Book Review: Branding Faith

“Marketing” is a bad word in church circles. It implies manipulation, impure intentions and other chicanery. This is not without reason; corporate marketing has become a science, with companies spending millions of dollars to understand the psychological and sociological impact of advertising. Many Christians, understandably, believe it would be unseemly — if not sinful — to employ modern marketing techniques on behalf of the Church.

Phil Cooke‘s 2008 book, Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t, seeks to change some of these perceptions. Cooke specializes in the intersection of faith and media and acts as a consultant helping religious organizations to better tell their story.

Branding, according to Cooke, is all about the story that surrounds a business or organization. It’s what immediately comes to people’s minds when they think of the organization. With this in mind, he challenges Christian organizations to think carefully about what makes them unique in the world so as to better share their story and help people understand who they are and what they stand for.

Cooke does an admirable job of pointing out the potential dangers in “over-thinking” marketing efforts. He devotes an entire chapter to how churches and non-profits risk losing their identity to marketing “gimmicks” and trying to chase relevancy “ and how potential parishioners are turned off by such efforts. I was especially relieved to see Cooke emphasizing the personal relationship between the organization and the individual:

In a world in which few people have   close friends, expand your community and get to know people. Enlarge your network of really close friends. Perhaps it’s becuase I was raised before the digital age that I still value face-to-face communication far more than phone conversations or email.

That having been said, the book should read with some discernment. Cooke, understandably, speaks almost exclusively from a Protestant point of view. Emphasis is placed on the importance of preaching (an emphasis which is complementary to, but different from, the sacramental view of liturgy in the Catholic Church) and, as a result, puts a heavy emphasis on the importance of the leader’s communication skills.

Nevertheless I think there are some good insights for any Christian organization trying to understand how to share its passion and invite others to work with them. It will certainly challenge those who think that marketing has no place in the life of the Church to reconsider their position.