Three Part Framework on How to Build a Healthy Brand

What you’ll find in this short talk with Russ Cantu are simple solutions to complicated problems. Developing and establishing your brand is difficult and communicating it may seem daunting, but if you follow Russ’ easy to use framework, you will find that it not only works for you, it’s fun.

Before we get started, there’s a simple statement we need to all agree on before we discuss the three-part framework on how to build a healthy brand. Our agreement to this statement allows us to have a healthy starting point from which to move forward.

You are who people say you are. That’s your reputation. How you communicate that; that’s your brand.

You’ve been told you need to look and do things a certain way in order to appeal to the masses and you’ve either tried it and loved it (not likely),  tried it and hated it (possible), or tried it and nothing changed (likely).

Nothing seemed to work perfectly and you’re probably exhausted.

Honestly, I’m not surprised. Where’s the joy in trying to be someone other than yourself?

There’s no joy in being an imposter, and there’s no you in someone else.

So how do we solve this problem?

We follow a three part framework that helps us align our priorities with our brand, so we can effectively establish and communicate our brand message.

Three Part Framework on How to Build a Healthy Brand

While there are most certainly multiple ways to look at building a healthy brand, we want to narrow our focus on think on three parts that we can remember in any context or situation. Having an easy to remember framework allows us to apply it easily across every aspect of our brand or brands, and allows us to easily invite others into the process.

  1. Unique: Only You Can Be You
  2. Meaning: Do What Brings You Joy
  3. Certainty: Stay Authentically You 

Unique: Only You Can Be You

You think, “I have nothing to say”, but I say, “Your life experience is everything.”

This is one of the most common gripes I hear when someone is building a brand. They think their thoughts and experience mean nothing to anyone other than themselves, but the real truth is that is the one thing that makes them attractive to those looking for answers. Only you can be you, so sell the hell out of that!

When I was developing this talk, Ben asked me, “… to speak about how to approach this with a sense of authenticity. All branding is storytelling. How can we be better and more faithful storytellers.” Right off the bat, I can tell that there is something under the surface, something that is getting under his skin and causing some irritation. And truth be told, I think we can all probably guess what it is: people and organizations whose marketing does not match their brand. They’re selling a story that isn’t theirs, and then once people have bought into it, they feel taken for.

All of life is marketing; everything you do, everything you say; everything. Even the thing that this one dude said aobut you three years ago, that’s marketing. It’s all a part of your narrative. Because marketing is how you define your value just as much as how you communicate them.

If you’re a church, what you preach on the weekend as much as how you live during the week. That’s probably why there’s such a chasm between those who claim Jesus and live like it and those who call his name yet go throughout the week as if he doesn’t mean a thing. Culturally speaking, there’s a giant disconnect.

All of life is marketing, but not all of life is consistent. What we are aiming for is consistency between what we say and what we do. Consistency forms the bedrock upon which our branding house can be built.

You are the only you that the world has, and we need you… desperately. One of the greatest danger to keeping you on the sidelines is imposter syndrome and comparison traps. This game hurts you and your audience.

Churches have been telling people for generations that Satan is constantly out there trying to get them to believe they are someone they are not. How is you playing with imposter syndrome any different?

Let’s look at a few brand examples:

  • Elevation and Saddleback are only known as Steven Furtick and Rick Warren.
  • Michael Hyatt is only known as an ecosystem and not a person   
  • None of them are distinct, and they ALL are no longer their brand any longer, but rather their reputation
  • For better or worse, they are who people say they are

Over time, even the largest brands become something they never intended to become. So what does this mean regarding branding, especially when you see it in light of these massive brands and churches? How can the little guy survive or thrive?

Here are a few things you need to remember:

  • Your life looks like others, and they need to know they’re not alone. 
  • Imposter syndrome also means that you can no longer relate to your audience
  • They have the same struggles you do, and that’s a powerful connection 
  • You have wisdom that others need, so they can move forward. 
  • God has walked this road with you so you can be a light do others.
  • Your life experience is everything, so FIND your voice. 

Alex asked me, “How can I find a connection to the world outside of the church I lead and be known as the pastor who is great at strategic communications or the pastor who is a whiz with finance.”

We call that the hustle. Inside of this hustle, you will find your voice and then communicate it authentically everywhere you go, in and out of the church. In all honesty, as a pastor gets older and more experienced within their church circle, they can more easily lose touch with those they serve the most, those who work every single day in the marketplace, a setting vastly different than the one they call work.

When it comes to the hustle and senior management, good leaders know that exceptional leaders spin plates and no one who is crushing life only focuses on one thing. Most focus on multiple things all the time: family, hobbies, food, etc… Adding on a new thing doesn’t divide your focus, it narrows it.

Here’s how I like to divide this: your A focus is your calling, while your B focus is the fun. Sometimes those two things merge, and sometimes they deviate. I grew up in venture capital, design, and entrepreneurship. Even though God blessed my journey as a pastor for two decades, I never left that world because that world helped make me who I am. Too often when pastors are “called”, they’re leaving begin what got them their in the first place: their unique identity.

One of the biggest mistakes I see today is pastors who preach to their congregations but don’t relate to them. Getting into the marketplace, meeting your audience on their terms and not within the confines of your safe church walls; that’s the ticket to a more thriving ministry… and life.

My good friends Peyton Jones and Hugh Halter preach this message every day of their lives: live and work amongst the people you serve, so you can better relate to them and support the church you lead. And while that’s a luxury not all of us can afford, it helps us see that we all need to do a better job of directly relating to those we serve.

