I help lead a marketing company that specializes in brand-experience. We not only help develop, define and promote our clients’ brands but we develop strategies to ensure that whenever someone experiences those brands that their experience supports and reinforces the brand. Frequently I think and write about the potential downside of church marketing as in my recent post, The Commoditization of God. Regardless of where you fall on that subject there are certain realities to consider, and one of those is that every church is a brand. 

By brand I’m not talking about your church building, name or even your logo, but rather what is behind those things. What are your priorities, what do you stand for, how do you impact others and contribute to their lives, what is your mission? All of those things and more contribute to your brand. Your brand is the very essence of who you are. Brand is a powerful thing and as a marketer I would say most churches don’t consider how critical of a role it plays. And of course where there’s a brand there is brand-experience.

When I was a pastor I considered myself not only a brand champion but a brand-experience expert — which has translated well into my current role. A large part of my pastoral role was making sure brand and experience were in alignment. While that involved much more than the public gatherings that seems to be a good place to focus. Consider this: when people experience your brand do the two things align? If your brand includes community involvement, how much do people experience that? If it boasts of relevancy how is that experienced? If your brand speaks to the poor and disenfranchised how is that played out when people gather each week?

Just some thoughts that sort of streamed through my mind this week. So, what’s streaming through your mind right now? Is the brand-experience at the church you attend in proper alignment? Let me know your thoughts!

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As a professional marketer I understand the power of advertising, promotion, public relations and the various ways of placing product in front of the public to increase awareness and sales. Put simply, it’s all about making enough memorable, repeated exposures so when consumers consider purchasing a product in your category they’ll remember yours and make a purchase that adds to your bottom line. 

This last week I read a book review in Advertising Age for Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age. Although I haven’t yet read the book the topic certainly got my attention. I’ve been thinking lately about how churches should market themselves, and although I’ve not developed any iron clad theories it seems the Bible’s idea of people sharing the good news with each other is a great way to start. 

Two things in this review especially caught my attention: The first was this, The book’s author, Mara Einstein calls religion a “commodity … packaged and sold the same way as other marketed goods and services.” To me that implies there is money to be made which seems to be somewhat of a mockery. While I hope people don’t view religion or God as a commodity my fear is that many may. Second, the author states that, “If spiritual hunger isn’t driving people to the big-box style of worship, then eventually the religious consumer is “going to feel disappointed.” This is a statement I agree with.

While I believe God can use a wide variety of ways to create spiritual hunger, I question the long term effectiveness of slick campaigns or exposure events. Sure, they may produce quicker results than people sharing the good news with each other one at a time but I’m not convinced the result is as long-lasting as what might be possible otherwise. In addition, once this pattern begins what needs to happen to maintain momentum? Does the weekly battle to “top the previous week” only further erode the real value of the gospel and increase the level of commoditization? 

What are your thoughts?

Yesterday morning I led a meeting reminding some of our company’s leaders of how things get done. How projects get completed and the order in which they’re executed most effectively. Every now and then, even in a professional firm like ours people need to be refreshed on what’s central to what we do. Sure, the fun part about marketing, at least for most people is the look and feel of what we create. Whether it’s a print ad, a direct mail piece, a web site, a 30 second spot or any host of deliverables, the fun is in the design. But as marketers we have to concern ourselves with the message before the design, and the message can only flow from the strategy which is developed through in-depth research.  

While I was leading this discussion I reminded the group that in my former career as a pastor I applied the same principles each week. I didn’t consider what I did on Sundays to be marketing but I most definitely worked very hard at honing the central message of the entire service (I wrote about it several days ago in fact). It wasn’t something I did hastily, nor was it done haphazardly. Whether it was a sermon or an entire service the central message was what everything else grew out of. The message, or the Big Idea drove the design.

While I’m convinced that approach makes a significant impact I believe even more strongly in the “So What!” quality of a take away. When my wife and I were pastoring on a weekly basis one of us (whichever one of us didn’t deliver the sermon) would conclude with a take away that helped apply the central message or theme to real life. Instead of people leaving the service and saying “So what!” they could leave knowing how to respond. It was a call to action. So, how often do you leave a service saying, “So What”? What do you do with what you hear and experience each week? Is it working for you?

… continued from Part 1

Lest you write me off as some sort of disgruntled, out of touch midwesterner who doesn’t understand the unique demands of today and the need for marketing and positioning, I should remind you that my profession is in marketing. I fully understand the need to state your distinctives and your position in the marketplace in order to attract the audience you’re targeting. I know how competitive the marketplace is and how hard you have to work to gain and retain customers. I’m very familiar with marketshare and the challenge to maintain it once you’ve achieved it. My problem is not in understanding these things, my problem is that we seem to have boiled the church down to a set of marketing principles and have just become another consumer product of American society. Was this God’s idea?

What happened to the notion of us going into the world and being Christ to those around us. Aren’t we supposed to be God’s evangelists? How can we evangelize if we’re busy supporting the activities of the 7 day a week church? Who has time for evangelism? Have we converted the church into some sort of holy, “members only” community center so we don’t have to go to the real community center where the “sinners” hang out? Has the church become our hired hands when it comes to evangelism?

There are no easy answers to these and a multitude of other questions. That’s part of what makes it so complicated! Forgive me if I sound angry, I’m not. I’m passionate! My soul hungers for authentic Christian community. Not the cheap, consumer version being replicated across America. I wonder what God thinks about all of this?

Just another stream of consciousness. Thanks for reading!

I was eating lunch with a friend (who had also been a pastor before changing jobs) a few years ago and made the comment that I thought church had become far more complicated than God ever intended when the early church began in the book of Acts. In those early days I doubt believers were too caught up in the whole idea of what we’re going to do next week to keep the momentum going from this week. Or, how do we get those first time guests to come back again? I also doubt they got caught up in the whole competitive thing of trying to out program the church down the street.

So why are we so consumed with our performance as churches? When did we become more concerned with our position in the market place and our unique features as a church rather than celebrating what Christ has done and is doing in our lives? How did our machinery get to be so big and complicated that it has become more of our focus than equipping the people to do the work of ministry?

Thoughts?

…more coming soon!