A recognizable brand carries a lot of weight. We often think of “brands” as something exclusive to major corporations with million-dollar advertising budgets and a global reach. But the reality is that “branding” is everywhere.
Content creators and influencers have brands. Local mom-and-pop stores have brands. Freelancers have brands. And, whether or not you’ve thought about it before, your church has a brand.
People cultivate perceptions about everything — it’s a byproduct of the digital age, something that we do instinctively. And those opinions affect how we think about, talk about, and engage with people, places, and things.
Branding is the conscious effort to manage those opinions. It’s no surprise then that companies and celebrities are intentional about steering our perception. That might mean using certain colors or fonts to elicit a particular emotional response, or it might mean specific language in every interaction.
However you choose to think about it, your brand plays a big role in how people feel about your church. And creating a brand guide gives church communications teams a way to keep everyone on the same page about how things should look, sound, and feel.
Benefits Of Church Brand Guides
Branding affects and even defines how people feel about your church; that means it’s worth paying attention to. And creating an official brand guide presents you with an opportunity to make sure everyone on your communications team is on the same page.
That means your social media will look and sound like the emails you send, the handouts you print, and the slides you run before each service. Consistency matters to people, and having a brand guide means you can almost guarantee that every “point of contact” between a person and your church is one step closer towards a meaningful relationship.
Now it can be hard to talk about this sort of thing without losing sight of the mission of the church. (Some church communications teams tend to struggle with the idea of “branding” or “advertising” more than others.) So focus less on the marketing side of it; think of it more as a way to make your team more effective at communicating your church’s values.
If you’re looking for specific benefits to highlight, remember that brand guides:
- Boost collaboration across small teams or even multiple teams
- Simplify project outsourcing to freelancers or agencies
- Improve the overall experience for visitors and regular attendees
Let’s break those three points down to see how your team will benefit from them.
1. Boost Team Collaboration
It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone on a church communications team wears a few different hats. Sometimes you’ll be juggling multiple responsibilities at once, and there’s a chance you’ll be doing things outside of your normal tasks.
In other words, working for a church requires flexibility. That makes it important for everyone to work well together, and part of successful collaboration means being on the same page.
People will look to the communications team in these situations, especially when they are submitting project requests for handouts, materials, newsletters, Facebook posts, etc. And an easy way to set (and enforce) guidelines or rules is with an official brand guide.
With a dedicated “rulebook,” it’s okay if you have to delegate responsibilities to other people. You’ve laid out the groundwork for every sort of project, and that means people know what to expect in the process and what information you need for each task.
We’ll look more deeply into the specifics of brand guides and what you should include when making one for your church. But for now, it’s worth noting that these are living documents, meaning you should feel free to update them as your church operations change.
As your team grows or you try new types of projects, you can incorporate that into your brand guide. If everything goes according to plan, this makes your job easier and streamlines communication for everyone involved.
2. Simplify Project Outsourcing
Let’s say that your communications team doesn’t have a graphic designer on staff. Or maybe you do, but you’ve got more projects than that person can handle. Either way, you’re going to need to outsource some of the work, either to an agency or a freelancer.
For many churches, that means trusting someone with no experience with your church. That adds a strain on the communications team because you have no way to predict the final product you’ll get back at the end of the day.
In an ideal world, you’d provide the freelancer or agency with very detailed instructions. You’d receive a mockup, give them a lot of edits, but ultimately get a final piece that works.
But in the worst-case (and all too common) scenario, it just doesn’t work out that way. You spend an entire week going back and forth with the person. You probably feel like you should have just done it yourself, and ultimately you settle for something you don’t love just to end the project.
Obviously, that’s not an ideal situation for anyone involved, and you probably won’t be working with that freelancer or agency again. And if it’s a recurring issue, that’s the kind of negative experience that turns outsourcing into something you dread rather than something to make your life easier.
This is a perfect example of when a brand guide can save the day. By having a centralized, shareable document that provides guidelines for projects and relevant examples, you’ll all but guarantee that the first draft of an outsourced project will be close to what you’re expecting. And that’s a repeatable, reliable outcome that continues to pay dividends again and again.
3. Improve People’s Experience
But using a brand guide doesn’t just benefit your team — it also impacts church attendees, members, and even visitors.
A brand guide creates cohesion. From posters in the lobby to social media content to email templates, it’s a way to make sure that everything feels consistent. Visitors will know they’re in the right place, and members will have that instantaneous sense of familiarity.
If greeters wear matching shirts or lanyards, and most handouts use the same design, you’ll want to make sure that things like verbiage, colors, and event fonts are all consistent.
This includes pretty much every “public-facing” piece of content your church works on. You’ll want every social media post to feel like they come from the same account, even if you’re promoting different events or sharing general updates.
