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 | By Marybeth Hicks, director of strategic communications

Building a brand helps communicate the mission

Communicators often are urged to develop a branding strategy for their dioceses and Catholic organizations, but the issue of branding isn’t always simple. Should you work to build recognition for the institution itself, for its leader, or for an outward facing communications platform, such as a publication or website? Some communicators find themselves juggling all three brand personas (which means maintaining multiple social media accounts, websites, e-newsletters, and more!), while others choose to focus on developing just one.

Is one brand strategy better than the others?

That depends on the overarching communications goal. If the goal is to build connection with a Catholic membership organization, clearly the institutional brand strategy is the way to go. If the goal is to connect a bishop with everyday Catholics in a personal way, it’s smart to build a brand around the bishop. But if the goal is evangelization to a wider audience, the publication or website is the ideal vehicle to build a cohesive brand.

Here are some pros and cons of the three approaches:

Build an institutional brand

Pros: Organizations that rely on engagement with members and potential members need a strong identity in order to connect with their target audience. A brand strategy that puts the name and image of the organization front and center makes it easy for the audience to find the community they seek.

Cons: An organizational brand strategy is hard to translate to social media. Most organizations fall into the trap of posting on social platforms in a voice that feels distant and stilted, and using social media as a calendar and news channel rather than a tool to engage with an audience. Unfortunately, news and event posts typically garner low engagement and don’t help an audience to connect in a personal way with the organization.

Tip: If the priority is to build the institutional brand identity, adopt a relatable voice for social media. Just because you’re speaking for an organization doesn’t mean you can’t use humor or sound like a real person on social media. (See the Instagram account for the National Park Service for a great secular example!) And don’t be afraid to engage with your audience by following, liking, sharing and especially commenting on social posts. Use social media to give the brand a voice.

Build a leader brand

Pros: Building a brand around a bishop or organizational president/CEO can be a winning strategy, especially when the individual is a respected thought leader in the Church. When it comes to religious branding, it’s easier for people to understand the role of a bishop versus an episcopate, and a bishop known for his faith, character and likable personality can naturally emerge as a strong brand for his diocese. Plus, social media strategies work best when a real and relatable person builds relationships with an audience. So a brand strategy around a charismatic leader is a great way to develop community and engagement.

Cons: People are people. They often move, change roles, retire or are simply too busy to serve as the brand for an institution. If your communications strategy relies on the brand you build around a bishop or CEO, you are always subject to that person’s availability and willingness to execute your plans. Tactics such as podcasts, video series, vlogs and blogs require long-term commitments in order to build audiences and ultimately achieve your communications goals. Leaders are, by definition, busy people who can’t always commit to regular production schedules and deadlines.

Tip: If the leader brand becomes the principal marketing voice for the institution, be sure to connect it to institutional identity, as well. You can do this thematically with shared graphics, as well as with shared or simultaneous messaging and social strategy.

Build a platform brand

Pros: An institution’s communications platform, such as a publication or website, is usually the face of the organization to the wider community, so a brand strategy built around a nameplate or dot-com makes sense. It’s the recognizable name and logo that reminds people of your diocese or organization and helps people connect with you through relevant content. In addition, publications and websites are usually the vehicles through which the Church engages in evangelization. Most folks don’t instinctively look to a diocesan website or a bishop’s X feed if they have questions like, “What prophecies of the Old Testament did Jesus fulfill?” They’re more likely to look to a print or digital version of a religious magazine, or to a content site geared toward helping seekers find answers about the faith.

Cons: If your publication prints infrequently, or if it’s a format with low readership or a demographic of readers that aren’t also online, it can be difficult to establish a strong brand identity with digital engagement.

Tip: An integrated communications approach will help you launch a platform brand that takes hold. Make sure the brand is consistent across the print edition, content website, social media sites, e-newsletters, fund development materials — anywhere people might encounter your title — and develop a brand voice that is friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and caring.