With a more controlled pandemic environment than we’ve seen in a few years, Christians are flooding back to their regularly scheduled Easter services like Apple fans to their mecca after a fresh iPhone drop.
For many years, people have referred to fans of popular brands as religious, or cult-like followers – buying the brand’s products no matter what and defending the company as if it were their own. In this article, we’ll take a literal approach to the term “religious following” to uncover what the greatest brand in history has to teach us about branding.
Disclaimer: This post was not written for the purpose of offending anyone. It’s merely an observation piece, and I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Once you’re finished reading this article, the similarities between the two will make a clear case for Christianity as a brand, in fact, the greatest brand in existence today.
This is also not a knock on people of a different faith. I point out Christianity because it has the greatest amount of followers worldwide, but these similarities can certainly be applied to almost any religion.
Christians have worn a crucifix around their necks for millennia – a symbol that signals their religious beliefs to the outside world, but also a reminder to live a life as righteous as Christ. As much as some may not like to hear it, the cross is Christianity’s logo.
Much like the use of a logo by its brand, the cross is applied to nearly everything labeled “Christian” – from buildings and books, to wearables and tattoos.
One of the hardest jobs we have as brand identity experts is getting people to understand that a logo without meaning is merely a worthless graphic. The best logos in the world embody a brand’s essence while remaining simple and instantly recognizable. The wearer becomes instantly associated with the ethos and reputation of the brand they’re representing, creating a sense of belongingness and community. Sound familiar?
The deep meaning of the cross is what makes it such a powerful symbol to Christians. Graphically, it’s not much different from the simplicity and iconic appeal of the Nike Swoosh. From partnering with the best athletes globally to empowering doers of all levels to improve their performance, Nike’s achievement-driven ethos has made the Swoosh synonymous with athleticism and accomplishment. Add in the brand’s unwavering dedication to their athletes, and you have a symbol that can spark the same feelings of belonging and unity that the cross does for many Christians.
Love, purity, and forgiveness are ideals that guide Christians all over the globe. Like human values, brand values give brands purpose, humanizing them by helping consumers connect to something deeper (and therefore, more meaningful) than mere products and services.
The most successful brands have defined their most authentic core values and use these values to guide their every move. According to Forbes, Apple is ranked as the most valuable brand in the world, having attracted 1.8 billion users on the back of its ethos of creativity, innovation, and challenging the status quo. These statistics pale in comparison to the 2.38 billion followers of Christ, making Christianity the largest religion, and by far the most popular brand, in history.
There’s a reason there’s a Bible on almost every hotel room nightstand. The biography of Jesus is the most notable and recognized story of all time. You don’t need to be of Christian faith to know the story of Christ. If you turn on your television this weekend, you’re bound to find a network playing the story of Jesus.
A powerful story is not only memorable but captivating, intriguing audiences to dive deeper. If we look at the story behind Starbucks Coffee, we find the fable of coffee’s journey overseas into the port of Seattle. This lore inspired Howard Schultz to name the company after the first mate aboard the Pequod in the famous novel Moby Dick, a marine theme that carried into the company’s logo and early visual identity. The Siren may be the loudest mythical creature of the sea, but she’s hardly a whisper against the 5 billion-plus Bibles sold since 1815.
Christianity was formed around the values and life of Jesus of Nazareth, the immaculately conceived carpenter who lead a life of miraculous healing and righteousness. Many other brands also originate from the story of their founder, but sometimes the brand ambassador is merely a preacher of the brand values mentioned in point number 2.
Steve Jobs has been revered as the visionary of innovation and the single most important reason behind the success of Apple today. At one point, Jobs was begged to return to Apple, by the same board who ousted him years prior, only to resurrect a dying brand. Despite Apple’s leadership changes, Jobs has always been widely regarded as the brand’s face, even after his death – a practically “immortal” figurehead that personifies everything Apple stands for.
Much like Apple without Jobs, a brand cannot make it through hardships without a sense of purpose and a plan to get there. For brands, this is exemplified by your mission and vision.
TOMS shoes gained popularity by giving away footwear to people in third-world countries who didn’t own a pair already, building a brand on charity and selflessness. On a significantly larger scale, Christians believe that Jesus’s life purpose (his mission) was to teach people the word of God and lead humanity to an everlasting life of salvation (his vision).
Good brand messaging is always clear, concise, and coherent. Jesus kept his teachings simple and easy to understand, spreading the good word through his disciples. Even if you’ve never been to church in your life, I’m willing to bet the letters WWJD aren’t complete nonsense to you. The simplicity of Jesus’s message is what allows billions of practicing Christians to continue to create awareness to this day.
Much like Christianity, brands cannot continue to exist without new followers and consistent messaging – a testament to the importance of telling a cohesive story across every touchpoint.
Words don’t matter unless they’re followed by action. In today’s digitally savvy world, consumers are nothing if not skeptical. Despite the plethora of commercials broadcasted by McDonald’s promoting “healthier options,” this well-intentioned effort loses its luster when you remember McDonald’s burgers are immortal. Nobody likes a hypocrite, especially in the social media age.
Had Jesus not abided by his own doctrine, his followers wouldn’t have cared if he could walk on water.
Christianity is all about the ‘F word’. We know what you’re thinking, “faith”, right? No, feelings. Much like people, brands are empty without emotion. The feelings tied to a brand are the main reasons why people gravitate toward it. Emotions create affinity. Affinity creates identity. Customers pay $1000+ for the latest iPhone because they want to feel like a creative, a forward-thinker, a visionary. Without a tug on the heartstrings, the latest iPhone would be no different than a flip phone you can buy at Walmart. What would Christianity be if it didn’t make you feel holy?
A brand’s architecture, interior, and website should be cohesive with the rest of the brand, delivering an immersive tangible experience. The Chipotle brand touts additive-free, non-GMO, natural ingredients. Similarly so, their restaurants use natural and unrefined finishes; wooden tables, aluminum wall coverings, and concrete floors.
Christianity also uses architecture and design to properly create an on-brand experience in the church. Stained glass, religious iconography, and an altar at the focal point set the tone for this place of spirituality.
Consider the Bible every Christian’s brand standards guide – a comprehensive instruction manual detailing how a good Christian shows up in the world through parables and commandments. Every brand needs a brand guide, Christianity included. Thorough brand guides bring a brand’s story to life (much like the Bible does for Jesus), providing clear benchmarks for how the brand looks, sounds, and acts. These clear “rules” keep the brand anchored in its core values, ensuring the brand’s integrity for years (or centuries) to come.
A strong brand can help lead your business to righteousness. The right partner can be your shepherd.
Someone will be in touch very soon.