Strategy & Marketing

Branding is Action. It’s about Doing.

In his book “Culture Making,” Andy Crouch makes the premise that Christians talk a lot about changing culture, but ultimately, to change the culture, we have to make better culture.  In other words, stop talking about it and start making better stuff – movies, TV programs, online projects, books, music, art, etc…

I thought about that recently in the context of branding.   Since I wrote the book “Unique,” a lot of potential clients come to me asking our team to “brand them.”  They want to discover what their brand identity should be and want an answer right now.  I understand their concern, but the process doesn’t work that way.

First, branding isn’t what we say it is – it’s what they say it is.  In other words, while we try our best to shape the message and story that surrounds a person, project, or organization, it’s ultimately what happens in the mind of the audience or consumer that matters.  The big question is:  “What do they think of when they think of you?”

So at Cooke Media Group, although we often do a brand evaluation – the evaluation is most effective at discovering what’s wrong with the existing brand – if there is one.

Then – we create a new story by creating stuff – a new logo design, a new website, television spot or program, digital media, and more.  Obviously, we shape the story as we go, but the truth is having a “brand” doesn’t matter if you don’t have a presence in the marketplace.   Sometimes, developing that brand story takes a long time and happens as a process.

Branding being a “strategy” is a limited way of thinking.  Today, branding is action.  It happens in the process of creating new projects.  It’s the residue of innovation.  One non-profit organization spent $250,000 developing a “brand strategy” and ended up with a 400 page report they had absolutely no idea what to do with.  Branding is not a religion – it’s a tool.

Which would you rather have?  A compelling presence in the marketplace, or a 400 page report?

Branding is about doing.  It’s organic, and can only be discovered through creating new products, ideas, and projects.

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  1. Phil,

    As a former business person with 20+ years of senior management in the private sector, I couldn’t agree more.  The desire to make change is not change.  You need a clear perspective of the organization including its strengths/weaknesses and an understanding of its identity and mission.  Additionally, an organization should look at its place in the (dare I say it) market place and seek to differentiate itself from like organizations and missions.  As the dollars get harder to raise and donors consolidate their giving to fewer organizations, major donors will be seeking differentation.  This is key if the organization is to remain donor worthy.  But you’re right…you must "do" your mission.    

    However, at the risk of being obvious and hyper-spiritual, I posit the following:

    * To make a better culture, you must make better social groups. 

    * To make better social groups, you must make better people. 

    * To make better people, you need the preaching and adherence   

    to the Scriptures (in the fullest sense – not just salvation).

    The Scriptures are the only source of power for genuine and lasting change. 

    So, while I am all for renewing the culture (all of it…arts, sports, politics…all of it), can someone tell our Pastors that something is off with our Churches!  If they’d get it right, I suspect our jobs would be easier or, for those of us in para-Church ministries, altogether unnecessary. 

  2. I love and hate branding and I love and hate the science it has become. I love how google and on-demand infinitely available data allows you to measure the effectiveness of your brand equity every waking second; and I hate the insatiable animal it has become. I love Seth Godin’s idea of "drip, drip, drip…you win." And I hate the idea of leading a tribe and how responsible it makes me. I love that facebook brings me scads of traffic and doesn’t cost a dime, and I hate that now I am compelled to be transparent and live the brand after 5pm when the office closes. I love that changing one word in one line of Google Adword text increases my sales by .02%, and I hate that I cannot blindly buy magazine ads because they become less and less effective every day.

    I couldn’t agree with Phil’s branding axiom more: Branding IS action. The way I would and have explained branding is that it is a story; you have a story to tell and your true brand is the story your customers, clients, followers tell after they have encountered you.

    My favorite "brand" in the last 100 years? Mother Theresa, who can’t tell her story?

    BTW my answer to your question at the end: Give me a compelling presence and I will write you that report.

  3. Yes and branding is about telling people who you are and what makes you stand out. Step one is to take a hard look inside the organization and agree on what makes you unique. Know your strengths and find your voice. Your "brand" is that voice to the public.

  4. I think branding is the process of seperating the wheat from the chaff. It’s not about  slapping a tiger on a cereal box or put a "cool" cat on the front of a bag of chips It’s no longer just about recognizing the product it’s about relating to the product. I think that character will count in a way it hasn’t in the past. You can’t tell your story — you have to live your story so if you tell someone you are an expert in this area or have accomplished this or that then it had better be the truth–In this age of the information highway it is to easy to expose boasting or exaggerations. I think today more and more people are hyper sensitive to hypocrisy real or perceived, just check out the blogs of those that are no longer interested in the church because of the hypocrites or all the websites out there where in an instant you can see reviews on any product imaginable. I think God has gifted and positioned you Phil to sort through all of these issues and to help build a better product human or not.

  5. It’s been said, the first reformation was about belief and the second reformation will be about behavior. In hearing the voices of the younger generations about being authentic, and even reading the comments in this blog, I’m quite sure the second reformation is already upon us. In this world of hyper manipulation to find that .02% edge, I hope we pay attention to it. 

  6. Phil, you couldn’t have said it any better!  In all actuallity, I have seen and been invloved with organizations with great brands and they had all the right "stuff" built for it, but all it did was just sit there, unexposed, with little or no "action" of strategy put behind it.  Built into the word "branding" is the whole plan of exposing the brand to an audience – the right audience!  You can sit around and get everyone excited talking about it with awesome branding ideas and then you can build a branding palace that will knock everyones socks off, but a plan of action is what makes it – the branding – come alive!  You have to brand it in the minds of your audience to make it happen, which means, it has to get out there in a relevent way to the viewer.  It is all a part of the branding enchalada!   

