Rebranding the Church

Gabriel Rossi is a marketing specialist who exercises in branding. I have not read much of his work but his emphasis appears to be that you first have to develop relationships with your staff and team members before you can successfully project a brand to your clients and customers.

With its origin myth in tatters and members leaving faster than being converted in North America and Europe and, may be, even in parts of Latin America, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have to rebrand itself eventually.

According to Rossi rebranding is difficult and dangerous. Here are a couple of questions that he raises. I would love to hear your responses.

If a company wants to rebrand itself, what are a few things it should consider?

If a company wants to rebrand itself, what are a few things it should consider?

Rebranding is a bit more than changing the design of your logo. Rebranding is a long process (usually takes years) and always requires an inside-out response. You need to craft your brand again from the inside-out. It can be quite challenging, tricky and dangerous. Do it quietly and patiently… I advise companies to invest time in sorting internal issues out first of all. Ask your employees what the company represents to them. Do they understand its story and ambitions? What kind of dreams do they have for the future? Where does your organization want to go taking into consideration the current market place?

17 thoughts on “Rebranding the Church

  1. Brand exhaustion is a good way to understand the current situation of the LDS Church. Unfortunately, the leadership is one or even two generations removed from the target demographic.

  2. Isn’t that true, MoHo? The other problem is that any internal discussion with members and staff would be hampered by denial.

    It would require a considerable effort for most of us to verbalize what we really want because we are trying so hard to be good Mormons.

  3. I completely agree.

    Actually, I think part of the problem is that the leadership doesn’t have a consistent idea of what image to shoot for. This actually ties in with a bunch of dicussions we’ve had here lately, yours on Mormons not being conservative, Andrew’s on the church not being spiritual, and mine on whether they’re achieving any kind of Optimal Tension, or whether that’s just some scholars trying to make heads or tails of the brethren’s objectives, assuming they have some…

  4. If I had my druthers, Mormons would re-own the ethic that Mormonism sought out all truth wherever it can be found. That I think is the only resilient stance in the face of uncomfortable truths. The big question is how to get there from here without alienating the core believers.

    I think this could be done. De-correlate a little. Encourage Sunday lessons once or twice a month from non-LDS sources: “out of the best books”. Train bishops and leaders in counseling. Invite non-LDS speakers in auxiliary Sunday meetings. Change the whitewashed history in lessons to include an honest discussion about problematic facts. Have adult classes during the week about science, literature, etc. Start having general conference talks that emphasize that the LDS church welcomes even those who don’t believe every doctrine and that Mormonism is about seeking the truth whatever and wherever that may be.

    All of those things could be done incrementally so that the culture has time to adjust (as opposed to a huge mea culpa).

  5. I agree with Jonathan – all those things would be lovely. However, do any of you really see the GA’s moving in these directions? IMHO they are too far out of the loop, and out of the generation gap, to be flexible enough to turn the ship around. Also, they are totally uninterested in any internal feedback – after all, when God speaks through his prophet, why should there have to be any other opinions?

    So I would have to say, that I think rebranding COULD be done in a slow, and relatively safe way – but I think it is unlikely. The history of the church is that it is a behemoth that only responds to severe outside pressure (I am thinking of its changes in response to polygamy and the blacks). If it doesn’t get threatened with losing its tax exempt status, nothing happens. I don’t see internal pressures from dissatisfied members making much of a difference. Sadly.

  6. IMHO they are too far out of the loop, and out of the generation gap, to be flexible enough to turn the ship around.

    So true. It’s hard enough as it is to turn the ship even if you had someone dynamic at the helm (which they don’t).

  7. why would the church ever rebrand in such a way?

    After all, rebranding involves a corporate goal or vision…and the rebranding efforts cater to that.

    And I mean, I think the church has such an idea, but as we’ve seen recently, it has little to do with any actually progressive changes.

    I present to you, exhibit A!

  8. Yes, Andrew is right that the brethren will try to cut corners and take the easy way out. But that is not a solution, just another kind of denial.

    I also agree with Mermaid that the brethren may be out of the loop. The one signal, they appear to be reading clearly is the cash flow.

    The current economic problem will actually benefit them. When people have economic problems, they are looking for community, which will temporarily increase attendance.

  9. If it doesn’t get threatened with losing its tax exempt status, nothing happens. I don’t see internal pressures from dissatisfied members making much of a difference.

    It’s true that there is not enough change but there is a little bit of change. There appear to be some efforts to inoculate the members, for example, the Nelson talk about the rock in the hat comes to mind.

