The One Thing More Important Than Your Communication Strategy

I’m a firm believer that all marketing is communications and all communications is marketing. As a professional with years of experience in these areas, it’s hard to admit that there might be something more important than a strategic marketing and communication strategy. But there is.

And what is this one thing?

The decisions you make that lead to the actions you take.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “What you DO speaks so loudly I can’t HEAR what you’re saying.”

No organization can outlast a constant barrage of dumb decisions. No matter how hip your logo is or how consistent your branding is, you can’t “out-communicate” what people see you actually doing.

  • You say you value diversity, but your leadership is homogeneous.
  • You say something is a priority, but it doesn’t get funded, you never hear about it and you don’t see any changes.
  • Your tagline says you’re creative, but you don’t take any risks and fail to try anything new.
  • Your slogan says you “value relationships” but you have an automated phone tree that makes it virtually impossible to talk to a real person.
  • You make a big splash about a “new strategy” or mission, but in practice, it’s business as usual.

Your brand is the combination of the decisions you make and the actions you take COMBINED with your chosen “look and feel” along with the stories you tell about your organization. Marketing encompasses everything that leaves an impression on your audience.

What you desire is alignment between what you do and what you say. “Authentic” communication happens when these two activities align. It’s not forced, it’s not contrived, it’s natural. It’s believable because it’s true.

Do you want to improve your marketing? Make better decisions on the front-end, so your communications team has something “real” to say on the back-end.


Branding = Promises

I was reading an article written by Phil Cooke about church “branding” and one of the definitions he used was “Understanding the promises you’re making to your community.” More>>

Branding is more about PROMISES than the consistent use of your LOGO.

As you may have discovered, people get disenfranchised when you don’t keep your promises. Do it enough, and they will leave the organization (or the relationship).

It got me thinking, what are the implicit and explicit “promises” of the church where I attend?

  1. Thought provoking, meaty Biblical teaching on a Sunday morning
  2. Dynamic Women’s Bible Study
  3. Excellent programs for our children and youth
  4. Large, well-done “magnet” inviter events
  5. Burden bearing Koinoina small groups
  6. Creativity in the arts (music, drama, dance)
  7. Missions emphasis
  8. Disability focus
  9. A broad spectrum of ministries, places to serve, etc.

I’m sure there are others, but these are the first that popped into my head. How about where you attend? What are the core unstated promises they your church is making to you?

As a church in transition and in the process of searching for new Senior Pastor, a few questions come to mind…

  • How are we doing in keeping our promises?
  • Where are we falling short on delivering?
  • Where do we need to redirect resources and emphasis?
  • What do we need to stop promising?
  • Are these the same promises we want to make in the future?

All interesting thoughts as we pray for the Search Team and Pastor Next : )

20 Ways We Communicate To Our Church

There are lots of ways to “get the word out” when it comes to church communications. This past Sunday I has the opportunity to remind our congregation about some of the many ways they can get the information they need to stay informed and connected. While it’s easy for me to just say “check out the website”, our church skews older, so I broke it down into Non Digital and Digital ways, so nobody felt left out.

This list is not exhaustive…

I didn’t include any announcements that that Pastor might give before or during the sermon, the PowerPoint loop we run before the service, posters and flyers that we put around campus, talking to their small group leader or a simple email or phone call to the Pastor of their choice. It is a good reminder, there is no one magic bullet. Even with all this communication going on, people still miss things and messages fall though the cracks. And this doesn’t even address how we communicate mission and vision. Everything works a little bit, nothing works all the time. 

A phone tree or text tree would be a nice tool to add to the arsenal. If we had more resources I might consider a monthly mailer. But with postage where it is, and more and more people moving to digital, it seems like long term, digital is a better use of our limited resources.

Book Review: The Art of Explanation

I recently finished reading the book The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever. Lee is famous his “paper cutouts on a whiteboard” explanation videos. The first one I encountered was called RSS in Plain English, showing how this new technology helps you save time reading items on the web. His straightforward explanation has helped over 2,000,000 people better understand WHY they should care about this technology.

