Every successful business has figured out what it does well and who will benefit from its services. Apple pursues people who "Think Different." General Mills invites customers to join it in "Nourishing Lives". Ford Motor Company wants buyers whose goal is to "Go Further" (which is different than going farther).
Churches have greater reason to define who they are and who they are best equipped to reach.
This paper is about finding the who for your what. It's intended to help your church develop its brand (what it has to offer) and to identify its key audience (whom it seeks to serve).
My brand and audience
First, a word about myself (my brand) and the intended audience for this article.
I am not a professional marketer. I am a WELS pastor who is four years into retirement. It's a busy Baby-Boomer retirement. I volunteer as the executive director of a Confessional Lutheran nonprofit that ministers to church leaders in Southeast Asia. I serve on my church's communication team. I moderate a Facebook group called WELS Intersections. This group is interested in exploring the ways technology intersects with gospel ministry. Consequently, mastering branding, marketing, and online communication have become a ministry passion.
The intended audience for this paper is the novice church communication team member. I assume that most church communication volunteers fit that category. My goal is to provide them with a starting point for branding and audience identification.
You need it
Church communicator, can you describe your brand? What about your key audience? Without that information, your communication efforts will never produce the results you desire. We'll tackle why that is after we define brand and audience.
Branding expert Marty Neumeier describes brand as "who you are, what you do, and why you matter." He has added, "It's not what you say you are; it's what they [your audience] say you are" (The Brand Gap).
Matt Schwartz, founder and chief executive of Constructive, a branding and design firm, maintains, "Your brand [is] a combination of your mission, values, strategy, relationships, impact — and their value to the world. It's a gut feeling about the promises you make and your reputation for keeping (or breaking) them."
In addition, good branding will determine what it is that makes a particular church different from other churches or similar organizations. Branding answers the question, Why should someone look to this church — rather than some other organization — to meet their needs?
Your church's brand (and your church has a brand whether you try to shape it or not) is a mixture of how your community views you, the organization you really are, and the organization you aspire to be. The branding process recognizes that your church can dramatically influence how others view you. [Note 1]
An example: Burger King is a branding expert. In a marketing campaign that lasted until 2014, the company positioned itself as a restaurant that serves good food at a reasonable price within a short time. It also differentiated itself from other fast food restaurants. Its brand statement said it all in four words: "Have it your way." [Note 2]
When a church has clearly identified its brand, it has taken the first step in the branding process. The next step is to develop a strategy for communicating who it is and what it does in a way its key audience will understand and appreciate. For that to happen, a church must understand and appreciate its audience. A church must learn to speak that language.
A congregation's primary external audience comprises the people who most readily relate to the church's brand. They are the souls a church has been graced and equipped by God to reach most easily.
But doesn't the Great Commission call on the Lord's Church to reach everyone with the gospel? Absolutely. That is the job of the entire Church on earth. However, no Christian, no church and no church body has the gifts to reach people of every culture, language, or intellectual ability. Good stewardship requires we do a few things well, rather than many things poorly. So we focus ministry on a few key audiences. (See this footnote for more resources.)
An advantage to a sharp ministry focus is that it tends to attract people beyond the primary audience. It doesn't turn them away. Michael Persaud explains, "You may choose to target a demographic such as millennials and lean into the trends of this generation. This will create a church that is attractive to people who think like this and the amazing thing is that those who are not millennial will still be attracted because of the clarity of the brand." To repeat: When a church knows who it is, what it seeks to accomplish, what it is capable of, and with whom it can best work, it will end up attracting people beyond its key audience.
Determining your church's brand
How does a church determine its brand? An essential brand component is the theological principles we treasure. Theology unites the churches in the ELS (Evangelical Lutheran Synod), the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod), and the CELC (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference). But theology doesn't create cookie cutter congregations. Each church is uniquely shaped by its history, its leadership (particularly its pastor), its location, its resources, and its preferred ministry emphases. Each of those factors shape a church's brand.
Your church has already developed the core components of its brand. It's in your congregation's mission statement. It's in the vision statement. [Note 4] Your church's ministry goals and core values are part of your brand.
Your church's brand is also influenced by
- The age segments of your church and the gender balance within each segment.
- The socio-economic level of your average member.
- Your members' average level of education.
- The job skills most members hold.
- The approach your church takes toward ministry (e.g., business-like vs laid-back, leader-led vs consensus-led, etc.)
- Your church's style of worship (e.g., tradition, blended, contemporary)
Your church will also factor into the description of your brand the answers to questions like these:
- What makes your church one of a kind?
- What does your church do better than any other church or organizations?
- What values and beliefs unify your church and motivates it to action?