    Also, historically, there have been periods were there was more or less freedom in the Church.

    For example, correlation only appeared during the late sixties when David O. McKay had become to weak to fend off Lee and Smith.

    Armand Mauss has a fancy theory about insider-outsider dichotomies. I think that the brethren tolerate more liberty whenever they are broke.

    McKay became a general authority when the Church was almost bankrupt. Therefore, church leaders had to appeal for the support of the members. When McKay left, the Church had so much money that the brethren could do as they pleased.

    Right now, the effective membership of the Church is shrinking in the United States. For four converts, five Mormons stop identifying as Mormons.

    They may never resign but the brethren have seen the last red farthing from those people.

    That is not a sustainable situation. Eventually, the brethren will have to do something.

  10. That is not a sustainable situation. Eventually, the brethren will have to do something.

    I tend to believe that the church has grown to fill many of the ecological niches it inhabits, meaning that it has no more room to grow in places like Europe and the United States. It has exhausted the number of people interested in what they’re selling. There’s no way to make the current Mormonism brand a growth industry in many places around the world (visions of global prominence à la Daniel 2 notwithstanding).

    The most likely future I see for the LDS church (based on my uninformed hunches) would be a period of membership attrition in places where the internet makes factual Mormon history readily available. This would be followed by stasis at a level sustainable by the number of people available willing to overlook its historical problems for whatever reason. In other places like the Middle East and Asia, the church will never gain a significant foothold due to the large gap between LDS culture and philosophy and those of their would-be converts.

    Having said that, I keep hoping that something will happen to cause a sea change within the church that will surprise all us naysayers and cause a real rebranding. At the very least I hope for this so that attending sacrament meeting (as I still do more often than not) won’t be so stultifying.

  11. I agree there’s not much chance of rebranding in a way that will cause massive growth. I think it would be better to rebrand in such a way that the focus shifts from conversion to retention.

    Having “we’re the fastest-growing church!” as a big part of their image is a real problem since it’s so obvious that it’s not true. The Daniel 2 prophecy can be explained away in the usual fashion: “That’ll happen during the millenium!”

  12. What I think is happening is that the church is focusing on sending missionaries to Asia. They have severe retention problems in South America, plus they have had to close some missions due to instability, Africa is so poor that they are probably a financial drain, and Europe and the US are tapped out.

    I think this is a lost cause – most Asians have access to the internet, are very smart, and unlikely to be attracted to a still very Utah centric church.

    All the above is total speculation and just MHO.

    I do think tithing is really going to decline, I no longer pay anything to the church except some local fast offerings and ward budget donations. The economy tanking over the whole world – particularly in the US, and I think financially successful people are going to be less and less likely to be attracted to the church. I think LDS is not immune to the problems of most other churches in that the world in general is becoming less interested in churches and religion. I think it is an evolutionary thing and decline of religious institutions is inevitable, no matter how much rebranding is done.

  13. Whenever I think about the church’s efforts in Asia, I remember how long Christian missionaries have been there and how little success they’ve had until recently. Of course Mormon faithful believe that they’re different, but that’s wishful thinking. But then again, a very small slice of a very big pie isn’t bad.

  14. Wards that manage to become strong communities and that provide programs that members enjoy won’t have problems attracting and retaining members.

    That will require that ward members are able to decide for themselves how to meet each others needs. Bishops need to have the ability to raise money to pursue worthwhile projects.

    The auxiliaries and youth organization should regain autonomy as well.

    I am all for accountability, by the way. But that does not require micromanagement from above a la correlation.

    Training and oversight would be sufficient to hold local leaders accountable. Mormon would mean to belong to a community where people enjoy each others company.

    That’s how rebranding would be successful.

  15. You, as Mormons, should stop the ritual slaying of infants and children in your temples–most notably the Salt Lake Temple. There is a special chamber in the basement under the pulpit in that temple with a black altar covered wih a red cloth. Your beloved Prophet Monson was observed cutting the heart out of a slain infant and eating it. My maternal family are all mormons. I have an aunt and uncle, Estella and Joseph Fowler who were sacrificed in this way–Estella in 1910 aged two months, and Joseph in 1914 just under four years old. You can see their headstones in the Tooele cemetery next to my Grandmother’s. You can find Brigham Young’s written instructions about where to build the sacrificial chamber in the Salt Lake Temple on line. The Fowlers had 7 more children, all of whom survived. No one in the family would ever talk to me about Estella and Joseph.

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