The Creative Brief

Every project worth your time starts with a scope: the definition of the need, the desired outcome, and the measure of success.

When it comes to creative projects, the scope includes a critical piece of communication called the creative brief.

The creative brief can be a cumbersome document if done incorrectly. If done well, however, it can lead to groundbreaking work that goes beyond what anyone expected.

This video is a look into the thinking of some of the leading creatives in advertising, design, and architecture around the mission critical brief.

It’s worth your 26 minutes, trust me.

Briefly from Bassett & Partners on Vimeo.

 

www.vimeo.com/107567840

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Thoughts on “Belong Before Believe”

People belong to a group based on its actions, not its words. They want to belong to a group that does things that they want to get on board with.

Every group that people belong to outside of church does stuff. Teams, clubs, organizations… people join them to do, not to be.

If your church is putting “belong before believe” language in their marketing, you’re missing the whole point. Just start doing things that make people want to join in and you will attract people.

Tourists or Pilgrims 

Pilgrims are seeking a purpose. Tourists are seeking an experience. A tourist might love the experience, rave over it, document it, relive it. But they aren’t committed to it.

Tourists share experiences but they don’t construct them. They’re in it temporarily, not for the long haul. Tourists are consumers at heart.

Pilgrims are on a mission. They have a goal, a purpose of becoming a different person. Pilgrims make things happen. They’re in it for the long haul.

When you communicate about your ministry, are you speaking to tourists or pilgrims?

Missional vs. Attractional – a Thought Experiment

Here’s a thought experiment: imagine you have a friend who’s far from God, and they’re about to head out on a mission to Mars. You’ve got one hour with them before they take off, and that hour is on Sunday morning.

If you’d rather have your preaching pastor share the gospel with that person through a sermon, you’re an attractional church. If you’d rather have a person from your congregation share that message – or you’d rather do it yourself – you’re a missional church.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re one kind of church, when really you’re another. A missional church is characterized by it’s congregation, not it’s leadership.

The Social Flywheel

“What’s your social strategy?” 

I get asked this question all the time, either by other church marketing people, staff members at my organization, or marketing-minded folks in our congregation. You probably get that question a lot, too, and have a solid answer ready at your fingertips:

“We want to engage people where they are.”

“To create meaningful conversations online.”

“To build digital community.”

Sometimes the answer is more pragmatic, more functional: to reach more people with our great teaching content, etc. Or maybe your strategy is really a social calendar.

All good and worthy goals, except for one thing: your church probably has a building. And if it’s like a lot of other churches out there, that building isn’t quite as full on Sunday mornings as it used to be. Attendance is flat, or in decline.

So you respond by committing to get more active on social media, to reaching people where they are. You’ll build digital community, and it will translate into more community on Sundays.

Maybe. But probably not.

Social media can be a catalyst for growth, but isn’t just about follows, likes, and engagement. It’s not just about getting people to engage with your brand. It’s about getting them to engage with your mission.

People who are more engaged with your mission attend church more often; attendance is a byproduct of engagement. Engagement is and always has been the primary driver of attendance at church. We can’t forget that.

Connecting with people in digital spaces is a great start. It’s how connections start, more often than not these days (think online dating). It’s critically important these days, but it’s only part of the puzzle.

IT STARTS WITH ASSIMILATION

All churches have some sort of assimilation plan, and it usually looks something like this: come to church, stop by the welcome center (or attend an event for new people), connect to a small group, start serving, etc.

And if you’re smart, you tell them to follow you on social media.

You reinforce that pathway through announcements, printed materials, preaching, and your culture. You use your church-specific language like “get plugged in,” “get connected,” or just “belong” (which I’ve always thought sounded a little strange).

You tell people you hope they’re coming to Sunday services (or watching online when they can’t get there in person), growing in faith, building friendships, serving, being involved in their community, and welcoming new people themselves. Because there’s just no substitute to the authentic, personal connection that happens when we’re in the same place, together.

But did you notice where the first step in that next steps plan started? “Come to church.”

So how are people getting there?

If your assimilation plan starts with a person’s first visit to church, you’re overlooking a few very important things:

  1. New people learn about your church on social media;
  2. The people already in your congregation are advocates for your church through social media;
  3. While new people almost always check out your website before they visit, more and more people are checking you out on social before they visit [insert “what’s on our Instagram?” panic moment here].

