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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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
Brand X, Y, or Z?
We explored branding for our ministry recently at church. Follow
1. Form a team. Gather about a dozen people who
2. Focus on the positive. Identify your
Just for fun, do the same thing with your pastor. Put your
3. Clarify your target audience. Ask people to
Then group piles of similar cards for each statement. Look for
4. Analyze the other ministries in your
5. Synthesize the information. With all these
6. Pray. Give thanks for all the ministries
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.