Identity Crisis

Why you don’t need a new logo


Red ManIn my years of serving as a consultant for companies and nonprofits, I’ve noticed a frustrating habit that’s finding its way into churches as well. Too often these organizations will attempt to manipulate branding and image design to communicate the very essence and soul of who they are. They’ve got it backward.

In The Soul of the Corporation, Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly rightly observe that when you “ask a senior executive what it means to change a firm’s identity, [he] or she will most likely talk about redesigning the logo and visual materials and, occasionally, changing the company’s name.”

The logo and imaging stuff is easy when you know who you are. It’s much more difficult when you don’t. Rebranding or changing your identity, say the authors, “is analogous to changing an individual’s appearance by changing the clothing or makeup the person wears, cosmetic surgery, and, in extreme cases, by changing the individual’s name.”

In contrast, real identity transformation “reaches much deeper, to the heart and soul of an individual, and does not necessarily require altering the individual’s appearance.” Although internal and external change may sometimes support each other, it’s important that surface-level change and deeper change aren’t transposable prescriptions. It’ s definitely OK to update the skins (logo, colors, etc.) of your organization, but not without the deeper soul in full view at all times during the process of change.

If you understand this and are still looking for branding help outside, let me offer some extra advice: Try to hire freelancers or design/marketing firms that don’t provide comps. I realize this may go against everything you know. Yet working with someone that provides multiple design comps is like buying from a knife salesmen. If the Ginsu 2000 is the knife that beats all other knives, why do I need to buy all your other knives too?

When you support the bad habit most creatives have about providing multiple comps, you’re training them to doubt their expertise. You’re also presuming that you actually know better than they do about what works. If you’re going to play creative director then design it yourself. If you don’t like the colors or the font or the motion graphics or the bumper music, perhaps you need to do a better job communicating your expectations upfront. Work hard to make sure your freelancer or firm gets what you’re trying to accomplish before they ever begin working. Give them the problem you’re trying to solve and let them come up with the solution. The more they know at the beginning, the more likely they’ll be to hit it out of the park for you when you see their winning idea.


Brad Abare is director of communications for the Foursquare denomination and founder of the Center for Church Communication.

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