Here’s the key thing to remember: a lot happens before a new person’s first visit. Social media controls the narrative around your brand; it validates you, and help visitors feel better about their first Sunday they come in person. It helps them overcome their barriers to attending: Is this going to be weird? How do I get there? When does it start, and how long will I be there? What am I signing onto when I visit?

THE SOCIAL FLYWHEEL

I like to think of social media and your website as part of a flywheel, where momentum starts with social, and the mechanism is greased by your website. Other things play a key part in getting that flywheel going: in-service announcements, the design of your website, your church brand… but we can’t underestimate the extent to which social media is the primary driver behind that momentum.

Flywheels are often used to provide continuous power output in systems where the energy source is not continuous.

 

 

It starts with impressions. Simply put, if people don’t see your presence on social, they can’t act on it. While it’s easy to target specific demographic groups through social advertising, social media platforms use an algorithm to determine what you see in your news feed organically. If the content looks like a good fit with you, based on things like whether your friends interacted with it, whether you interacted with other things like it, or it’s relevant to your interests, they’ll show it to you.

We try to design content with social personas in mind. Personas aren’t actual people, they’re types of people that you keep in mind when you’re creating content. Think “non-churched millennial,” “skeptical but curious,” or “parent of elementary age kids.” Specific types of personas should influence your creative process as you craft content, whether it’s a blog post or an Instagram pic. Be as unambiguous as possible.

Design matters. The average user will see about 200 updates in their typical newsfeed per day. Assuming your content makes it through the algorithm into someone’s feed, you’re competing for their attention with hundreds of other posts every day. As someone scrolls through their social feed, your best chance of getting their attention with your content is visually. Posts with a visual are 80% more likely to be read compared to posts without. Getting someone’s attention starts with design.

But it’s one thing to get someone’s attention, to get them to stop scrolling and check out what you’ve posted. Getting them to engage with it requires more than just the design; people like, comment, and share things that are like-, comment-, or share-worthy. Which means you need to craft your content carefully.

Quality content gets interactions. Are you guilty of copy-pasting your bulletin or announcement wording into a Facebook post? I am. I admit it: in a pinch, better to have something than nothing, right?

Wrong. Brands lose engagement all the time because they post content that’s just. Not. Helping. People don’t unfollow brands because they don’t post often enough.

We follow a weekly plan that prompts us to keep our content distinct from what’s in our informational channels like our bulletin, app, and announcements. And if we don’t have something that’s distinct, we don’t post.

We’ve recently scaled back our pace of content posting, because we’re seeing much higher engagement when we posting 4-5 times/week, not 7-10.

Keep your “psych’d factor” high. A good website will help increase the likelihood that someone visits your church in person. Before they visit, people need to know what you’re all about as much as they need to know what time your services start. And the fact that they’re checking you out online first isn’t just a given, it’s great. Because you’ve got their attention, they’re ready to start getting excited about what you’re doing as a church, and being part of it.

In a way, they’re kinda psych’d.

There’s a methodology that app developers use to analyze funnel conversion for new users. It’s called Psych’d. While it’s designed for app marketers, it’s just as valuable for website designers, and especially church website managers like you and me.

It starts with the idea of looking at every screen, every click, every action step someone takes when they are new, and determining whether that increases their psych’d factor – “video preview of the service? Great stuff for my kids? Cool!” – or diminishes it “no pictures of people… wonder if I’ll fit in.” Then you design your new person experience on the website with that in mind.

Most modern churches are way better at the website thing than they used to be. But it’s always a good idea to reevaluate it on occasion just to make sure. And once they interact with your website, you’re on your way to engaging them with your brand.

But your brand may not be all that you think it is. The brand of your church is what sets you apart from other experiences that compete with church, whether it’s another church, a hike in the woods, brunch, or the couch. It’s not your logo or tagline. How you compare to the other experiences people are having on Sundays is the biggest factor in determining if someone visits.

We’ve all heard the term “brand promise.” It’s what you are telling people they’re getting on board with when they get on board with you. Would they wear a t-shirt with your church logo on it? Retweet your mission statement? They’re on board with your brand.

You use volunteers for all sorts of things: children’s ministry, worship services, etc. But as much as 80% of your congregation are already acting as potential outreach volunteers on social media. When someone’s on board with your mission, your culture, and your brand, they advocate for you. They amplify your message, carrying into their own networks of people.

They do that by checking in when they get to church, tagging their friends at church, and sharing your content on their own social media.