From social media videos to annual giving letters, build everything around the same key branding elements and people will always recognize your church and their emotional connection with it.
Pieces Of Church Brand Guides
All of that is well and good, but obviously the biggest piece of the puzzle is figuring out what to include in a brand guide. And the most essential pieces are things you’ve probably already defined with your communications team:
- Primary and secondary names
- Logos (and logos for specific programs)
- Color palettes, typography, and essential design elements
- Primary content platforms (and how your team uses each one)
- Details of your voice (or how you write/speak to your congregation)
- Photo guidelines (to give direction to volunteers)
These things might not be topics your team has discussed or clearly defined, but they are nonetheless important pieces of a brand guide. And by setting up specific guidelines for each one, it should be easy to see how that will help with collaboration, outsourcing, and public perception.
Of course, there are additional areas that you may want to consider including. These topics are less about the technical aspects of your brand and more about helping your team understand how your work directly influences how people perceive the church as a whole.
Define Your Brand
An easy starting point is figuring out what your church’s current brand is (and accepting that it might be different than what you thought it would be). This will obviously lead to a lot of internal conversations, both across your team and across the entire church staff — and not every opinion will be what you want to hear.
An easy way to approach this is by starting a list of words or ideas that best describe your church. It’s something anyone can contribute to, because that list could include five words, 10 words, or 20 words. But remember that the more concise your list is, the better you’ll be able to really hone in on those specifics later.
Your next step is contrasting that list with how your congregation perceives your church. You could survey attendees after a service, send an email survey, or even take a poll on social media. The goal is to get a good collection of answers, and then see how it stacks up with your own internal list.
Treat these two lists as your guide, at least in the early stages of building a brand guide. Most churches have a mission statement, a series of principles or values that everything else is built around. Making sure people can actually see those things in action will help you know whether you’ve got a good brand perception in place, or if you need to start your brand guide by reestablishing those core ideas.
Assess Your Congregation
It’s all too easy to get carried away by your perception of the sort of people who attend your church. But the only way to make sure your communications content is making a difference is if you fully understand the sort of people who are receiving and responding to that content.
Most corporate brand guides think of audiences as being made up of different personas, breaking a large body of individuals into a few easily identifiable groups. When you think about the different people who engage with your communications team, here are three specific details to think about:
- Demographics: Provide some background information, which could include everything from different local communities to self-identifiers like age, gender, etc.
- Needs or goals: Think about what people expect to receive from your communications. Are they looking for encouragement? Ways to connect?
- Challenges: Try and imagine what kinds of hurdles are faced by your community, and what sort of content you can put out to help people overcome them.
Church congregations tend to be diverse groups of people, so this may be a difficult challenge. But even solidifying one of these three topics will give you a better understanding of how your church can better serve people, and how you can actually build a brand in a way that meets that goal.
Set Content Guidelines
Your brand guide is also an opportunity to list out the “dos and don’ts” for different pieces of content. When people request different projects (or outsource them without your oversight), having rules in place increases the likelihood that every project will meet a certain standard. And since standards establish consistency, it’ll make your brand that much stronger.
This could include a whole catalog of different pieces. You could specify how long Facebook posts should be, or how many emails should be sent to any individual person in a specific time frame. Maybe you need to set word count limits for certain projects so you aren’t cramming a thesis paper onto a one-sided 5 x 8 handout.
Normally, spelling out a bunch of rules in a project request sheet would be annoying (and likely to be ignored or overlooked). But brand guides give you an excuse to define those requirements in a way that they’re part of the church’s identity rather than your personal preference.
Link External Resources
Another recurring challenge for church communicators is keeping track of all the different tools, resources, and subscriptions your team will use for different projects. Use your brand guide as an opportunity to list out these items, provide links to them, and even consider including the login information to simplify the process.
Your team may not have a graphic designer or videographer, and that’s fine — it just means you’ll end up using stock media, songs, and video clips in some of your content. Brand guides can also set restrictions on things like stock media like where to get those files, what types of files to look for, budget limitations, and any other details you need.
If you’re unsure how all of this looks as a finished product, a lot of churches post their brand guides online. While this is a way to help with collaborators and also be transparent about their core values, it also means you can find examples to help you shape a brand guide specific to your church, your community, and your team.
But maybe the most important piece of a brand guide is that it’s never carved in stone. You’ll be able to keep revising and updating the document forever, whether that includes staff changes or the sudden rise of new platforms like Zoom and livestreaming.
And as the branding changes over time, you can take relief in knowing that your team will always have the tools it needs to to represent your church and engage with your congregation.
Drew Gula is the copywriter at Soundstripe, a music licensing company that helps churches find royalty free Christian music for video and social media projects.