Lee started his company Common Craft specializing in “helping the world become a more understandable place to live and work.” One of the premises Lee has, is that there is a worldwide explanation problem and that the adoption of an idea is often limited by how the idea is being explained.

Lee does a great job of explaining “explanations” and gives some very practical ideas on how to make your ideas, products and services easier to understand. He identified “the curse of knowledge”as being one of the key problems that leads to confusion. I highly recommend this book.

After reading it, I thought it would be fun to do a short book review in “Common Craft Style.” Making one of theses video seemed fairly straight forward. You have cut-out paper puppets, hand motions with a simple voice over. How hard could it be? Here is the final result:

Five lessons I learned making a “Common Craft” style video…

  1. Common Craft Video SetupIt’s harder than it looks – I have 8 hours invested in the above 2 minute video. While it’s not terrible, there are so many things that I would have done differently. And I didn’t even draw any of the paper puppets! I’m sure it would get easier over time, but you need to know there is going to be a significant investment of time before you embark on a project like this.
  2. It’s all about the script – Lee makes this point in his book…while he is know for the look of his videos, it is the script (ie. the explanation) that takes the most time to perfect. The animations, hand motions and script should all work together help move the explanation forward.
  3. Time yourself first – It seems obvious, but if it takes 10 seconds to read your lines, you should have 10 seconds of video to go along with it. Otherwise you have to re-shoot or you have to cut your script. Neither of these are ideal.
  4. Get a bigger white board – The white board I used was relatively small and had a boarder. This lip made it difficult to move objects off and on the white board…they kept getting stuck.
  5. It was fun – I have to admit, I had fun with this project. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll use this style of video in the future, but it was a fun exercise to try. Making this video helped me wrestle though much of what I learned in the book and that helped cement it in my mind.

10 Photo Essay Tips & Tricks

Grand prize - webThis past year, the Leadership Network hosted a quarterly Photo Essay Contest. According to their press release:

“The goal of the contest is to collect photo essays featuring large, Protestant congregations. The idea of compiling photo essays, rather than single photos, was inspired by various news outlets’ use of the medium.”

“In our organization we hear tons of great stories of what God is doing in various cities, but we rarely get to see pictures. Pictures can tell a story just as well, if not better, than words alone,” says Stephanie Jackson, publications manager for Leadership Network. “We think photographers can offer a fresh and unique, visual perspective of the vibrancy and life happening in churches around the world,” Jackson adds. More>>

Our church takes an annual trip to Mexico in December and I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to get some great pictures. This was my first photo essay and I figured worst case scenario, by entering I would learn something. This entry ended up winning 2nd place (2nd Quarter).

Bringing Light & Power To Mexico

Encouraged from the positive response from my first try, and having been reinvigorated after my visit to the Evangelical Press Association,  I decided to enter again, this time featuring our Micah House after school program. This won 2nd Place (4th Quarter) and the “People’s Choice Award” GRAND PRIZE.

Micah House Makes A Difference

Entering these contests was a great exercise and fun to do. Winning was icing on the cake. Through the process of putting these together I learned a few things that I found helpful.