That’s why I call this the social flywheel. Your people’s interactions are what power your growth. No matter what you do to target people on social, how great your content and website are, how compelling your brand it, it’s ultimately the actions of your people on social that powers the flywheel.

Growth is up to everyone in your church, not just you.

A Super Simple, Totally Doable Weekly Social Media Calendar

First, this: I didn’t come up with this plan myself. It’s a combination of input from folks who spend a lot more time building social community than I do, at places like Gwinnett Church and Saddleback Church. But it is tailored to the less-resourced model that I work with.

Our weekly plan looks like this:

Missed it Monday: a sermon quote, ministry highlight, or interesting detail from Sunday that can pull folks in to watch the recording of our sermon or live stream.

Team Tuesday: Highlighting people who are part of a team: volunteers, staff (usually the behind-the-scenes staff), mission teams, etc.

Word Wednesday: Thoughtful, inspirational quote or Bible verse, always as a graphic. If you don’t use Photoshop, get the Canva or Spark app on your phone.

Throwback Thursday: Obvious. Doesn’t always have to be way back. Could just be “last year on this day…”

For You Friday: Highlight something that you’re doing for the community. If you’re a church, your worship services don’t count (unless you’re doing something special that non-churched people will be drawn to). If you haven’t got anything going on that Friday, share an event from your local community calendar that people might want to know about.

See You Tomorrow Saturday: This is just for churches, obviously. Offer a little preview of what you’re doing the next day, whether it’s a YouTube video of a new song you’re doing, or just a teaser for the sermon.

Without a dedicated social media team at my church, having this framework makes it easy for us to keep our weekly stream of content flowing. This plan frees up more brain space for creativity and craft.

The All-Important, Under-Used Elevator Pitch

Before I got into church marketing, I spent time in several completely different industries: retail banking, enterprise software, and private education. All required different approaches to marketing, communication, and sales. But if there’s a common thread across all of them, it was this: the products and services I was helping sell were complicated.

Communicating about complicated stuff all those years taught me a lot about crafting messaging. When potential customers are going to hear information from multiple sources, over a long period of time, about complicated stuff, there has to be a simple, clear, and repeatable message that ties it all together. That’s not easy with products and services that have a complex value proposition and a long sales cycle. And there’s a lot of similarity between those challenges, and what churches face in today’s post-christian, non-religious culture.

This is why I tell every ministry leader I work with to write an elevator pitch for their ministry. An elevator pitch is a simple, one- or two-sentence description of who your ministry is for, what it does, and why that’s special. There are a few reasons for this:

It ensures consistency across different media channels. 

We all promote ministries across multiple channels: live announcements, bulletin copy, email newsletter, Instagram graphic. Most people won’t get their information from just one channel. If the messages about a ministry aren’t consistent between those channels, you’ll add to the confusion and reduce the memorability of your message. An elevator pitch helps keep your message consistent.

It’s the foundation for getting creative.

In the documentary Briefly, some of the foremost creative minds in advertising and design talk about how important the creative brief is to ensuring that all the creative work done on a product or advertisement stays on-message. It’s essential for making maximum impact, but it only works if it’s short and focused. If you’re in the creative business, watch this documentary.

Think of your elevator pitch as a kind of creative brief. It helps the pastor who’s trying to word a clever, memorable announcement keep the story straight. It helps the designer creating a graphic for social media understand what kind of imagery they should use. It keeps your creative team effective because it keeps their work true to its purpose: shining a light on your ministry.

It helps your customer be your best advocate.

You can’t repeat what you can’t remember. The more simple your message, the more memorable it is, and the easier it is to repeat.

 

This is really important for churches: it isn’t just what you say about your thing, it’s what other people say about your ministry.

 

The Formula for a Successful Elevator Pitch

  1. It starts by clearly defining your thing: “[thing name] is a _____” (fewer words, the better; if it’s a program, call it a program).
  2. It identifies the target market: “for the ____ (person who might participate in your thing)
  3. Include the value proposition: “…that offers ____”
  4. It sets your thing apart by telling people what makes it unique: “Unlike other [things], [our thing] will help you…

An example:

“Celebrate Recovery is a weekly gathering of people who are overcoming the hurts, habits, and hangups that can keep them from living the life God has intended for them. Through both large group teaching and meaningful small group times, it offers an opportunity to find support in the context of a meaningful relationship with God that is unlike other step programs.”

