Mis-Branded by Association

Sometimes your best branding efforts can be undermined if you are perceived a priori as part of something the reader thinks is a bad or questionable thing. The only thing to do is avoid reference to the association, even if it hurts.

This recent column in the New York Times provides insightful commentary on the problem of being an evangelical Christian in our time. Here is a secular writer lamenting the distrust between evangelicals and secular aid agencies that prevent partnerships between them.

I know from my own experience what harm the evangelical label can do even to a large ministry. It happened that one of our local offices served a seeker community on campus where an evangelical coach had come under fire for holding pre-games prayers. This attracted the attention of an alum who decided to make his personal war against “evangelical fundamentalists” a national cause. The ramifications on our ministry were profoundly negative and continue on several years later. We were guilty by association and had to go quiet, effectively zeroing out our branding activities.

We also see this when “independent” churches stop mentioning that they’re really Baptist or Presbyterian churches because this might put off the people they want to reach.

Sorry to say, the word “evangelical” has lost its original meaning and is today only a positive marker to a dwindling audience. To non-believers and even many Christians, evangelical and fundamentalist are synonymous, though history shows this to be false. Better these days to avoid labels and stick with your branding statement. This should communicate what you value and what value you offer.

The M&M point? Be aware of the pitfalls of using words and phrases that may negatively impact your brand by association. But be ready to say with a certain pride, accuracy, and confidence where you come from. You never know who may be watching.

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