Strategy & Marketing

Branding Personality Driven Organizations

In the religious world, branding often focuses on a single personality. After all, people watch Joyce Meyer to hear Joyce Meyer. The commercials are nice, the music is good at her meetings, and the interviews are interesting, but without question, without Joyce, there wouldn’t be a program.  The positive side is that personality driven branding really connects with an audience.

People won’t want a relationship with an organization, a TV program, or a building. They want to relate to another person. There’s a reason Oprah calls her show, “Oprah” and not “Afternoon Chat” or something else.

However, that also opens up serious, potential abuse. The personality driven equation opens to door to ego, greed, financial irresponsibility, and more – and as we’ve seen in recent years with TV ministries especially, it is a two-edged sword.

We’ve recently been through a transition period when it comes to major religious ministries. Over the last number of years we’ve seen big churches and media ministries change hands – Billy to Franklin Graham, Oral to Richard Roberts, John to Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller Sr, to Robert A. Schuller, Jerry to Jonathan Falwell, and on and on.

So the question becomes, who do we brand? The person, or the organization? There was a very interesting comment about that question from the fashion industry in Time magazine. Speaking of the public face of brands in the fashion industry, Kate Betts said:

“Gucci Group CEO Robert Polet has long insisted that the brands are the stars now, and his strategy of hiring lesser-known designers, including a few of (Tom) Ford’s former design assistants, seems to have paid off: sales at Gucci have soared to $2.1 billion. “Brands can survive without the namesake designer if you have a team and staff who understand the DNA of the brand,” says Dana Telsey of The New York City–based retail-research firm Telsey Advisory Group. “Most of these brands that are global now could never have gotten to where they are with just one person anyway.”

Interesting, but still not conclusive when it comes to faith-based media. In the religious and non-profit world, a preacher, speaker, teacher, or author is the driving force, and for the most part, without that driver, you’re out of business. It’s interesting that “Love Worth Finding” – the television ministry of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis continues to produce a weekly program featuring Adrian Rogers – who’s been dead for a number of years now. The theory of the Love Worth Finding team is that we read books by dead authors, so why shouldn’t we watch their TV programs as well? Since I’m a “I Love Lucy” fan, the logic is hard to argue.

So for the most part, I continue to brand personalities when it comes to media. Certainly Kate Betts is right in some media cases – when a team really knows the DNA of a brand, you can make that transition successfully.

But the truth is, TV (especially) is a personality driven medium. People relate to people. And for the short term, that’s not going to change.

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  1. In the short term, perhaps.  However the problem is not so simple.  At some point the brand must transcend the individual – even if the name remains.   Lucy Ball never had millions hanging on her every revelation, a church to purpetuate, or a multinational organization to feed when she was in her old age.  She left us with great memories of herself and that was enough.  And in another 50 years she will be almost forgotten by most people.


    The fist generation mass media preachers have very little precedent to fall back on and the results of handing over the power to their kids is still up in the air.  Joel doesn't really count because the national public never really knew his old man to begin with.  And Franklin has found his own way.  Personality remains the quickest way to the top. But the book remains to be written on whether it is enough in itself to keep it there. 
  2. Phil, your words early on in your post were perceptive: "People won’t want a relationship with an organization, a TV program, or a building. They want to relate to another person." Churches – and their leadership – who produce tv shows need to realize the power and effects of branding and audience relationship + receptivity. People watch and are faithful to a show based on the speaker, his or her personality and likability – and their message. I like watching T.D. Jakes because he's T.D. Jakes and I know every little – nor do I care – about his church, Potter's House in Texas. Give me T.D. Jakes huffing and puffing and blowing the house down. That's what I'm drawn to. The sponsoring group is backstage, T.D. front stage. The relationship between a viewer and the speaker is unique. We often "project" onto them values they may or may not possess. This is based on individual perception & biases. These are the fundamentals of television communications. Many Christian groups, more attuned to ministry than media, don't understand these fundamentals.

    Just recently, I left producing a church sponsored tv show where multiplied millions of $'s were spent on airtime. It accounted for 1 out of every 4 dollars of the church budget. Over and again it was pointed out to the pastor (and his gatekeepers) that his television audience tuned in because of HIM, not the CHURCH itself. They liked him, enjoyed his message. Even the branding of the show had his name in it. Over and again, church leadership + the pastor kept trying to make the case that the show was all about the church sponsoring it. There was a viewpoint that any talk about pastor as "brand" was heresy. They didn't get it. Because of this stubborn viewpoint the pastor failed to make himself available for any other special segments other than a hello, then off to the message. He didn't want to be bothered with extras. To this day, the show – which has phenomenal potential – putters on underperforming. All because the branding strategy of "people loyally view each week because of their perceived relationship with a dynamic speaker" was not accepted, understood or acted upon. Phil, you're right: branding is based most often on a person (pitfalls and all). The world has known this for decades. When will Christian TV get it too?

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