10 Photo Essay Tips & Tricks

  1. Know the story you want to tell first – With the Mexico trip essay, I wasn’t sure what approach I was going to take. This made it much more difficult to create with the story photos we had. With Micah House, I outlined the story first, then went to take the shots I knew I needed. This was much simpler.
  2. It’s nice not to be rushed – Deadlines are a helpful motivator, but putting together a photo essay is not something to be rushed. Give yourself a few weeks. With Mexico, all the photos were taken in one day. With Micah House I had 6 photo shoots over 3 weeks. Taking the photos is only the beginning. Plan on spending at least twice that amount on the rest of the project.
  3. Don’t be afraid to partner – You don’t have to take all the pictures yourself. With Mexico there were two of us that entered the contest. With Micah House I was aware of photos that I wanted to include to make the story stronger. Ask permission and give them photo credit. Most people will be happy to help you.
  4.  Sometimes you need to direct the shot you want to take – A photos essay isn’t necessarily photojournalism where you are just documenting what you see. You have flexibility to direct the outcome to get what you need.
  5. Editing is where the real work happens –  This is can be a time consuming process. With both essays, we had over 1,000 photos to sort through to end up with about 20. Always be thinking, which photos are “strongest” and which photos will help you tell the story.
  6. Color correct for consistency – When you have multiple cameras, locations and times of day, etc., it’s easy to have your essay look disjointed. You don’t want the change to be a distraction. One person should be in charge of color correcting so there is a similar look for the entire essay.
  7. Have people who are passionate about your topic help write the essay – Typically the photographer takes the lead on a photo essay. But don’t forget the essay part. A photo essay is BOTH show and tell. For Mexico I enlisted Jeff & Kathi McNair, friends and nationally known leaders in disability ministries. For Micah House, I had Program Coordinator Dianna Lawson help me by sharing her favorite parts about the people and program. In both cases we sat down for several hours reviewing the photos and writing down potential captions.
  8. Editors are your friend – Like any involved project, at some point you will stop looking at it objectively. Remember, editing is a team sport. You need outside help to give you perspective and to insure you tell the best story possible. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure and narrative all count to the judges.
  9. Know your deadlines – I had assumed the 4th quarter deadline ended at the end of June. It wasn’t until I re-read the contest application, that I realized it was due a few days earlier! Fortunately, I had worked ahead and had most things ready. I would have felt terrible to have gone through all that work to have missed the chance to submit my entry.
  10. Have fun and know (regardless of the results) you have made a helpful contribution – I have found that most churches and nonprofits do not have many good photos of their people and programs. The worst case scenario of making a photo essay is you will have quality photos to share that they can use on the web, annual reports, giving appeals, public seminars etc. Best case scenario you might win and give your organization some additional well deserved attention.

Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?

Target-logo-v.-1One of my favorite blog posts on the topic of church communications and branding is the classic piece by Tony Morgan entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?

If you’ve never read it, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Read it now.

Got it?

Tony makes some great points about the hilarity of church practices when it comes to marketing and design. Some of my favorites include:

  • “Instead of having men’s and women’s clothing departments, they would be called clever names like Impact and Embrace that are completely meaningless to new shoppers.”
  • “Each department in the store would have its own logo to go with their clever name. And, of course, all those logos would be different than the logo on the front of the store.”
  • “The store manager and his wife would be pictured on the front page of the website.”

Some of these are uncomfortably true. I think part of this is the nature of the church…it is a non-profit, volunteer driven organization that is more relational and organic than a business. There are definitely some things churches can learn about marketing and branding.

Then I got to thinking…

If church was viewed more like a mall than a Target Super Store, we would have a different set of expectations…

mall_of_america_logo_detail_altIn a mall, you have branding that is over the map. It’s expected…and even celebrated. The bigger malls have even more stores…more options…more to choose from. Any decent mall has stores for children, youth, men and women…and you don’t expect them to have the same “look or feel.” You wouldn’t get upset that the folks at Pottery Barn didn’t know about the pretzels at Auntie Anne’s…it’s a totally different experience.

We go to the mall FOR the variety. If every store was the same, why go?

The nature of Target is different then the nature of a mall. Both serve a purpose and both have their pluses and minuses…but there is no reason to constantly be frustrated that you are not as vertically integrated as the superstore down the street.

Embrace Your Inner Mall-ness

Here are several ideas gleaned from the “church as mall” idea.