- Why would someone who is unchurched want to attend your church?
- What does your church want to be like in 5 years? In 10 years?
- If your church could do or be anything in the future, what would that be?
- If you could communicate only one message about your church, what would it be?
See these resources in the addenda for additional questions to help you develop your brand: Questionnaire for understanding your church's brand, and Church Brand Guide Questionnaire.
A congregation's brand statement includes — or, at least, reflects — the information suggested above. It encapsulates a church's mission, vision, goals, and values. Atonement Lutheran Church in Milwaukee offers an example of a brand statement on their website. Notice how this statement describes Atonement, its mission, vision, and goals, as well as its audience.
Reach | Gather | Grow | Serve
This is our motto and the words we live by every day since Atonement Lutheran Church opened its doors in 1930. As it was back then so it is today — through the power of God's almighty Word, the Atonement congregation:
REACHES into the community, the city, and the world spreading the Good News
GATHERS regularly in worship
GROWS in knowledge and understanding of the Word
SERVES others as an expression of Christ's love
Our vision: to grow as a unique, multi-ethnic urban destination drawn by the gospel of Christ to lovingly impact everyone in our city.
Our mission: to reach our communities with the good news about Jesus' atonement and gather around God's Word to grow in our faith and service in Christ's kingdom.
What we believe:
We believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe, teach and confess that we are saved not by human merits or works, but by God's grace alone, through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, as revealed in the Scriptures alone.
Atonement Lutheran Church is a member congregation of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)...
Determining your primary audience
If your congregation is new to branding, limit the identification of your key audiences to one group. Master outreach to your primary audience before focusing on additional audiences.
How does a church identify its key audience? An evaluation of your community's demographics is a place to start. Study your congregation's Mission InSite [Note 5] report to discover the characteristics of your neighbors. But don't stop there. Work to understand the psychographics in your community: the things your neighbors value, their goals for life, their perceived needs, their political affiliation, their relationship with Christianity.
Then you'll need to answer a key question. Within all of these segments of people in your parish area, who is our target audience? These questions will help clarify that.
- In what ways are the people who have joined your church in the last three years similar?
- How are the people in your congregation and the people in your community alike? For instance,
- What keeps them up at night?
- What do they value most?
- What is their chief goal in life?
- What perceived needs in your community does your congregation have resources to meet?
Next get to know the people in your parish area. Talk with
- the people who have shown interest in your church and the people who are looking to join your church.
- former members and former prospects. Find out why your church did not meet their expectations. This information will help you put limits on your key audience.
- the people in your parish area about issues like their life-goals, about their views of organized religion, and about their opinion of your church.
Discuss the information you gather about your target audience with your church staff, leaders, and groups. Use their input to sharpen your understanding of the people you are best equipped to reach with the gospel. [Note 6]
Finally, create a profile of a person who is part of your target audience. This is called a persona. [Note 7] Give this person a name. Find a stock photography picture to represent this person. Write their biography. Include their values, political views, hopes and dreams. Note how they come into contact with your church, what they like about your church, how they might become involved in your church. For an example of a persona see the addendum.
Brand and audience at work
Once your congregation has defined its brand and audience, it is ready to communicate its story clearly and consistently over time. [Note 8] Then your church can determine
- The types of ministry it will emphasize and those it won't.
- The normal route people take to active membership (in the business world this is called a marketing funnel). See Grace Journey in the addendum for an example.
- Content in articles and posts that match its ministry and appeals to its audience.
- The most understandable ways to describe its goals, programs, and mission.
- The media (website, email, social media, print, etc.) that best reaches its audience
- The colors that best portray its brand to its audience.
- The "voice" (tone, writing style, etc.) that speaks most appropriately to its audience.
- The typeface and page design that best communicates its brand.
- The style and content of photos and graphics that best describe the congregation.
- Branding is a process that continually needs revisiting and adjusting. You won't get everything right to start, That is okay. Start the process. Starting somewhere is better than not starting at all.
- The work of branding requires a consistent message over time. Eventually, a congregation's brand will impact every aspect of its ministry and every member on its rolls. This requires unflagging commitment to translate the words of a brand into action and attitude.
When brand and audience are understood, your church has found the who for its what. And your church is positioned to design a strategy for sharing with your audience the gospel's warm embrace. That's marketing. But that's a topic for a future GOWM presentation.
2 Do you remember these commercials?
4 A mission statement describes, in one succinct sentence, what an organization does. It provides the reason for an organization's existence. It is used to guide decisions about priorities, actions, and responsibilities.
A vision statement describes, in one succinct sentence, the ultimate change an organization desires to achieve. This goal will be clear, long-term, and inspirational.
