Strategy & Marketing

When Branding Kills

Branding any organization, product, or even person is critical.  Hey – I wrote the book on it.  I released “Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t” because I saw so many confused organizations, unable to really share their story or vision with their customers, donors, or the general public.  After all, if you don’t know your own reason for being, you can’t expect outsiders to figure it out.

But since I released Branding Faith a few years ago, and since updated it to “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media” it seems like branding companies have popped up everywhere – particularly in the Christian space.  It’s almost become a religion in itself.  I had one major Christian organization call me last year who said they hired a branding company at the cost of $500,000, went through their process, and now have a 250 page branding document, and have no idea what to do with it.

Branding is critically important, but when taken too far, it paralyzes, and causes organizations to stall.  All because “branding agencies” are trying to make it sound more and more important to justify huge fees.

Many branding agencies are doing great work helping organizations define their perception and story.  But be careful out there.  Branding isn’t a religion.  It’s a tool for cutting through the clutter of today’s distracted world, and getting your message heard.

Beyond that – the B.S. factor starts increasing…

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  1. From our perspective of being on a client’s front line, and seeing day-to-day the impact and response their messaging brings, we have learned that when it comes to branding, as in most things in life the KISS rule applies.  Simplicity is almost without-exception the way to go when developing your brand strategy, messaging and imagery.  Complicated ideas are more difficult to translate, often cost more, and many times fall flat with audiences. 

  2. I agree. Branding is critical. There are great branding agencies and consultants out there, but many are just graphic designers.  Churches and organizations should put a lot of thought and consideration to whoever they go on the branding journey with. Developing your brand, and bringing visual identity to it, should be a collaborative process between the agency, the organization and whoever you are trying to reach. The book Coherence by Richard Bailey really speaks to the shift of consumers owning and writing the brand story of organizations – and making sure you include and listen to other people’s experiences when developing your brand story.  Often organizations think a new logo equates a brand. Remember,  other people are writing your brand story. Organizations spend $$$ on a new logo, website, cool graphics, but overlook the experience they offer people. Story people will write for you… you care more about looking cool than connecting with people.

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      I occasionally contribute to a Christian graphic design
      forum and the rubbish that passes as design by self appointed graphic designers
      continually astounds me. If you engage some of these guys to solve your
      branding dilemmas you deserve what you get.


      Having said that though, I’m a graphic designer who operates
      under the branding banner. But I do this where I can by employing marketing,
      research or strategy specialists to provide the intelligence I need to fulfil
      my clients brief. It makes my job easier and cheaper.


      However my 30 years experience tells me that many ministries
      are often reluctant to engage this expertise. In some instances with these
      cases I don’t mind saying I think I know more than they do and can provide an
      enduring identity.


      I particularly take issue though with brand consistency. I’ve
      seen many excellent identity programmes begun only to be butchered by in-house
      media teams replicating the latest fads.


  3. It saddens me to see is that many organizations are trying to use branding as wrapping paper in attempt to cover up the real problem. 

    Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not. Fix the problem at it’s core first, then extend your brand promise throughout the entire experience, as Kristen Reyes-Tarsiuk so wisely suggested. 

    A new logo, fabulous website or glossy brochure won’t fix a bad experience. Everyone who claims to be part of your organization is an ‘ambassador’ of your brand and those actions will speak more loudly than any communications tool that’s produced. 

  4. If I had a dollar every time someone said ‘we need a logo’ or ‘if only we could create a website’ I’d be a gazilliionaire (TM and www pending)

    Churches, NFP’s, businesses need to understanding branding can only amplify your story. It can’t fix it. Branding is a poet, not a mechanic.

    And to all branding agencies that mystify the branding process and put a (TM) to their process. Stop it. It’s not rocket science. You aren’t changing the world or getting nobel prizes for the work you do. It’s just good honest hard work and if you are lucky you may not see your job as work. Change the way you perceive yourself.. it needs to be as navigators, not magicians.

    Rant over. 😉

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