  1. Both malls and churches are destination locations. Make sure you offer something for every age and stage.
  2. Have several Information Kiosks staffed with knowledgeable friendly folks to help people find their way around.
  3. Good signage and clean rest rooms are mandatory.
  4. Parking can set or wreck the mood. Make sure there is plenty of it.
  5. Be clear on what your anchor stores (ministries) are and how they are doing.
  6. The goal of “mall marketing” and “church wide events” is to get someone in the door. Once they are in your building they can discover the many different offerings your store/church has. Make this process of discover easy and enjoyable.
  7. Make sure people know “what’s next”…give someone an incentive to come back.
  8. Make sure purchasing (ie. giving and ticket buying) is as quick and painless as possible.
  9. Stores that are not doing well and going out of business do not reflect well on the mall. Every store has to carry it’s own weight.
  10. Food options are expected and necessary if you expect people to stay over long periods of time and not feel rushed.
  11. Safety is important. Every mall (and church) needs a Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

FOLLOW ME: Components Of An All Church Campaign

Recently our church did a 7-week focus using the Follow Me material by David Platt. For those of you who are not familiar with David Platt, he is is an impassioned speaker who has a passion for making disciples…and seeing others share their faith.

The goal was to get get the entire church involved…everyone from our upper elementary (4th grade) to our Senior Adults. In addition to the Sunday morning message, we wanted to start new small groups, Sunday morning and Sunday evening classes for people to watch the DVDs and interact with the material.

Oh, did I mention people had to buy their own study material?

People watch what you DO as much as what you SAY.  As I wrote in Sometimes Volume Speaks Volume, if you want to let  people know something is important, sometimes you have to over emphasize. If you don’t go out of your way to make something a big deal, why should they?

Here is a list of the some of areas that the Communications Department contributed to help support this all church campaign.

Branded Graphics

The series came well branded with the spotted cross and tan background. While we considered it, rather than developing our own look, we went with what came in the Follow Me Church Kit. For added flexibility we did trace the graphic so we had an vector Adobe Illustrator file.

FollowMePlatt_web graphic


To help brand the campus and let people immediately know that something was different from the moment they drove on campus, we printed large signs that were hung at all of the entrances. These stayed up for 7 weeks. I was pleased how they held up under the sprinklers and UV sunlight. We did have to clean off the bird poop once a week.

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Yes,  I accidentally installed this sign upside-down. Yes, I fixed it right after we snapped this picture : )

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There is no better way to help get people to share your message and “buy in” to your cause, than selling T-Shirts. To save money (and up the cool factor) we went with two colors on a black shirt.

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Stage Design

We made a custom GOBO to shine behind the preacher and worship band.

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Special Sundays

To keep things interesting, and to help make the weeks different and fun, we added some special elements to help people get involved at a different level than a normal Sunday.

Selfie Sunday  – Let people show they are participating in the Follow Me study in a fun way. To help encourage participation we offered prizes for the top three selfies and had our high schoolers available to help people work their camera phones. We also had a special email ( ) so people could send us their photo or they could use the #TrinityFollowMe hashtag on Facebook or Instagram.

Suit-up Sunday – We are a very casually dressed Southern California church. To mix things up we decided to dress up for Mother’s Day!

Selfless Sunday – To balance out Selfie Sunday and to think beyond our church walls, we partnered with YouthHope and collected “backpack food” for at-risk teens.

On Selfless Sunday we also commissioned all our summer short term mission trips.

Sundae Sunday – In celebration of the completion of the Follow Me series, we enjoyed ice cream sundaes between services!SS

Social Media #TrinityFollowMe

From the get go, we settled on the hashtag #TrinityFollowMe. We preloaded Facebook  (which automatically feeds our Twitter account) to post a quote from the days reading. On Sunday we we posted the bible verse.


Even our Spanish ministry, Fuente de Vida, joined us on our Follow Me journey. Since the graphics that came with the church kit were only in English, we needed to come up with our own Spanish graphic.

FollowMePlatt_WFCov_SPANISH - square - Copy (Medium)

Spotify Playlist

spotifyTo help us focus and worship, Worship Ministries created this Follow Me playlist. People could download the songs individually on iTunes or listen for free on Spotify!