5 WELS congregations have free access to this site through the synod's Evangelism Commission.
6 Here is a guide to identifying your key audience.
8 See the addenda for examples of a church applying its branding to communicating with its audiences. The addenda also provides two guides for creating your own manual (How to Make a Communications Manual & Style Guide and How to Create a brand style guide.)
Questionnaire for understanding your church's brand[Here is the source of this information]
Describe key aspects of how you do ministry
- What do you ask people to do (mission)?
- Why do you do what you do as a church (purpose)?
- What do you as a church hope to create (vision)?
- What values guides your organization and decision making (values)?
- Rank your target audience in order of importance
Brand StrategyGood brands should be more than the sum of the programs and services they provide. We serve a diverse community and this diversity must be reflected in our brand.
- What does your church do better than anyone else (church or non-churches)?
- What values and beliefs unify your staff and volunteers and drives their performance?
- List all the programs that allow you to do ministry.
- Why was your church created?
Brand VoiceCommunication is a very important aspect of any brand. The way we communicate sets the tone for how our audience feels about us. Not only will people have a clear idea of what YOUR CHURCH stands for, but they will also be able to easily connect with our brand.
- What are some words that describe the personality of your church? *
- Our voice is what makes our personality stand out. What should be the tone that we use to express our message feel like?
Brand VisualsNow that we understand the essence of THE CHURCH brand, we must also understand the specifics that build the base for it. Without the specifications that follow, we would not be able to create a cohesive and powerful brand.
- If you could do or be anything in the future, what would it be?
- Why would someone who is unchurched want to attend your church? *
- If you could communicate a single message about your church, what would it be?
- How do you measure success?
- What are the potential barriers to your success?
- What are the trends and changes that affect your church?
Brand ExecutionEstablishing a strong and consistent first impression is very important in reflecting a cohesive brand. In this section we will explore how our brand is executed throughout our spaces, series, collateral materials and website.
- What other churches do you admire most and why?
- What non-church brands do you admire most and why?
- Where will you be in 5 years?
- Where will you be in 10 years?
- How do you market your church?
Brand StylesBased on the designs you picked, here are the styles you'd like the designers to explore. Your answers should be based on what appeals to your audience.
Is your audience more attracted to classic design or trendy design?
Classic 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10 Trendy
Is your audience more mature or youthful?
Mature 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10 Youthful
Should your branding be more masculine or feminine?
Masculine 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10 Feminine
Should your brand be more playful or sophisticated?
Playful 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10 Sophisticated
Is your audience driven by options that are economical or luxurious?
Economical 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10 Luxurious
Should your logo design be more abstract or literal?
Abstract 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10 Literal
Church Brand Guide Questionnaire[Here is the source of this information.]
This questionnaire is part of a discovery process to help you discover what strengths your brand should be built around. These questions are typically used when designing a church's logo.
Why was your church created?
What is your church's mission?
Who are you called to reach?
Rank your target audiences in order of importance.
How do you want to be perceived by each audience?
What are your 3 most important goals?
What is unique about your church?
What does your church do better than anyone else (churches or non-churches)?
What values and beliefs unify your staff and volunteers and drives their performance?
What other churches do you admire most and why?
Why would someone who is unchurched want to attend your church?
How do you market your church?
What are the trends and changes that affect your church?
Where will you be in 5 years? In 10 years?
How do you measure success?
What are the potential barriers to your success?
If you could do or be anything in the future, what would it be?
If you could communicate a single message about your church, what would it be?
Grace Journey (Marketing Funnel)
This diagram illustrates how people who have no knowledge of your congregation may come into contact with your church (e.g., personal invitation, website, social media, etc.). Once they are aware your church exists, they become visitors, although not necessarily visitors to your facilities. They do research, exploring your website and the other digital media your church produces. They pay attention to printed materials they receive. If they feel comfortable with what they find, they become prospects. They move toward committing to joining your church. For example, they begin to attend worship services, they share contact information with the church so you can stay in contact with them, they take steps toward membership and involvement. Finally, they become active members and continue to grow spiritually toward active discipleship, ultimately helping other "strangers" to become members.
A congregation will think through the path strangers take toward discipleship so it knows how to provide people with appropriate materials and contacts at the appropriate times.
Of course, it is the Holy Spirit who directs and empowers the "grace journey." A church will create opportunities to put the Spirit and souls in contact with each other by sharing God's Word in various ways. Having a road map like this, assists a congregation in that process.
Communication Guidelines — Victory of the Lamb/Franklin
How to Make a Communications Manual & Style Guide[Here is the source of this information.]
- Avoid long paragraphs. Make your communications manual easily scannable.