  7. This is my first blog comment ever and I feel like I’ve taken baby-steps into cyber-space. Quite frankly, I’d rather get back in the play-pen called my comfort zone but some wise man (or perhaps wise-guy haha) encouraged me to be a web-surfer! I found your question quite thought-provoking, however, and have concluded that I was born in the wrong era. I am clealy old-fashioned and prefer the days when marketing the gospel simply met having a compelling sermon that inspired listeners to live a life for God. There was not this cut-throat competition nor meetings with 400-page reports. I am an idealist but aren’t those who dedicate their lives to ministry idealistic to begin with? It seems to be that traveling the road from idealism to realism is what I have trouble with! It’s in the unfortunate reality that 400-page reports are a necessity, and having a ministry identity crisis is the rule instead of the exception, that I take issue with. I prefer the days when we were simply branded with,"the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." That "branding", if you will was enough to take you down the proverbial path to success. That success, however, was in obedience not popularity, and in being an identifiable product. As for me, my brand is simple-I am a Christian. I just wish that was enough.

  8. Joni, congratulations on your first blog comment!

    I understand your longings for the bygone days, but I would argue that even in the first century church, marketing was at work. I, too, hate the 400 page reports (and so does Phil) and hate the endless meetings that focus more on what we can do than on what God might want to see done.

    I know you as a Christian who is also branded as such. There are far too many who name the name of Christ without truly being identified as His own.

    By the way, I don’t check it every day, but I do love your journal.

  9. Making culture involvesmore than just making "better stuff." The emphasis on "stoptalking" and "start making" is not a totally accurate. The things wemake are carriers of meaning — often established by their social context. Noone buys Abercrombie & Fitch for the threads. Things carry meaning.Branding is simply the process of being more self-conscious about the meaningwe are creating and carrying. Consequently, both discernment and reframing arenecessary in culture making. Culture is always a mixed bag. We need to make sure that our culture making promotes human flourishing and the common good.

    Second, as Phil notes, wewill not make a difference if we are content to speak only to our own. The Amish arequaint, but not influential. We live in a"been-there-done-that-world." Unless we reframe "religion"in terms of lived reality, whatever we say will be perceived as irrelevant. UVASociologist James Davison Hunter notes, "The culture currently beingproduced by most faith communities is almost exclusively directed to the internalneeds of the faithful. This insularity is quite striking."

    We must recognize thatbrand or no brand, the church’s influence is not measured by the size of itsorganizations or by the quantity its output, but by the extent to which itsdefinition of reality is realized in the social world — and taken seriouslyand acted upon by the influential players in the social world. In most spheres of cultural production, faith communities are not taken seriously. In short, a callto more "culture making" will make little difference if it is more ofthe same. Fireproof will not turn heads at Sundance.


  10. Phil:

    Great insights. Your story IS what they say it is, not what I declare it to be.

    Love the statement "branding… is the residue of innovation." It’s the emotional footprint left in the consumer’s heart. And that is what glues the relationship, isn’t it?

    Keep the thoughts coming. Love the dialogue here.

    Dawn Carter


  11. Phil, I love the conversation on taking branding beyond a symbol or an image, and into the more important arena of action.   Allow me an analogy, as a boomer my youth was shaped by the image of the old westerns, and branding there meant a hot iron on the side of your livestock.   The brand was permanent, lasting, unchanging.  It marked who you were.  In today’s multi-media arena our actions must meet our words and images.  Now more than ever, insincerity and inconsistentcy will find you out. 

    I urge your readers to read again the comments of three posts above — I have decades of experience with all three, and they share the same passion to serve our Lord.  

    Duane Gaylord — buddy your work has always been of the highest quality, first with Feed The Children, and Samaritan’s Purse.   The people in the stories you tell were always more than a time code or a slot to fill.  You have always truly been the hands of Jesus in their situation.  Samaritan’s Purse fulfills their brand daily with grass-roots efforts that take the donor to the streets.  The Christmas boxes have been a part of my children’s lives since their first kindergarten class, and now in middle and high school, it is a missions assignment taken very seriously.  


    Joni Parsley — more than a Pastor’s wife and an amazing writer, her behind the scenes efforts to share the love of Christ through a life of servanthood and personal ministry to the hurting mirrors the heart of the Saviour she serves daily.  I’m honored to be soldier alongside.


    Joe Sindorf — a servant with a firm spiritual foundation firmly planted in the rich heritage of his past, with a vision to the future to reach the generation of his daughters.  


    Phil Cooke– you challenge us daily, force us to think about what we’re doing in our service to Jesus Christ.  



  12. Good points. However Fireproof was not made for Sundance audience. There are ways of affecting and influencing culture positively (without being naive or sappy) that we do not know about because we are so caught up with what is rather than what is not yet seen (but much more real than what is) but could be realised if we are prepared to make that a reality. Daniel 1 – 6 is a very good place to show what a life devoted to God can do within a very very ungodly society – imagine having Nebuchadnezzar for your boss on a daily basis and yet still being able to make such a difference that long after he is dead his wife refers Daniel to her son when something strange happens to him. I think the tradegy of the Church is too many are raised in Church but very very few are raised in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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