Let’s Be Beautiful by Tim Timmons
All That I Am by Rend Collective (n/a on Spotify)
Gladly Would I Leave Behind Me by Sovereign Grace
This Changes Everything by Matt Papa
Lift High the Name of Jesus by Keith & Kristyn Getty
Christ is Enough by Hillsong Live
Lay Me Down by Chris Tomlin
Follow You by Leeland & Brandon Heath
You’re Worth it All by Gateway Worship
I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin
My Life is an Offering by Sovereign Grace Music
Come What May by Matt Boswell (n/a on Spotify)
Now is the Time for Us by Worship Central
Like Incense/Sometimes by Step by Hillsong Live
Hear the Call of the Kingdom by Keith & Kristyn Getty

Digital Wall Paper

photo 4 - webWe created these FREE Follow Me wallpapers for computer, phone and tablet.

Mac/PC Wallpaper

iPhone/iPad (best used as a graphic for your lock screen)


Memory Verse Bookmark

To help encourage people to memorize the scripture that went with each lesson, we passed out bookmarks with all the verses.

Follow Me Verse BookMark

Blank Check

One of the examples David Platt uses is offering God a “blank check”, symbolizing your willingness to surrender your life to Him. To help drive this point home, on the last Sunday we gave everyone a blank check that they could sign and put somewhere that would remind them of their commitment.


Recap Video

Created with Animoto, we showed this video the last Sunday of the study.

So How Did We Do?

Only eternity will truly tell the impact this series had on our church. That said, to try and translate Follow Me into numbers:

  • We sold over 670 Follow Me Study Books
  • 140 T-Shirts (SOLD OUT)
  • Over 50 Follow me DVD sets (that people would share with another group)
  • 140 participated in the Sunday Morning and Sunday Evening groups
  • Over 90 home small groups all over the Redlands, Highland and Yucaipa areas.

What And The Why

WhatHave you ever wondered what the “missing ingredient” in your communication was?

Wonder no longer…

To maximize your effectiveness as a communicator, you need to be able to tell both the “What” and “Why” of what you are trying to accomplish.


As Joe Friday use to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” The WHAT consists of the your typical event description…date, time, room etc.  You can use some creative adjectives and explanations in your description, but there are really only so many ways to describe your speaker, venue and meeting times.


WhyThe real magic in communication happens when you answer the WHY question. This is where you have a chance to cast vision, touch hearts, engage the imagination and explain to someone why they should invest their time and money to come to your event. The more compelling the “why” and the more you can connect it to your “mission” the greater the commitment will be for all those involved.

Often there are two audiences that you need to address.

1. For those attending the event, complete the sentence “We want you to leave our event  __________.”

Halloween Party: “…having a blast, making memories with your family in a safe, kid friendly environment.”

Missions Trip: “…knowing that you’ve been used by God to show His love and make a difference helping the ‘least of these’.”

Marriage Seminar: “…filled with a renewed sense of love,  appreciation for your mate and hope for your future together.”

Small Group Bible Study: “…with a greater appreciation for God’s Word and the community of believers that God has put you with.”

2. For those you want to challenge to volunteer or donate to the event, often we are asking people to do some pretty mundane tasks…setup, tear down, change diapers, run sound, bring candy or write a check. For this group you need to move the focus off the task by tying the WHY of the event to “kingdom reasons.” ie You’re not just teaching 1st grade boys…you’re helping training the next generation. You do this by completing the sentence “We want you to help us __________.

Halloween Party Booth Worker “…light the night in the name of Jesus and give families a safe place to bring their children.”

Missions Trip Donner “…do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission by sharing the love of Christ and helping the poor in India.”

Marriage Seminar Volunteer “…restore marriages and build godly families.”

Leader a small Group Bible Study: “…Shepard the flock and help people grow to maturity in Christ.

WHAT engages the BRAIN.

WHY engages the HEART.

You need to do both.

If you have a long time established event and you are changing it, the “why” question is even more important to answer. People like to the know reasons why things have changed. If you don’t acknowledge the change, people wonder and will fill in the blanks themselves (most often, coming to the wrong conclusion). Even if they don’t agree, they appreciate that you have thought things out and there is a method behind the madness.