Someone wrote in that said they want to be known as the pastor who is great at finances, amazing at design, super smart at administrative leadership? What I would say is that you should never leave what made you great in the first place. And if what made you great was only born out of the church… leverage that to speak to a primarily churched audience who does not know how to push through their boundaries.

If you’re a great accountant, be that. If you’re a great accountant and a pastor, be that. If you grew up in the church and can only relate to the churched, break the mold and learn a skill while also leveraging that experience to speak into the lives of those who are just like you.

This is not an either/or talk, but rather a both/and discussion. Paul was a tentmaker out of need and desire, but was also supported by church. You can have a side hustle. You can be bi-vocational. You can be a vocational pastor. But you need to do whatever it is to your maximum efficiency.

Here are a few questions that can help you process your uniquely you offering.

  1. How have people benefitted from your wisdom and experience (past is prologue)?
  2. What are people asking you about, consistently?
  3. What do people say about you when you leave the room?

Meaning: Do What Brings You Joy

You think, “I don’t know how to share my story”, but I say, “Do what brings you joy.”

The problem is most don’t know how to share their story. Sure, they can teach others how, but they have no clue on their own. You’ve been told you have to do social media, every platform, with a different voice on every platform, etc… and it’s exhausting, is it not? The fact is: you need a comprehensive strategy to spin that flywheel efficiently. But it also means you need to learn the art of “NO” and stop doing things that just aren’t you. Is any of this you?

It takes on average 200 followers for one positive reaction on social media. You can spin your wheels trying to communicate, but without a large audience, it will not matter one bit. You can run ads to grow your audience or increase exposure. You can run contests to improve engagement. Without a large audience, it’s not moving the dial

Let’s look at a few large brand examples on Instagram.

  • North Coast Church: 14k followers, avg. below 100 reactions (<1% engagement rate)
  • Resurrection UMC: 9k folowers, avg. below 60 reactions (<1% engagement rate)
  • Elevation Church: 1.7m followers, avg. below 7k reactions (<1% engagement rate)
  • Christiano Rodaldo: 604m followers, avg. below 7m reactions (~1.1% engagement rate)

Math doesn’t lie and it has no prejudice; it’s just math. Social media is neither good or bad, it just is. If your brand is built on it, lean into it. If your brand is not built on it, now you know the truth.

I gave up social media four years ago and now only respond to people when they message me. Originally it was a six month break, but then a year passed and it was lovely. Then another year and I haven’t really missed it. Four years later, and I do not need it for me to be me.

So what DO I need to be me? These are my two non-negotiables.

  1. Website: You say, “I have no idea how to build a website or what to put on it.” I say, “Your website is the only platform you truly own.” 
  2. Email Marketing: You say, “Email marketing is outdated.” I say, “It’s still the most effective tool by-the-numbers.”

Do what brings you joy and FUND your brand. Fund it with time and money.

Matt told me, “I don’t mean this in a mean-spirited way, but: how to approach personal branding in a way that doesn’t feel gross. I guess I mean that I associate managing a personal brand with churches and pastors that care way too much about their own reputation. Is there a way to approach this topic from a place of humility for the greater good?”

Doing what brings you joy makes certain that your brand is uniquely you. And being uniquely you is never gross, because it’s not forced. It’s not forced out of you and not forced onto others. The “ick” comes from people who constantly overshare, share the same offer too often, push in their approach. But the ick almost always comes from people who don’t manage their own brand (they have outside help), know that if you share enough, the wrong people will buy into you, and who are under-water in some way and need this to work.

Those who are on the defensive are almost always offensive.

Here are a few questions that can help you process your uniquely you offering.

  1. What brings you joy personally and professionally? 
  2. What goals would make you smile if you achieved them?
  3. Who is your perfect audience? 
  4. Where is the intersection of your audience’s needs and your ability to meet them?

Certainty: Stay Authentically You

You think, “I don’t know if what I share will make a difference.”, but I say, “Do your best and take a nap (I totally stole this from Larry Osborne).”

Fight to stay true to you and unique in the market.

“Hey, Jaime; what would you rather be: a lion or a panda?”

“Coach, I’m me. Why would I want to be anything else?”

“I’m not sure you realize how psychologically healthy that actually is.”

Anything other than you at your most authentic is just not worth it. So plant the church you want to attend. Lead the church you want to be on staff at. Fulfill your calling, not your potential. Focus on the people you have, not the ones you hope to have some day.

Your unique self at its healthiest is the best brand available. Share everything you have, and walk away. It’s your job to share, God’s job to nurture, and the audience’s job to choose.

There are Three Traps that Get Us ALL

  1. Stay middle-of-the-road,  eventually wearing a rut that you cannot get out of.
  2. Play pretend and be someone you aren’t,  eventually conflicting with your identity (or it overtakes you).
  3. Never make that first move for fear of failure and regret maintains your mantra. 

What trap gets you the most, and why? I had a daddy wound for a while, always looking to prove myself to others, ultimately pretending to be something I am not. But I’ve also been trapped by a lack of confidence. Most people who are outwardly confident or exude enthusiasm struggle with the idea of inadequacy. Then again, I also stayed at a job too long because it was easy, the pay covered our expenses, and I didn’t need to venture out into the unknown.

All three traps got me at one point or another. But I also know the traps and how they show themselves to me now. Which mean I can get out of the traps easily–by myself–or with friends or family.

What trap do you fall prey to easily? Who can see that you’re trapped? What can you do to get unstuck?

Here are a few questions that can help you process your uniquely you offering.

  1. How will your life be different if people trust you to lead them?
  2. How will your audience’s lives be different if you’re leading them? 
  3. What would happen if you could offer what you’ve always wanted to, without compromise? 
  4. What are the roadblocks that would prevent you from becoming the healthy brand you want to become?