding is the act of simplifying how you communicate your ministry to children, families, and your community. A brand identifies the factors that make your ministry stand out from others. A strong brand provides the following benefits.

  • Promotes Loyalty and Commitment -- One of the most important things a brand does is reassure people that their decision to choose your ministry was and still is a good decision.
  • Raises the Perceived Value of Your Ministry -- Brands bring the personality of your ministry to the surface and increase the potential for people to relate more quickly and deeply to what you do. Because they don't answer all the questions, brands generate interest and encourage people to explore your ministry.
  • Creates Buzz -- People talk more about your ministry if you pay attention to your brand. The good things you do will get noticed more if you have a strong brand. Because good brands create trust, they fare better if something goes wrong. People are more forgiving when mistakes are made. People are willing to invest more and sacrifice more for a strong brand than a weak one.
  • Pumps Up Your Team -- The effect of a strong brand on your team is even more astounding. People identify with success. They want to be part of a strong entity. A strong brand creates a greater sense of community and makes it easier to retain and recruit more volunteers. People are more easily mobilized around a single-minded organization. A brand communicates vision -- and vision generates motivation.

How Do I Get a Brand?

A rather frightening principle in branding is that you can't not communicate what you are. Whether you're aware of it or not, you've been establishing a brand by the way you've been doing ministry already -- whether that's positive or negative. Here's how to identify your brand.

Gather Information -- What makes your ministry unique from others? Determining the difference that's most important to people is the first step in branding. The best way to discover your relevant difference is to ask your most loyal families what first drew them to your ministry. They can tell you better than anyone what sets apart your ministry.

Great branding requires the humility to admit that you're not an objective source for evaluating your ministry. People will tend to tell you what they think you want to hear. That's normal human behavior. Send a representative who can protect families' identities, so people are more apt to provide honest and valuable information that'll help you discover your real brand. Another option is to distribute and collect an anonymous questionnaire much like restaurants provide.

Ask these questions:

  • What first drew you to our ministry?
  • What five words describe our ministry?
  • What five words don't describe our ministry?
  • If our ministry were a car, what kind of car would it be?

Process Information -- Once you've collected and sorted the feed­­back, look for common themes in what people said. Then get your entire team involved in the following three steps -- and have fun. For a fun meeting plan, check out "Brand X, Y, or Z?" on page 57.

1. State the "what" of your brand. What's the core benefit that your ministry delivers? Remember, this is a unique strength that's relevant to the people you serve. When Burger King began in Australia, they decided their unique strength that was most valuable to Australians was Burger King's ability to grill a good burger. That's their "what." Your "what" may be dynamic children's programs, fantastic outreach ministries, or teachers who really care.

2. Decide the "who" of your brand. This is when things get really fun. What's the tone or the attitude or the personality of your brand? Think about the emotion and passion associated with your ministry. This is where you create connections to people that generate excitement about what you're doing.

If your ministry were a car, what kind would it be? a Model T, a race car, or a clown's Volkswagen? If your ministry were a cartoon character, which one would it be? a brainiac Jimmy Neutron, a loyal SpongeBob SquarePants, or an out-of-control Tasmanian Devil? Choosing these images helps you better understand your brand.

Australians take great pride in their ability to grill meat. If you were invited to their house for a barbecue, they'd never trust you or any guest to run the grill. Burger King decided that if they were a person, they'd be the only "mate" that an Australian would always trust with the "barbie."

3. Pound out the "essence" of your brand. Create a vivid and inspiring statement of what your ministry seeks to become in people's hearts and minds, such as "a caring place for kids" or "the best hour of a kid's week." In Australia, Burger King's essence ended up being "burgers just like yours." Federal Express used "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight."

If possible, get a graphic artist involved from the beginning to create a mark that reflects the personality of your brand. A strong brand's mark should follow God's design. We were designed with two eyes that are side by side, not on top of each other. It just makes sense that the shape of your brand should fit in a horizontal rectangle that's a little shorter than a business card.

The more specific a brand is, the more dynamic it becomes. Don't try to be everything to everybody. Every small town has a coffee shop. It may be called a coffee shop but you can usually get breakfast, lunch, and dinner with your coffee. Until, of course, Starbucks came to town. All they serve is coffee. Starbucks is one of the strongest brands in America because they narrowed their focus on coffee. You can be the Starbucks of children's ministry in your community!

Brand X, Y, or Z?

We explored branding for our ministry recently at church. Follow this plan with your team, too.

1. Form a team. Gather about a dozen people who are passionate about your ministry. Ask them to commit to meet for an hour for four weeks to explore how to best brand and position your ministry.

2. Focus on the positive. Identify your ministry's strengths, what you do well, and what you're known for. This is a time to celebrate! Jot a separate sticky note for each ministry strength. Compile the notes on a sheet of poster board. Group similar comments so you can visually see trends.

Just for fun, do the same thing with your pastor. Put your pastor on a chair in the center of your circle. Next, fill out one sticky note per strength or affirmation for your pastor (or you can do this for the lead children's minister). One by one, cover your pastor with sticky notes and voice what you've written. This is a wonderful way to encourage leadership and begin with a positive perspective of what God is doing through your ministry and staff. After all, it's the positive that you want to brand!

3. Clarify your target audience. Ask people to each think of a person, child, or parent who might be interested in your ministry. Encourage them to think as if they were that person for this activity. Together, complete as many 3×5 cards per idea as possible to complete these statements:

  • I believe I am...
  • Others say I am...
  • Our ministry/church is...

Then group piles of similar cards for each statement. Look for overlaps, connections, and words or phrases that might begin to describe the people you're trying to reach.

4. Analyze the other ministries in your community. Form work teams and divvy up your local newspaper's ads for the surrounding churches or children's ministries. Have each team review one or two ads to report what they believe each church's brand is. What an eye-opening exercise! From one little ad, you'll pick up what's important to each ministry.

5. Synthesize the information. With all these activities to spark your thinking, brainstorm your ministry's unique calling. Combine your unique strengths, the understanding of your target audience, and how you'd differentiate your ministry from other children's ministries in your area.

6. Pray. Give thanks for all the ministries around you. And pray for guidance in how God will use your unique strengths, wonderful people, and special calling.

Joani Schultz
Loveland, Colorado


Jim Misloski is a discipleship and education pastor at a church in Fort Collins, Colorado. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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