- Include a Table of Contents & Index for easy reference.
- Study a few other churches' communications manuals to make sure you include everything you want to cover.
Start with Mission & Vision
- Explain the mission of the church and how adhering to a communications manual will help you accomplish that mission.
- List your communications values (how do you prioritize communications, your time, etc?) and how they help you serve the ministries of the church and the greater church mission.
- Explain the purpose of the communications manual.
- Start with the most important thing first (brand consistency).
- Are you a house of brands or a branded house?
- It ultimately doesn't matter too much what your branding style is. What matters is that everyone agree and stick to one style consistently.
- List the basics: how you are going to list your campuses, how you are going to list dates, times (am, a.m.), etc.
- Include a list of things to watch for (abbreviations, etc.).
- List any internal conventions that you're going to use as a staff.
- Provide a quick glance guide of proper/improper usage.
- Give some tips for writing for various media (web, email, print bulletin, video, etc.).
- Logo Guide
- "Corporate" Colors
- Tell people how to download or access logos in various formats if they need them.
- Can any ministry send a mass email at any time?
- How often should folks expect to have their event or ministry included in the platform announcements, etc.?
- Can each ministry have their own social account or is there only one for the church?
- When can exceptions be made?
- What voice/style does the church use for their social accounts?
- Do you have any templates staffers can use for graphics?
- Any other requirements (like always include the church logo on the corner of the graphic)?
- Any rules for staff posts on their personal blogs?
How to Request Help from Communications
- What are your request forms and where can they be found?
- How much lead time is required for various requests?
Other Church Communications Standards
- Email Signature — give an example of how you'd like everyone's email signature to be formatted.
- Voicemail Message — give an example of what you'd like everyone to say on their voicemail message (and how often to check church voicemail).
How to Create a Brand Style GuideBy Sheri Felipe
[Here is the source of this information.]
If your church has been around for a while, chances are your brand has already been established in the minds of your congregation and community. It's the unique personality of your church that's been shaped by every print piece, sermon, Facebook post and every other interaction. So how do you turn this into something tangible to keep you communicating on the right path? A brand style guide could be the answer.
What Is a Brand Style Guide?A brand style guide creates a set of standards based on all the things your church is doing well in communicating who you are. It simply gives structure to how to communicate the brand consistently. And consistency is necessary in order to communicate with excellence.
Practically, the brand style guide will be used as a reference by other staff members and volunteers when creating communication for their ministry or the church as a whole. If the missions team wants to send out a postcard, what logo should they use? Can the women's ministry change the font in the logo to be more feminine for the banner they are printing? The brand style guide should address these issues.
What Should It Include?
A comprehensive style guide can be as lengthy as a small novel, but don't let that scare you. A one-page reference sheet is better than nothing. The key is just to get started. Here are some things you can consider including:
- Brand overview, tagline and key messages
- Logo usage
- Other visual elements
- Writing guidelines & editorial guide (we've covered how to create an editorial style guide)
- Web standards
- Ministry sub-brands
- Color palettes
- Photography usage
- Your communications process
To help you get an idea of other things you can add, take a look at some of these corporate style guides. Many of the items included in these are applicable for churches as well.
How Do I Get Started?
Starting from scratch can easily become an overwhelming task. Consider beginning with a one-page document and taking on the rest in stages. First, put the brand into words. What are the values you're trying to communicate? What are some key words that describe your church? Condense these ideas into a paragraph. Anything you produce should align with these statements.
Then move on to the visual. Even if your church has an awful logo or maybe no logo at all, begin to establish standards for how to communicate your church's brand visually. You'll probably realize that you already have guidelines in place, they've just never been written down. Address what logo to use and when to use it, and what colors are acceptable. Don't have a logo and just using text? Then, specify what typeface to use. Including some examples of incorrect logo usage can be helpful too.
A brand style guide can be an ever-evolving document that changes as your church grows. It should be as unique as your church, and ultimately help your church as a whole communicate the same message in a consistent voice. Here are a couple examples of fairly simple church brand style guides for inspiration: West Ridge (PDF) and Whitewater Crossing (PDF)
Always using the correct logo in the proper colors or understanding why the church should use one font over a dozen others is often not something people think about. There may only be a few staff members at your church who see the importance of adhering to communication standards. Having a brand standards guide can help establish legitimacy to something that many feel is irrelevant, but most importantly it can help to get everyone communicating on the same page and working toward the same common goal — representing the church with excellence.
About Sheri Felipe: Sheri Felipe is a freelance graphic designer and writer, with a passion for branding and communications in the church. She currently lives with her husband in West Palm Beach, Florida USA.
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