Saturday, February 04, 2012

Our Own Brand, Branding, and Christ’s Church

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a speech by an economist turned marketer, Peter Economides – I mean what else would he have studied if not Economics with a name like that.  Peter was speaking at a conference of the Hellenic Management Association on November 11, 2011.  He was talking about Greece and its current image.  But in essence I felt he was talking about you and me.   Here, in quotation marks, are some of his thoughts, followed by some of my own commentary, especially as they relate to the Church.

“Brand is what people think of you.  Branding is the process of managing your brand.”  What’s your brand?  What do people think of you?  Are you managing your brand?  How well are you managing your brand?  Most of us do not even bother to think about our brand, never mind worrying about managing it.  But the fact that we are not actively overseeing our brands does not mean they are not directing themselves without our involvement, and projecting a specific brand-type to others – often not the type we want to project.

“The ones who see things differently are not fond of rules.  And they have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them; disagree with them; glorify them; vilify them.  But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them . . .. Because they change things; they push the human race forward.  And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.”  There is a time and a place for rules – legal, moral, physical rules.  But they must be rules that make sense.  Rules that confine us in our thinking, in our achievements, in our ability to reach out to others, however, are rules that must be disregarded.  “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”  Economides quoted from an old Apple Inc. advertisement based on that thought which ended with the short phrase, “Let’s be crazy.”  Are we ready to be crazy for God?

If we are to succeed in managing our brand well, we must first ask ourselves the “why” question, and only later worry about the “how and the what”.  Economides suggests, “We need to own what we are and have first.  We are to express it.  We are to inspire and be inspired by it.”  This is true of all people, but it is particularly critical to who we are as Christians.  Do you know who you are positionally in the family of God?  Do you know what you have in Christ Jesus?  Are you able to express it clearly?  Can you share enough of your life’s experience in a way that keeps on inspiring you when you think about it?  Will telling others of what you have lived through also inspire others?  If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then you are defining your brand and managing it well.  And while there is to be growth and continuous improvement, the basis of the brand stays the same.  The image or icon your life portrays remains constant and reliable.  Think of Apple Inc. and Coca-Cola.  Neither one of these great companies has essentially changed their logos since their inception.

“Everything communicates.  Everything you say.  Everything you don’t say.  Everything you do.  Everything you don’t do.  Everything that happens to you.  Everything that does not happen to you.  Absolutely everything.  If something communicates, it builds impressions.  If it builds impressions, it builds ‘brand’.”  That is well worth thinking about.  Think of brand and the image of a presidential nominee.  Think of how one wrong action or word during an election campaign can cost him or her thousands, if not millions, of votes.  And it’s not only what they say during the campaign.  With electronic records, the media can drag out what a candidate said when they were 18 years old.  The media can expose a candidate’s personal life from that same age or earlier depending on the issue.  Each new piece of information, even if it is ancient history, can cause a new impression, of the individual involved.

“Branding is therefore the process of managing impressions . . .. Strong brands leave strong and consistent impressions.”  It’s our responsibility to help others form the impressions of us that we want to be public.  We have to help them “connect the dots” of why we are, who/what we are, and how we are what we are.  Economides goes one step further and suggests “It should be the ambition of every brand to be the protagonist of its category.”  Clearly that makes sense in a competitive environment.  But it is not necessary, and can be harmful, in a team environment, unless of course, each team member had a specific and different role than each other team member.  In that case, it behooves each member of the team with unique responsibilities to both emit and form the best impressions possible in his/her designated role.

If we are currently projecting a brand we do not want to project, we have an opportunity to manage it (via the active process of branding) and turn ourselves into a brand that we do want to project.  How do we do that?  It’s actually not as hard as one may think.  Economides says you “Change the mindscape.  You create different dots” than the ones you had put out there before.  You say things differently.  You do things you didn’t do before.  You stop doing some things you did before.  You apologize for the wrong you had.  You ask forgiveness for the right you neglected to do and do it.  You do all of this as often as necessary, and perhaps the rest of your life.  Then you intentionally “connect the dots to create a universally powerful, motivating, cohesive, consistent, and compelling narrative which guides behavior and shapes image.”  And the interesting thing is that this ‘narrative’ not only does that for you and me, but it does it for our audiences.

That’s all fine and dandy for an individual who wants to better manage his/her brand, but what about a community?  What about a church or a mission or a club or a family or a work team?  Well, Economides suggests, “We need a common brand narrative.  We need to tell the same story to each other and to our children, so we all get it, the same story.”  In my recent studies I have noticed how entire nations and even civilizations contribute to their demise when they don’t repeatedly share their ‘narrative’ among themselves, among their children, and their grandchildren.  Business empires fall because somewhere along the lines, key members of the organization got swept up in just making money that they forgot to keep repeating the corporation’s narrative to new employees and eventually it was forgotten.  And if insiders forget it, and don’t live by it, then external customers forget it, and they move on to newer and better narratives from other organizations.  This is also true of the Church.

Thinking of his beloved Greece and what it is going through right now, Economides went on to say, “What a nation thinks and feels determines what the world thinks and feels” about it.  He said an image that may help us understand this is one of an iceberg.   What the small portion that is visible on top of the water looks like, depends greatly on what the bigger portion of the iceberg below the surface looks like.  “When people feel great, they do great things.”  How are you feeling about who you are in Christ?  If it’s great, then you can do great things with Him, and for Him, in your service to others – be it family, colleagues, friends, congregants, others.

“Brand is community.  Community is brand.”  Economides was suggesting we need to embrace for our ‘brand’ and our ‘branding’ all that is available to us – public and private leadership or partnerships; corporate partners and participation; community involvement; etc.  So very often the Church of Jesus Christ likes to build walls and moats around its castles, allowing only a few in and hardly anyone out to service the world from which it was drawn.

Economides quoted the late founder and CEO of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs as having said, “Simple is harder than complex.  You have to work hard to get your thinking clean (in order) to make it simple.”  Then he gave two well-known examples of a message that is simple and clean, and yet is so difficult to arrive at.  Nike’s “Just Do It” was indeed most difficult an accomplishment as far as branding goes.  And the famous idiom “Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys” falls in that same category.  As simple as it sounds, it was difficult to finalize and it took guts to use.  Sometimes I wonder why the Church tries to make its message so complex.  Is it because we are too lazy to work on how we present the simpler message that God has for mankind?  Is it because we want to impress others about how complicated salvation is?  Is it because we find it much easier to argue over irrelevant positions that are non-essential to the foundational basis of what Jesus did, does, and will do, for every believer?  Whatever the reason, let’s stop and let’s start ‘branding’ the ‘brand’ that Jesus established on the cross.

Finally, Economides says, “We’re living in ‘Defining Moments’ of our history.”  He maintains that “Image is part of the way out” of the mess we are in.  How true that is of the Church of Jesus Christ.  As we see what Christ established, as we sense the mess we’ve made of it since then, and as we are aware of what is to come in the days ahead for the world, we need to take a serious look at how we manage our brand – individually, in groups, and as a single entity called the Body of Christ.

Ken B. Godevenos
Toronto, ON, February 4, 2012

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