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 most popular religion in history has to teach us about branding.
The 10 Brand Commandments
1. Create a meaningful logo.
One of the most important arguments we make as brand identity experts is 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.
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.
Great logos instantly associate the wearer with the ethos of the brand they represent, creating a sense of belongingness and community. Whether a cross or a Nike Swoosh, these simple symbols are badges of honor that help followers identify with their brand’s higher purpose.
2. Define your values.
Love, purity, and forgiveness are ideals that guide Christians all over the globe. Like human values, brand values give brands purpose, helping consumers connect to something 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 because of its ethos of creativity, innovation, and challenging the status quo. These statistics pale in comparison to Christianity’s 2.4 billion followers, making Christianity the largest religion, and by far the most popular brand, in history.
3. Tell an impactful story.
There’s a reason there’s a Bible inside 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 a Christian to know the story of Christ.
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.
4. Elect a brand ambassador.
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.
Whether Steve Jobs or Jesus Christ, a strong figurehead instantly humanizes your brand.
5. Have a strong purpose.
Much like Apple without Jobs or Christianity without Christ, 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. Sound familiar?
With a mission to show the love of God to others and a vision to lead humanity to everlasting life, Christianity’s strong sense of purpose has won the hearts and souls of more followers than any other religion worldwide.
6. Spread the word.
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. 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.
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.
The simplicity of Jesus’s message is what allows billions of practicing Christians to continue to create awareness to this day.
7. Be authentic.
Words don’t matter unless they’re followed by action. In today’s digitally savvy world, consumers are nothing if not skeptical.
McDonald’s commercials promoting “healthier options” lose their luster when you remember their hamburgers 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.
8. Get emotional.
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.
Christianity is all about the ‘F word’. Not faith. Feelings. After all, what would Christianity be if it didn’t make you feel holy?
9. Create an experience.
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.
10. Set standards.
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.
Whether you’re an ancient religion or a new brand, building a loyal following means attracting like-minded believers with a clear understanding of your higher purpose.