Abandoning Branding (A Warning About Marketing)

It’s 5:55 in the morning and I am watching Chuck Norris sell gym equipment. Christie Brinkley has somehow been roped into helping and I find both of them much less convincing than the nameless, greasy-muscled Extras who are rowing things in the background. Some products, when endorsed by a more relevant, hip and trendy breed of celebrity, have us wanting to order right away. But at other times, when the endorsing doesn’t feel legit, we end up staring at Christie Brinkley, wondering what happened to her and Billy Joel. Or we can’t take our eyes off Chuck Norris’ hairpiece because there is more hair crammed onto it than you could shake a stick at.

These days, “branding” is king. It’s all the rage in the business world. Christie’s brand is to be beautiful, which I suppose is related to working out. And Chuck Norris is known for karate and Saturday night TV. That’s his brand, right? But this infomercial feels like snake oil, and I am not buying.

Branding. It has taken over not just the secular market, but also the Christian market. Here’s what I’ve been thinking…

Don’t brand yourself.

Why? Because more often than not, it seems the moment our passion, ministry, or service gets a logo and UPC code, it all becomes about making money.

In the last couple of years, people I greatly respect have said things like, “I want to OWN the market on ____________.”

Own. Not inspiring. Not a good meme. I hear “power over” rather than “service to”. Or is it just me?

While listening to very persuasive speeches on branding, I have personally fallen into the trap of thinking, “What should I be known for? What should I own the market on?” And without realizing it, the internal pressure of “should” was getting to me. Wasn’t I supposed to brand myself? How else was I going to GET MINE?

The basic instinct of humanity is self-absorption and selfishness. We already know this. But when our life heroes, pastors, teachers, or mentors are suffering from their own personal lack of accountability, (it happens to the best of us) they build kingdoms for themselves and then publicly ask us to validate their self-pursuits by holding conferences or writing books and suggesting we do what they’ve done. They get real bold and unapologetic about WHY they’re branding themselves. And because we look up to them, we believe them.

But the basic instinct of our humanity also has a gut. We have this thing within us…(a heart, God, that internal voice) that whispers things like, “Something’s fishy about this rickety old sawmill, Scooby.” And we ought to pay attention to that voice, because sometimes when we listen only to the proverbial “them” we stop listening to our heart, which is pointing the way.

It’s tough to stand up to the online heroes, conference leaders, and pastors who branding seems to have worked for, isn’t it? Because maybe they know more karate than you do, so it only makes sense to take their advice. But they are not superhuman. They are not foolproof. None of us are. And we have no idea what their success might have cost them; perhaps the kind of passion they’d give their eye teeth for.

Chuck Norris is not a young man but it seems this is his brand: Youth. The trouble is, I don’t believe him. And the reason I don’t believe him is because he’s not young. That’s an easy one to figure out.

But here’s where it gets interesting. There are all of these “leaders” out there who have convinced us (and convinced themselves) that they are powerful or successful because of their brand. And we want to be powerful too, not because we are awful people, but because we want our lives to count for something. But branding won’t make your life count. Because branding isn’t powerful. Love is. Hope is. GOD is.

Might I suggest you back up two spaces and start there.

I have a book coming out next month, which has nothing to do with any of this (resisting the temptation to advertise at this very moment) and so I understand the temptation to brand myself – to say, “I’m the guy who is known for ____________.” But the truth is, if you are a believer, you are supposed to be known for your LOVE. So knock it off with all this other stuff and consider that it may be time to abandon branding.

Branding is persuasive, but it will never have the staying power that Love has. So if I MUST brand myself, maybe I’ll get a little red heart sticker and put it on my chest. I realize I can’t own the market on love (only God can do that), but I can still be a part of it…even if I never “get mine”.

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