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Expanding Your Mission with Marketing and Branding

Time-tested business strategies that help your membership grow.

“If Fortune 500 companies believe it’s important to invest time and resources to grow the market share of something like bleach by 2%, why should the church settle for less when lives are at stake?” Dawn Nicole Baldwin, lead strategist, AspireOne

Historically, they are words that might sound like they have no place in the world of worship. But in today’s world, “marketing” and “branding” are important concepts when it comes to planting and growing churches. Effectively determining what distinguishes your church from others, developing your distinctive message, deciding what group(s) of people you want to reach, and delivering your message via a consistent set of words, symbols/logos, and colors all draw upon marketing and branding principles that have evolved in the business world over time.

Marketing is the process of creating a strategy and leveraging the right tools to ensure that a message is heard by the right people, according to Dawn Nicole Baldwin, lead strategist at AspireOne, a Chicago, Illinois-based strategy and creative services firm that focuses on helping organizations, particularly churches and nonprofit organizations, grow through strategic branding. “When churches are intentional about authentically reflecting who they are,” she notes, “branding can help by making a promise of what to expect.”

“We’re not talking about slick promotional efforts, manipulation, or trying to pretend to be something you’re not, but about the church authentically reflecting who they are and what a guest can expect,” says Baldwin. Communicating effective marketing and branding messages is an important part of spreading the Gospel, notes Kevin D. Hendricks, labs director for the Center for Church Communication, a Los Angeles-based non-profit group organized by communications professionals who have been serving the church and mainstream clients since 1998.

“People don’t just wake up on Sunday any more and immediately think, ‘Gee, I should go to church today,’” says Hendricks. As a result, “Churches need to be reaching out to people and encouraging them to comeand one effective way to do that is through marketing communications.” People won’t know you’re there unless you tell them, he points out, “So it is up to you to develop ways to connect, communicate, and bring them in.”

Getting it Done
Building a brand is kind of like building a house, according to Baldwin. “You need a planor blueprintsbefore you get started,” she notes. Many churches jump right in to developing toolslogos, style guides, color palettes, marketing campaigns, etc.before deciding on just what it is they want to accomplish, Baldwin says, “which is kind of like getting an interior decorator to build your house.”

In 2005, independent, nondenominational Brownsburg Christian Church in Brownsburg, Indiana (just outside Indianapolis) wanted a branding strategy to help increase its impact in the community, according to Baldwin.

“The church realized that the majority of people coming to the church lived outside the city of Brownsburg,” recounts Baldwin, “and the leadership team realized they had become a regional church, and needed a new name and a communications strategy that would support that vision.” The church also offered three styles of worship services, she notes, “and was beginning to feel like three ‘mini-churches’ as opposed to one church with three services.”

AspireOne worked with senior leadership during 2005 to 2006 to fully understand the vision for the church, as well as to define the people they were reaching and how they were reaching them, says Baldwin. This resulted in a complete rebranding for the church, as well as a focused marketing effort that reintroduced the church to the community.

“The name was changed to Connection Pointe Christian Church to reflect the connection between an individual, God, his/her community, and the churchand [to] emphasize that this is a point where lives are changed,” Baldwin explains. Meanwhile, “The logo was redesigned to reflect the new vision, along with several key touch points to help establish the new brand: the website (www.connectionpointechurch.org), the weekend bulletin, invitation cards, direct mail campaign, newspaper ad, signage, and stationery.”

The new brand was launched Easter 2006 with a “Reconnect” campaign, adds Baldwin, “built on the theme of reconnecting with God, the church, oneself, and others, with the tagline, ‘reflect, recalibrate, refuel.’” The results? Easter attendance in 2005 was 3,557, she reports; in 2006 it was 4,749, and in 2007 it was 5,453

In another example of putting this concept to work, Presque Isle Wesleyan Church, a Maine church with a congregation of 600, wanted to get a specific message across to the potential members it needed to grow, according to Mark MacDonald, head of PinPoint Creative Group, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based creative and strategic marketing communications consultant that assisted the church in this endeavor.

“The church wanted to make the point that it was not just a place where people come to church, but was instead a place for people looking for true spiritual growtha church dedicated to education, as opposed to just creating believers that worship together,” recounts MacDonald.

As part of the process of helping a church effectively market/brand itself, Pinpoint conducts interviews with a number of church members regarding what they feel is unique about their church and what they want it to be known for.

“We listen for ‘buzzwords’ that come out of these interviews, and then we start wordsmithing,” MacDonald explains. From there, “We come up with a short statement on where the church wants to go, and through the use of words and visual images, try to create an emotion that goes with it.”

Working with Presque Isle Wesleyan, “We came up with a theme of ‘empowering people to thrive,’ which has really resonated throughout the congregation,” says MacDonald. Visual images and statements building upon this theme (as seen on the church’s website at www.piwc.org) are used in the church’s various internal and external media, “and are repeated and reinforced at church services,” he says.

Some Tips
Does your church feel the urge to undertake marketing/branding efforts as part of a growth strategy? Here are some tips from Dawn Nicole Baldwin, lead strategist, of AspireOne:

  • Avoid visual clich├ęs - “Some common mistakes include trying to use traditional church imagery. The cross, lamb, dove, mountain, etc. have appeared in way too many church logos,” says Hendricks. “It’s hard to do anything original with themkind of like a burger joint having a hamburger as a logowell duh!”
  • Research your market - Define who it is you are trying to reach with your efforts. “Identify what your community is like, and how far afield you will have to go,” says MacDonald. Remember that marketing and branding messages are targeted to both internal and external audiences, he notes. Good recordkeeping helps you keep a handle on the characteristics of your internal audience (e.g., your congregation), “while demographic studies can be done to define your external audience.”
  • Think like a business - There’s no reason why a church shouldn’t leverage marketplace best practices for marketing and branding techniques.

“Branding, marketing, and communications in general comprise just another strategic channel for delivering the vision of the churchmuch like the weekend messages, mission trips, or care ministries,” says Baldwin.

Strategy and creative services firm
(815) 899-2947 www.aspireone.com

Center for Church Communication
Non-profit group of communications professionals serving church and mainstream clients
(213) 201-1818, ext. 214 (Kevin Hendricks) or (213) 201-1818, ext. 205 (Brad Abare)

PinPoint Creative Group
Creative and strategic marketing communications consultancy
(336) 765-3800 www.pinpointcreative.com

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