The Brand’s Working, Drop it!

I got a note from a colleague that instructed me to change a key component of the advertising of the denomination for which I work. The note was unusual for many reasons, not the least of which was the naivete it revealed about communications strategies.

A group of treasurers had decided, the note said, that the "theme" of the campaign had outlived its usefulness. That this was an opinion based on personal perspectives escaped the treasurers who otherwise are people who demand facts and figures before making decisions.

In fact, the research shows the brand promise–which they refer to as a theme–has not only worked to establish an identity that is sticking in the perception of people who don’t know the church or are hostile to it, it is far from being obsolete. It’s only begun to be appropriated and understood.

As with any message in the volatile media landscape in which we exist, it must be adjusted, redefined and assessed continually. A brand is a living relationship. It’s dynamic.

Moreover, in the territory of the mind there is no deed that grants permanent recognition of an organization or a brand. It takes constant repetition and reinforcement to maintain awareness in a world in which the average person is confronted with more than 20,000 messages a day. When this brand was created, the awareness of the church did not register in unaided recall among the target population. Eight years later unaided recall is between 30 and 40%.

I can only imagine what would happen if I were the CEO of a major corporation that had seen a 40% increase in its favorable rating and actually took the advice of the accounting department when they said without basis in research, without knowledge of the marketing strategy, or future plans, "OK, that’s done, now let’s move on. Change it."

I’ve written ad nauseam in this blog about the inexperience of mainline denomination leaders in media. So I won’t go there again but to say that we are on a steep learning curve and it’s urgent that we catch up to the present as best we can while also trying to stay abreast of the current wave of technology as we look to the future. And that’s the challenge these oldline religious organizations face. It’s a challenge they may, or may not, be up to. Only time and experience will tell.

I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.

10 Responses to “The Brand’s Working, Drop it!”

  1. Tom Clemow March 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    Right on point!

    • Larry March 2, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

      Thanks Tom.

  2. Creed Pogue March 2, 2009 at 9:40 pm #

    I was one of the people at the GCF&A Quadrennial Training where we heard a lot of doom and gloom about the financial situation. The response from a broad cross-section of the conference treasurers and CFA leadership in the room was that UMCOM should put out the message that the UMC is a port in the storm, a place for faith to help people reconnect with what is really important.

    There can be a lot of arguments about whether the image given of the UMC through the media campaign actually helps or hurts in either bringing new people in the door or bringing back previously lost sheep. But, that wasn’t the point of the remarks.

    Any corporation or other organization that keeps on the same message regardless of the surrounding situation risks being left out in the cold.

    • Larry March 3, 2009 at 5:07 am #

      Thanks for expanding the subject. None of the points you list in your note were conveyed in the note I received. In fact, your point is correct. In this time of financial crisis, the church does have a message that connects with what is truly important in life. Communication should start with a consideration of the concerns of the audience and work back from that with a relevant message. Thanks for adding to this discussion.

  3. Debbie Maltbie March 4, 2009 at 7:51 am #

    Interesting. I am one of those treasurers that attended the gathering you reference and I don’t recall any meaningful discussion regarding the existing campaign. In fact, I don’t recall that we were given time to dialog about the issue at all. We were introduced to a new marketing campaign, which seemed to be well received, and were asked our throughts about the existing campaign. Whatever input was received was off the cuff and certainly could not be considered reflective of the entire audience. Since when does your agency make major decisions based on random comments from one group of stakeholders, in this case treasurers and finance chairs?

    • Larry March 4, 2009 at 8:03 am #

      Hi Debbie,
      It is interesting. The communication I received was phrased in a way that left the conclusion the campaign had been critiqued. So your response is helpful. Something’s amiss.

      Never the less, I welcome discussion of the campaign and am happy to provide information to inform that discussion.

      As for agency’s responding to off-the-cuff opinions, we don’t. That’s the point of the post and the one that follows. We need to have data upon which to base decisions and we need to collect the best, most complete and comprehensive data possible. And, moreover, we need to have specific data about specific audiences. Only after this is collected should be design communications.

      Thank you for your note and for adding to this discussion. My best wishes.

  4. Bill Wyman, Treasurer March 4, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    Larry, Your perspective seems to be more about discounting other professions than uplifting your own. Since you have written “ad nauseam in this blog about the inexperience of mainline denomination leaders in media”, seems like you should be training, leading and convincing rather than discounting others “naivete”.
    Finally, there was no negative consensus on your “branding” material at the gcfa event last week. In fact, seemed to me persons thought the church should let it be known we are “a port in the storm”.
    It is unhelpful to your work to discount your clients.

    • Larry March 4, 2009 at 2:31 pm #

      I certainly have no desire to diminish clients, or anyone else. The point I’ve been making is that the mainline communions have disengaged from public media and lost their voice. As a result, they don’t take part in the public dialogue about issues of concern to them. Their voice gets left out. For United Methodists, this means the Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace doesn’t get referred to. Consider the claims made that the Sep. 11 Tragedy, the Asian tsunami and Katrina were acts of an angry God. That isn’t Wesleyan theology. We need to reclaim a place in the conversation. Thanks for your note. I take your critique to heart.

  5. Lonnie Chafin March 4, 2009 at 8:44 am #

    i was there, too. want to say i don’t recall any conversation about the campaign at all. the only remark i remember was an inspired speech from rev. felix burrows of kansas east that the voice of the church was more important now than ever. that we have a message of compassionate service for the hurt and of convicting justice for the greedy.

    too often people will avoid dicussion about a ministry by turning it into an argument about resources. it’s the lazy person’s means of sabatogue when they are unable to make cogent arguments for directing energy towards their preferred undertakings. but i resent that this person is putting in the treasurer’s mouths something we clearly did not agree to.

    lastly, i will say that if one reads the conference treasurer’s emails about the need to prevent pension and benefit programs from overwhelming conference ministries they would come to understand that love of a vital (and well branded) church is our primary motivation.

    hope you’re well. keep doing the good work.

    • Larry March 4, 2009 at 8:54 am #

      Hi Lonnie,
      Thanks for your perspective. Looks like what we have here is a failure to communicate! At least, what was reported to me overstated the conversation that actually occurred. It points to a key issue. When we rely on anecdote and personal perceptions to evaluate a communications campaign, advertisement or message, we’re on shakey ground. The filters we all have, the experiences that kick in and affect our judgment and the context in which we live makes our judgments highly personal. They can be trusted, of course, in so far as they work for us. But they don’t work for everyone, therefore, we need research, analysis, testing and review if we are to send relevant messages to a broad audience.
      Thanks for you comment. Good to hear from you!

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