The Three R’s

Every time I meet with a leader who is looking for my help convincing other people to participate in their event, program, activity, or ministry, I reiterate a few basic principles of marketing communication that I call The Three R’s. They are especially helpful for self-declared “non-marketers.”

If you’re not a marketing-type, but have something to communicate succinctly, your message needs to have resonance, relevance, and recourse.

Resonance

Resonance: clarity, depth, fullness; evoking or suggesting images, memories, and emotions.

Resonance gets misused a lot in our post-modern, individualistic culture. We use the phrase “this really resonates with me” to indicate that a message has meaning to us in particular. But when something resonates, it simply means it produces deep, full sound that carries. It may evoke images, memories, or emotions, but it’s overriding characteristic is clarity: we hear it loud and clear. It cuts through the other noise.

When something has Resonance, it means that it’s clear to everyone. Think of a siren, or a church bell, or ship’s horn. Everyone’s clear on what those sounds mean, and they hear them over other noises.

So how do we get our messages to Resonate? Start with your elevator pitch.

Relevance

Relevance: connectedness to the matter at hand; appropriate to the current situation.

I’ll admit it: the word relevant is overused. I hear “that’s not relevant” all too often, mainly as an excuse to not engage with an idea. So think of Relevance like this: whatever you’re communicating about has a target audience, and you need to make it meaningful to them.

Meaningful starts with the message, not the listener. A 50 something male empty nester in your congregation might have a neighbor or coworker who’s a young mom. So an announcement Announcing your ministries with “if this is you, or it sounds like someone you know” helps a wider audience hear your message as relevant.

A great example of this is how we recruit people to be Stephen Ministers. Stephen Ministers are volunteers who undergo extensive training to be able to walk alongside people who are in a difficult time in life, offering support and help. It’s beautifully simple, but it’s also all too easy for people to think “that’s not me; I’m not gifted that way.” So we start with a message like this:

“Anyone out there on social media? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter? Ever notice how everyone’s life looks amazing on social media?

“The truth is that for most of us, real life isn’t like that. In fact, for some of us, it’s nothing like that. Some of us are really hurting. Could be divorce, unemployment… just a rough stretch of time when you need someone to walk with you through this hard time. That’s what Stephen Ministers do. They’re folks who have the empathy to simply be there for those among us who need help getting through a hard stretch.

“Now you mind need a Stephen Minister, but we know there are some out there who are hearing this message and thinking, maybe I could be a Stephen Minister…”

Catching peoples’ attention by starting with the nearly-universal phenomenon of being on social media helps us make the message more relevant to everyone.

Recourse

The word Recourse gets a bad rap due to the legal connotations is elicits, but the primary definition of Recourse is “a source of help in a difficult situation.” If there’s a better way to describe the way churches should think of CTA (call to action) in their communication, I’ve never heard it.

If you’ve clearly expressed your big idea, made it relevant to your target audience, then the best thing you can do is offer them some help in the form of a clear, simple change in their course of action (recourse… get it?). Give them the next steps and make them as simple as possible. Be the person hearing the message, and think to yourself, what am I going to do now, based on what they just told me?

I edit copy all the time that leaves out 1 or more of these things. Each one is universally helpful, so ingrain them in your thinking and communicating, and you’ll find that writing promo copy isn’t that hard after all.

 

A Daily Meditation of Humility for Communicators

“Just because you said exactly what you wanted to say, doesn’t mean they heard exactly what you wanted them to hear.”

Anyone in the business of communicating needs to say this to themselves every day. No matter how strong of a communicator you are, how creative or experienced, it’s easy to slip into the mode of “this is good, people will get it.” But there’s always someone out there who doesn’t.

Crafting any message, from an email intro to an annual report, starts with understanding the listener. It’s a you-first way of thinking, a posture of humility. 

Humble is considerate. Humble is non-assuming. Humble leads the listener to this place: tell me more.

Humble connects with people, because it’s clear that we’re putting them first.

Everyone is on a journey. Humble communication starts with recognizing where your listeners are on their journey, not yours. 

 

Overcoming Resistance

The War of Art, by author Steven Pressfield, begins with the idea that all of us have a barrier between the life we live, and the unlived life within us. 

Creatives, whether artists/writers, entrepreneurs, or ad men (and it’s not a stretch to include pastors here), have deep within them a desire to create, to make, to craft. All are equipped with God-given talents, and putting them to good use honors and glorifies the One who gave them to us. That work makes us feel more alive, more connected to our Maker, more in tune with the universe as He created it.

