Brand is a bad word. Or is it?
For many Christians, the people working in the world of brand have the task of putting lipstick on a pig. Brand is the process behind dressing up an inadequate good or service for the public’s consumption. Mad Men possesses its cultural cache for this very reason. People behaving badly, trying to convince you to buy things you don’t really need.
As a result of these beliefs, many Christians find branding and all things marketing and advertising to be at odds with ethics, good character, and truth. But, is there a way for branding to be redeemed?
What if brand was instead built from the inside out? Is it possible that such an approach could redeem brand in the eyes of many? Is it possible that an inside-out brand could transform your team to work more efficiently and more productively toward a shared purpose?
What if brand was more about asking the hard questions about the world, so that you look at your company’s response to what’s happening in the world in different ways? There’s a classic advertisement for The Guardian that challenges the assumptions of its viewers. In this commercial, a rough, edgy, young person runs toward an older man in a suit. The immediate inference, especially when the young man lays hands on the older man, is that we’re observing a mugging.
However, when the camera switches perspectives, the viewer learns that the edgy young person is actually trying to save the old man, considering that above this scuffle, a shipment on a crane is about to fall on the old man, unbeknownst to him.
As this commercial exhibits, there is great wisdom to looking at things from various perspectives. What if branding was viewed from a different vantage point? Would we find redemption in it?
A Theology of Brand
Theology can redeem brand. We see throughout scripture messaging written with the clear intent of persuasion. The New Testament was written so that we might believe. In many ways, the New Testament presents a clear brand and messaging strategy for building a new organization of gospel “consumers.” How is that different from a marketing manager branding a new product to influence its purchase in the open market?
The difference, it seems, comes from the idea of core identity. The gospel writers wrote persuasively so that others might believe because they themselves believed and had experienced the whole of their identities changed by God. They had an internal understanding about the transformational power of the gospel and they wanted everyone else to share in that power.
In a redemptive view, the process of unearthing a brand is about asking the hard questions, much like Jesus did, as the ultimate questioner.
Brand is about observing people and observing how they interact with experiences. In doing so, we can participate in connecting people in new and fresh ways that can be redemptive. Within the creative process of developing a brand, you can be empowering people to do creative work they were called to do.
The world thinks of brands in the terms of positioning and promotion. But an authentic brand is built from within and represents the motivations and beliefs of people within the organization and outside the company’s walls. Instead of being perceived as self-serving, brands built from the right motivations can, should, and will serve others.
For Something More
Branding, then, is good when it connects to this sense of identity. If you can believe that what you’re selling has the power to transform the world for the better, then brand it in such a way that it embodies an authentic connection to the core truth of what it is. If you lie about it, people are going to find out.
What if brand could help people inside a company, and the potential customer outside of a company, to see society in a new way? What if brand was more about unearthing ideas? What if it sought to educate rather than sell? What if its purpose was in empowering others to live better? What if brand was a relationship instead of a perception?
Theologically rooted branding creates the foundation for a company to be the change they desire to make in the world. Brand is the connectivity to culture that allows teams to collaborate and find solutions to the world’s problems. Brand gives an organization a picture of what the world can be; provided your team works together to meet the tangible needs of the community around them.
What if brand wasn’t called brand? Why not call it identity? And use brand as an opportunity to practice what you promise.
Author’s note: I’m grateful for my colleague, Donovan Richards’, editing and contributions to this article.