communications

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House of brands or branded house?

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Before you start talking fonts or imagery and before you start visualizing colors or vibe, there is one question your church needs to answer: Are we going to be a house of brands or a branded house?

The answer to this question will shape how you showcase your church and how much energy you will need to spend on branding, right down to how you design your T-shirts. Making the right choice will very likely help you to be more effective with the funding from your church’s budget or the UMC’s marketing grants.

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Before we get into how you make that decision, let’s explain the two categories.

The branded house approach focuses on a single identity expressed intentionally throughout everything an organization does. When this perspective is brought up in marketing circles, one company, Apple, is consistently offered up as the modern example.

There isn’t a unique logo for the MacBook or a distinct look for the AirPods. They are all in Apple’s proprietary San Francisco font, and they are always pictured on a white or black background. It is a visual language that is so well defined and so closely adhered to that most people would recognize an Apple ad or product even without the classic Apple logo.

That is what the branded house approach does well. It removes the unique identity of all the secondary brands in favor of the overarching company brand. It creates brand uniformity by first making it clear that all of the various brands are pieces of something bigger.

On the other hand, Google is a great example of a company that uses the house of brands approach. Each major product has its own identity.

Google’s devotion to being a house of brands is so devout that you may not have known that when you use Waze, Nest or YouTube, you are actually engaging with the Google company. In fact, several years ago, Google restructured so that all of those companies (including Google) are now owned by an overarching company called Alphabet.

The brilliance in the house of brands approach is that each sub-brand can develop its own tribe and loyalty without having to be seen as part of some large brand that may seem too corporate or less edgy. This approach eliminates the need to establish direct connections to some overall company brand.

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This is probably the most important question churches need to resolve when determining their approach to branding and marketing. Every other decision stems from the values of these approaches.

The difference can be seen as soon as you walk through the door of a church. The branded house church will have a single font and a single look, with the church’s name displayed prominently on all brochures, shirts, etc. Meanwhile, the house of brands church will have as many logos as it has major ministries, each with its own style and feel.

How do you decide? These questions will help you tease out which approach you need to pursue:

How much time and professional energy do you have to spend on branding?

Taking all of your church’s logos and paring them down to a single look that emphasizes the name of the larger church (the branded house) takes effort, but it may not require as much work as you’d think.

The opposite may be true when tackling each brand within the house of brands (i.e. Google, Youtube and Waze), since each needs its own look, colors, etc.

Creating multiple, professional brand identities with their own brand standards requires a lot of work, and another challenge is that it also may benefit from some sort of consistency. The United Methodist Church’s brand manual can help you understand what that looks like for each brand.

If you take the house of brands approach, know that it will require more professional design work and energy to execute well. Also, in churches that take the house of brands approach, there is a tendency to have complete brand anarchy, with every committee having its own logo. It is important to understand that this approach requires the church to choose which ministries get their own brand and sunsetting the others.

How well-known do you want your church to be as opposed to its individual ministries?

Do you want people to be devoted to your individual ministries or be thankful that your church provides these ministries?

If you are hoping that all your ministries ultimately introduce your community to your church, you are speaking the language of the branded house. If you have a more decentralized, tribal mindset and want to develop micro-communities around more targeted ideals, you are in the house of brands ballpark.

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How unique are your sub-brands?

The branded house works for Apple because of its tightly aligned businesses. But when you are a company that owns the world’s largest search engine, video hosting site and smart home device maker, it’s not the same.

Sometimes your church is involved in things that are so different, it doesn’t make sense to emphasize the brand of the church over the sub-brands. In some cases, the ministries of your church may be better known than the church itself, and sacrificing those brands could mean losing visibility in your community.

Is there history with one of your brands that could tarnish the others?

Sometimes there is complicated history that can cause one of the brands within an organization to be damaging to other parts if they are tied too closely together. This is a risk taken on by branded house churches. When you are a branded house, one bad news story about anything you do can tarnish everything.

How much change can you handle?

Far too many churches embark upon rebranding efforts without considering the cost of the proposed changes. Be sure to count the cost of change and be prepared to pay it.

You may be wondering if there is a middle ground. Can we be a house of brands and a branded house? The answer is yes.

Occasionally a church has a second site that doesn’t resemble the first site. Although rare, a ministry may take on its own major funding and organization outside of any pursued by the main campus.

For 90% of churches, taking a both/and approach is really just choosing to become a house of brands without using that approach to its full potential.

Each approach has the power to direct people’s loyalty and establish identity. Before you start choosing fonts, determine if you will be a house of brands or a branded house.

Once you’re ready, we can help.


Jeremy Steele

Jeremy Steele is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, California, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.