Pressfield depicts the barrier between that fulfilled life and the life we live every day as a “dark antagonism to creativity,” the anti-Muse, the enemy within. It’s called Resistance.

Resistance takes many forms: fear, self-doubt, busyness, distraction. It’s the sum of all the things that keep us from acting on our desire to create, to make, to craft. It’s a malevolent force of nature, but within us, relentlessly pushing against our capacity to create. It usually wins.

In my experience, there’s a form of Resistance that is particularly troublesome for mission-driven organizations, and especially churches (think staff of five to fifty). In these cases, Resistance often sounds something like this:

I’m not a marketer, I’m a pastor.

I’ll leave the promotional stuff to the experts like you.

I’m too busy working on my ministry to spend time on marketing strategy.

I trust you communications folks to write the copy.

It’s the idea that the work of creatively promoting some church activity or ministry is better left to others supposedly more well-equipped for this work. It’s a form of Resistance that’s especially effective in today’s post-christian culture. People aren’t naturally drawn the unique, increasingly-foreign offerings of churches anymore. Leaders and pastors spend countless hours crafting experiences that help people grow closer to God, but spend precious little time thinking about how they’ll get people to choose to participate in those experiences. As podcaster Rich Birch has said through his blog UnSeminary:

“Many leaders need to think as much about how they market and communicate what is happening at their church as they think about what they’re actually doing. In the same way that artisans wish they could just make their art and not have to find people to purchase it, we can fall into the false notion of believing that our quality experiences are enough on their own.”

Overcoming this type of Resistance is what this blog is all about.

I’ll do my best to empower those self-declared “non-marketers” at churches and mission-driven organizations with the wisdom and tools for communicating effectively about their ministry.

It’s my own way of fighting Resistance, and I hope you find it helpful.

Meet Winston

image

This is Winston. He is a French Bulldog who belongs to my wife’s cousin. He’s also our houseguest for the next 6 days. It’s hard to get a picture of Winston, because he doesn’t really sit still. Ever.

Winston is what you would call an active dog. Being 1 year old, this is normal. It’s just that our dog Gus, at age 1, acted more like a piece of furniture than a dog. He’s almost three now, and we manage to keep him nicely out of shape. Gus is not an active dog.

Winston is not neutered. As any dog person knows, young, un-neutered male dogs do one thing more than anything else; they hump. They’ll hump other dogs, people’s legs, furniture, even a kids’ toy, if it’s big enough. It’s not pretty.

Gus was neutered as early as the vet would let us, so he’s never really been one to “assume the dominant position” on other dogs, or anything else, for that matter.  This whole humping thing is new to us. And while Gus has been around plenty off other dogs before, he has probably never been around a humper like Winston.

Luckily, Winston is much smaller than Gus, so it doesn’t get to him much. The only time it it’s a major problem is when Gus lies down, because that allows Winston to hop right up on Gus’s head. Not surprisingly, Gus finds this annoying. The kids find it pretty funny though, since they are young and don’t really understand why Winston keeps trying to wrestle with Gus’s head. They think Winston just wants to go for a ride on Gus’ shoulders or something, or maybe he wants Gus to wear him like a hat. A “doggie hat,” as the kids called it.

When Winston isn’t playing doggie hat with Gus, he is doing the other thing he does a lot: barking.

Gus isn’t much of a barker. He will bark when someone comes to the door, or if a car pulls in the driveway. Winston barks at the rotation of the earth. He also likes to direct his barking at the kids, which slightly freaks them out. It’s as if he’s trying to warn them, sternly, that they are in danger from the earth’s rotation, and if they don’t comply with his warning to leave the earth, he’ll have to nip them. This isn’t endearing.

Winston is small, and resembles one of our favorite Disney characters, Stitch. You would think that would endear Winston to the girls, but at this point they think he’s more like the six-armed-alien-troublemaker Stitch than the lovable-Elvis-impersonating Stitch.

If there was a “just pooped a couple times in the kitchen” Stitch, Winston would really resemble him.

Winston has been at our house for 12 hours.

 

Update, post-Winston: Winston was at our house for 5 days. By the third day, he had settled down quite a bit, and become a lot easier to manage. While we weren’t exactly sad to see him go, the kids added him to our “…and God bless…” bedtime prayers.