Trinity Church Web SiteYou’ve seen them around, the square bar code boxes that are popping up in magazines, retail locations and packaging. These are called QR Codes (Quick Response) and they are an easy way to bridge your print pieces to the digital realm. Part of their popularity is that you can create QR Codes that perform a variety of actions, including: dialing a phone number, adding a contact, showing a message, sending a text message, and more. The major way we use them here at Trinity is to send someone directly to a specific website.

In order from someone scan a QR code, they need to install a QR Code Reader on their smart phone. There are many available apps for free or just  a few bucks. My current favorite is SCAN (available for iOS, Android, Windows, Kindle, etc). Even though installing an app is easy, I believe this is one of the major stumbling blocks to wide spread adoption. There are to many options with confuse people. I’m hoping one of these days Apple and Android will build a QR Code reader directly into the camera or web app.

There are many ways to create a QR Codes, but I strongly recommend, Google’s URL shortener. I like it for 3 main reasons.

    1. It’s FREE- most QR Code makers are, but it’s good to note.
    2. It’s Easier To Read – Google shortens the URL before turning it into a QR Code, which makes the resulting graphic “less dense” and easier to read. (both these QR Codes link to the same page)
      chart          Oais QR Code 
      Because it’s not so crammed, it also means you can print it smaller on your page. You have more design freedom as to size and placement.
    3. Super Simple Tracking – This is the MAJOR reason I like using . When you are logged into your gmail account, it keeps track of all the QR Codes that you create. I can easily look back and find out how many people scanned the code, when they scanned it and what kind of device they were using. Here is a sample tracking screen.
      QR Code Tracking 3

There are some very creative uses of QR Codes out there. I’ve seen them at museums to link people to videos describing their exhibit. I’ve also seen them on instruction manuals that show helpful installation videos, and retail displays that give more information to shoppers. Real Estate agents are using them on their lawn signs to link to their virtual tour of their houses.

Currently, we put QR Codes on the back of our Worship Folder and business cards (these link to our main website)and all major outreach flyers, posters and inviter cards (these link directly to the website post that contains event information and registration.) I’ve experimented with printing a large “QR Information Sign” with QR Codes linking to all of our ministries. I found when you have more than one QR Code, while trying to point to the one you want, the QR readers often scan the wrong one. Very frustrating! Note to self: QR Codes are best used one at a time!

It will be curious to see if QR Codes are a passing phase, or if these become a communication staple…or if we move beyond these and augmented reality takes off.

Guerilla Marketing

guerrillaLast week, marketers everywhere mourned the loss of Jay Conrad Levinson. For those of you who are not familiar with his work, Jay’s book Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business is  a marketing classic and a must read for anyone in the promotion and communication field. Jay built a marketing training empire with over 100 tiles specific to various industries.

I first read his book early in my marketing career and can’t say enough how influential this book has been. One of the BIG lessons I learned from Jay is that marketing is less about budgets and more about attitude. Marketing is “the truth made fascinating” and it’s our job as marketers to keep focused on the customer and how we communicate the benefits we offer to those most inclined to do business with us.

His book is chock full of hundreds of examples how the “small guy” can beat the big guys with hustle, moxie and a bit of creativity. Ideas as simple as leveraging both sides of a business card, the way you answer your phone or your hours of operations.

My favorite example is how an auto mechanic offered free fresh donuts for his customers. Here we have donuts as a “strategic marketing weapon”. What’s not to like about donuts?

Now, one donut is not going to keep a customer…but a donut, combined with a clean waiting room, well groomed service men, a clear checklist of services rendered, a reminder call for your next appointment and a discount for referrals might.  Jay’s approach is not about gimmicks but constantly honing your strategy tracking what works and strategically adding new weapons to your arsenal. Over time you can build a referral business that you can be proud of.

In the church world we are often faced with the same limitations as small business…large desires, few hours and limited budgets.  If you’ve never read Guerilla Marketing now is a great chance. If you have, dust off a copy and get re-inspired.