People don’t like the idea of branding. Not only do we not like the idea of branding, but if you mention marketing, market-testing, and market research, some guys get downright angry, especially when it comes to church life. I was once in a meeting when someone mentioned that a particular church had discerned the people they were marketing to and were creating a brand to reach them. One guy in the room almost vomited! It just didn’t seem right to him that churches, of all things, would calibrate their music, tone of messages, building, dress, and look to a certain group. Truth is, something about that idea turns my stomach too, but I do understand it as a simple reality.
Every organization has a brand.
Branding should not be that upsetting. Branding is simply deciding to be intentional about how you are perceived. And we all do it already. The cars we drive, clothes we wear, computers we use, and the way we comb our hair are all small ways that we are already managing our brands. Some will say that many of these decisions are based on economics, and I bet that’s true, but they’re not ONLY made by economics. We are constantly giving people clues and cues about who we are, what they can expect from us and what we think are important. This is branding. Branding reflects how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to perceive us. For those of us on Twitter, Facebook, and especially for those of us who blog, all we do in our online life contributes to our brand. For preachers, how you dress, your personal grooming, and how you speak contribute to your brand. People are making their decisions about you and your message based – in part – on these factors.
Here’s what some of you are saying right now, “Sean, that is terribly superficial.” I agree. But allow me to pushback for just a moment. 1 Samuel 16 says,“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” As much as we love the sentiment of God looking at the heart, we can’t forget that both parts of that statement are true – man looks at the outward appearance. I’m all for us looking less at outward appearance, but I’ve never heard this text recited as a couple exchanges marriage vows. Appearances matter to us.
The way you are perceived matters.
It especially matters if you or your organization has something to say or something to sell. If you’re a pastor, singer, preacher, minister, teacher, writer and you’re trying to increase your impact, the product is not what you say or write or sing. To an extent, the product is you. I learned this the hard way. When I became the Senior Minister at Redwood Church I thought my success would be determined by my competence. I was thoughtful and well-trained. I was competent, but I learned that I needed more than content. I need to formulate, enhance and nurture how people felt around me. How people feel about and around you is a brand question. And the answer to this question will determine clicks to your blog, speaking invitations, the stickiness of your organization and whether people buy your products.
So, what steps can you take to better your brand?
- Look In The Mirror. You must ruthlessly assess yourself to understand what others may or may not be thinking about you. For instance, over the last few months I’ve lost over 40lbs. Besides generally better health, much of my motivation is that I know that overweight people have a harder time being seen as competent, effective leaders. At the same time, a good friend of mine was transitioning from youth work to senior ministry. He determined that he needed to lose 25lbs to get a preaching job. He lost the weight. He got a job. People generally perceive the overweight as undisciplined. That’s not necessarily a fact but it is a perception. Point being that your lack of perception about your brand is helping people draw conclusions about you that may or may not be true.
- Listen To Others. Here’s a newsflash: People are talking about you. What are they saying? What are they saying that’s underneath what they’re saying? You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to like it, but if people are saying it, it may be your brand. A few years ago an elder told me about some people who told him, “Sean doesn’t seem that friendly. He never talks to me.” A few years before that, a visitor at a retreat, whom I hardly even knew was there, asked me why I had gone the entire weekend without talking to him. I knew the reason. I never assume that everyone wants to talk to me. In response to this feedback, I began greeting every church member at the door, and smiling all the time (I’m one of those people whose face doesn’t necessarily reflect his feelings). In a short time, smiles and handshakes at the door became hugs. Hugs became conversations. And now I find myself smiling and saying hello to everyone, everywhere. I have considerably increased my perceived friendliness. I was always friendly, people can just see it better now.
- Determine Your 5 Words. Whether considering personal interactions, weekend worship services, a customer visit to your store, or when someone engages whatever you’ve created, a great question to ask yourself is this: What 5 words do I want people to use when describing me? I had lunch with a local minister about a year ago. Throughout the dialogue he was distant and disinterested. I asked lots of what I thought were great questions and nothing seemed to inspire any passion for him. When I left lunch, I thought, “No wonder he is on his way out and the church is bringing on a new guy.” After that meeting, I would never recommend him for speaking engagements, mentoring or anything else. I was left with bad words. And sadly, that was his brand. You don’t want that to be you. Think about what you want people to say about you and allow that to drive your interactions. My words are: Generous, Bright, Interested, Gracious, and Irenic (though hardly anyone uses that word).
Your brand is important, whether you think it is or not. Consciousness to your brand will give you sensitivity to your audience – what they need and how to communicate it to them. If you focus on your brand, you’ll see your opportunities increase.
What are you doing to create and strengthen your brand? What tips and helps can you offer to help all of us better our brand?