My father wore nice clothing. He bought from an old-fashioned men’s store owned by a respected Jewish family that sold top designers at JC Penney prices. The movers and shakers in that family were serious-looking men who walked around with slivers of marking soap in their pockets and tape measures draped around their necks at all times. And when they spoke with you, it was always from over the tops of their half-glasses.
As a teenager, I visited that store with fascination. The owners lived and died men’s clothing. The Steinbergs could take one look at a suit and know the designer. They recognized the cloth, understood a designer’s cut. Cassini, De la Renta, Botany 500, Perry Ellis—it didn’t matter. The brand spoke to them, whispering its secrets, secrets the Steinbergs guarded as they built a reputation for excellence.
In the recent past, I discussed branding with a fellow Christian blogger. He didn’t like the idea of thinking of himself as a brand, but despite the protests, there’s no escaping the marketing aspects of branding. Any public personna, even a blogger’s, has an aura it exudes. That glow attracts others because of the peculiar set of characteristics that define the blog. Cerulean Sanctum’s brand falls into the following set of characteristics:
- I primarily discuss the American Church.
- I examine issues within the Church that may be overlooked by others.
- I offer practical (rather than theoretical) answers to those issues.
- I try to keep a balanced perspective between warring philosophies, usually because I believe no side today fully sees the bigger picture.
- The writing here may be controversial, not because it skewers individuals or denominations, but that it forces the Church as a whole to examine itself more thoroughly.
- Readers consider the commentary here to be passionate, intriguing, unique, and thoughtful.
That’s the Cerulean Sanctum brand. (Notice how objectivity anchors some of those brand characteristics, while others are perceptions.)
You’ll notice I rarely depart from the brand. Diverging from the brand only harms the message. I shared with that other blogger the half-dozen or so things he does well and told him he should consider staying with—and reinforcing—those characteristics of his brand. In most cases, adding too much to the brand or stripping off what people appreciate in the brand spells doom. Imagine if Apple Computer abandoned its well-known industrial design. Or the company decided to forgo ease-of-use.
My son has a London Fog winter coat. Growing up, London Fog epitomized for me classically-tailored men’s outerwear. The Steinbergs sold London Fog; it was my dad’s coat of choice.
But my son’s coat is nothing more than the name London Fog stitched into a coat that could be any generic outerwear made anywhere in the world (Bangladesh, in this case). Nothing of London Fog’s brand can be found in the coat. With no sense of tailoring or style, it’s just a coat. I can’t even say that it will weather like a London Fog. Given its cost and origin, probably not. I’m not sure I even noticed the London Fog name when I bought it. One thing I do know: I’ll cast a wary eye at anything else branded London Fog that I might find on the racks today.
Diverging from the brand or simply tossing the brand name on any old item dilutes the power and prestige of a brand.
Whether we like it or not, Christianity has a “brand.” Certain characteristics of the Faith contribute to its objective practice and to the perceptions of others. Good or ill accompany those practices and perceptions. I’m sure every person reading this is intimately acquainted with both the good and the ill. Still, I’m sure we can come to some agreement on what the Christian “brand” entails.
Or can we? Maybe even that’s the wrong way to go about understanding what people know about being followers of Christ. Perhaps there’s a better source for understanding our brand than asking ourselves how it’s viewed.
Many of the posts on Cerulean Sanctum begin with me wondering how other people—whether in the Church or outside it—comprehend Christians they encounter. Sort of the “walk a mile in another person’s moccasins” view. In the case of people who don’t know Christ, reasons exist for their reluctance to listen to the Gospel we bring them. Before anyone drops a “Christ said the world will hate us” bomb now, let me ask whether the perceptions of the Church by others are formed…
…because our light is exposing their darkness…
…because the American Church’s own state is so dim, the unbeliever’s darkness looks like high noon on a clear Antarctic day in comparison.
Much more difficult choice, isn’t it? That sneer on the face of a coworker whenever Christ is mentioned may have more to do with the lousy experiences he’s had with Christians and the Church than it does with any hatred he may have toward Christ Himself.
We’d do well to find out from non-believers what it is we’re doing wrong. I’m not talking about megachurch demographic sampling nonsense here, but asking the hard questions. For instance, the next time we sit down with someone who doesn’t know Christ, ask the following in casual conversation:
What do you appreciate about Christianity?
What bothers you about it?
I can promise you this, you’ll learn a lot from those two questions. The question we should then ask ourselves is how we go about reversing negative perceptions while reinforcing the good. Since I can promise that most trait perceptions come down to the way we practice the faith, we’ll get a firm dose of reality, plus a roadmap for prayer and growth.
I’ve said many times here that we’re not in the initial stages of evangelization in the United States, we’re in mop-up mode. Nearly everyone living in this country has heard the name of Jesus. Now all they need to see is an American Church that practices what it believes.
Let’s face it: We’ve diluted the brand. We’ve added too much garbage to Christ’s message. We’ve tacked on enough Christianized cultural artifacts to derail millions. Or we abandoned the very heart of the Gospel to the point that people aren’t really sure what defines Christianity anymore. And it’s not just the unsaved who face that dilemma. I know solid Christians searching for Christ in the midst of a Church that has largely forgotten the truth of what it means to follow Him in simple discipleship.
I grew up singing “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” The title of that song grabs me every time because it’s essential to our brand. Christians should always be characterized by their love for others and for the Lord. But are we known for our love or for the fact that ten times yesterday someone from a Christian organization phoned to remind us to vote against godless heathens? (If only just one person a day called you or me to remind us we are loved by Christ and by the brethren!)
What do non-believers say? Trust me, they’re getting our message—especially if that message doesn’t match our practice or the true call of Jesus. We need to ensure when we mention Christianity to others, the response is positive rather than negative. Otherwise, we need to fix how we live.
In more ways than one, we’ve been branded for Christ. Whether we believe in the value of that brand enough to protect it and communicate it effectively is quite another thing altogether.