Who Manages The Brand?

Most American companies employ specialists in brand management, which is the art and science of marketing products to consumers.

Brand management has its origins with Procter & Gamble , my wife Julie’s employer for the first seven years of her career in sales. Among other things, brand managers work hard to ensure that their products: 1) have high visibility in the public eye; 2) stand out among competitors; 3) achieve a public perception of quality and innovation; and 4) have an attractive appearance.

Some of today’s most effective brands include McDonald’s Golden Arches, Nike’s swoosh, Mercedes’ logo, and anything Apple makes these days with an “i” in front of the name. You seen any of those international icons, and you’re pretty sure of the quality of the product you’ll buy. The national or international “branding” works well at the local level.

So who manages the “Methodist” brand?

For years, many Methodists have bought into the idea brand management for church works the same way as it does for commerce.

So we’ve had centralized marketing, usually stemming from denominational offices in Nashville, New York, or Evanston. Through the years, they’ve given us the cross & flame logo, Catch The Spirit bumper stickers, the Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors mantra (a phrase brimming with internal politics if there ever was one), and now, more recently, ReThink Church.

All to decidedly mixed results. Safe to say that if any corporate brand managers lost more than 30% of their business in 40 years, the consequences would be severe and the restructure would be dramatic. But as we’ve gone from 11 million members in 1968 to 8 million now, we’ve continued to insist that better versions of the same thing will turn the ship around.

But not when it comes to brand management.

Here’s the key difference: when you see the Golden Arches, you know essentially the experience that awaits you. That experience is even more predictable when you see the Chick-Fil-A “C,” but that’s another story.

Yet when you see a Methodist Church from the outside, the experience inside can vary greatly. What you’ll experience at Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, for example, will be dramatically different from what you’ll encounter at Granger Church in Indiana. And those distinctions have to do with style; when you throw quality into the mix, the variables rise considerably.

So centralized marketing in a large & unwieldly denomination is, I believe, doomed from the start.

All that is a long way of saying that we want to be our own brand managers at Good Shepherd. We don’t take part in the denomination’s well-intentioned efforts, whether it’s Methodist bumper stickers or even ReThink Church.

No one had to help us think up There’s An App For That. Or A Christmas Story Christmas. Or even Rubber, Meet Road. Those all come out of our unique church culture and our mission of walking together into this community.

Because when it comes to church-world, we believe the best brand management is local brand management.