By Jeff Huett and Jason Orme
To build community and to help people and congregations embrace their identity as partners within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, in January 2013, CBF embarked on a year-long process of assessing our brand and using what we learned to better articulate the identity of the Fellowship in words and visuals. Scores of interviews with Cooperative Baptists from across the Fellowship, along with leadership from CBF staff and an Atlanta-based branding firm have led to a new visual identity system, a clarified way to tell the CBF story and a new tagline for CBF, “Forming Together.” In this interview, Jason Orme, CBF’s lead strategist from the firm, Matchstic, and Jeff Huett, CBF’s associate coordinator of communications and advancement, discuss the branding process, the results and what both mean for CBF.
What is a “brand” and a brand audit?
Jason: The simplest and most helpful definition of a brand is a reputation. It’s way more than all of our marketing efforts, our logo or our tagline. It’s what people perceive about our organization and what they say about us when we aren’t in the room. Our work at Matchstic centers around helping businesses and organizations get to a preferred future state when it comes to that reputation. We identify their essence and then express that to people who will care. We have a defined process that we guide each client through — starting with an audit of the current reality of the brand, moving into strategy where we define an ideal future, expressing that strategy with visual and verbal creativity and then activating that creativity in a variety of channels.
Jeff: To me, brand has a lot to do with identity. At CBF, how are people, churches and partners expressing their identity with CBF? That gets to the reputation that Jason is talking about. Several years ago, a task force was brought together to help CBF live into its next 20 years of ministry. That group of committed Cooperative Baptists listed “clarifying our identity” as an area of great concern and one with the best potential for positive change. I see that charge as the driving force behind this branding work. We are living into CBF’s next 20 years of missions and ministry by clarifying our identity while providing many additional points of connection.
Describe the brand audit and strategy processes that your team went through.
Jason: In the audit phase of the process, we talked to a number of key constituents to understand the current perceptions of the brand. We also look at what the organization is saying about themselves in their marketing materials and what similar organizations in the field are saying about themselves. We attended a couple of church services where we were able to immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of CBF. All of these inputs led us to key insights that helped us to shape where we needed to take the brand. Through our findings and strategy exercises, we worked closely with the CBF team to paint a picture of the core of who and what CBF is.
Jeff: The brand audit phase is really the research phase. A diverse cross-section of Cooperative Baptists — including pastors and laity, Baptists young and old, those active in CBF life and those less active — participated in open-ended interviews. We wanted to know what they like about CBF, how they describe it to others, as well as their critiques of CBF and their vision for the future.
The key insights Jason and his team developed told our team of 10 CBF staff members from across the organization that Cooperative Baptists see ourselves as a “both/and” organization — opposite sides of the same coin. We appreciate, even celebrate, the fact that we are made up of individuals and congregations that, while autonomous, invite collaboration. We do not want to be defined by who we aren’t or spread ourselves too thin, but embrace the opportunity to clearly articulate our story and offer meaningful connections and opportunities to take action, to lead and to spread the hope of Christ. Participants used words to describe CBF such as family and freedom, connected and forming. CBF was described as both local and global. When asked what CBF does best, many responded with “missions” and “local church support.”
Why was this process important for the future and growth of CBF?
Jason: We find that all good organizations have a clear idea of why they exist and what they should focus on. When they try to be all things to all people, they end up meaning very little to anyone. CBF has a lot of value and purpose that simply needed to be articulated in a strong way. By doing so, we were able to achieve a great deal of clarity and a filter through which CBF can grow into the future without diluting themselves or their offerings.
Jeff: As Cooperative Baptists, our identity and those things that make us distinct from other Christian, even Baptist, organizations should roll off our tongues. If they don’t, we should explore that. CBF has a clear mission and vision — “To serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.” How we do that — including with whom we partner and how we’re structured — help make up our identity.
The way we talk about CBF is vital, and rattling off a mission statement doesn’t always communicate who we are in the most effective way. Developing our brand, our reputation, that gut-level reaction when people think and speak of CBF, requires clarity and intentionality. Often, in crafting that clarity and practicing that intentionality, community is formed. In important ways, the goal of building community across the Fellowship propelled us through the valuable process of refining the way we tell our story.
How does this work harken back to CBF’s founding?
Jeff: We’re living into the same values that CBF’s founders instilled nearly 25 years ago. We strive to be the presence of Christ, to be Christ-like, innovative, authentic, global and to raise the bar on excellence with inspiring partnerships, ministries and missions. We are this way because the approximately 1,800 congregations that comprise our Fellowship are this way. CBF partner congregations are innovative in their ministries and seek global impact through their mission work. They strive for excellence in the ways they carry out ministry and missions. Like CBF partner congregations, CBF aspires to be diverse — in race, in gender, in geography and in age. These words describe our past and will describe our future.
What changes can people expect to see?
Jason: Once we defined the essence of the brand, we were able to leverage that in reintroducing CBF to the world. We worked on designing a visual identity system and creating a brand messaging package that would reflect the fruitful and global nature of the ministry and missions efforts of CBF. You will see a new look and feel that is fresh, thoughtful and flexible. An entire system was developed to facilitate a robust brand architecture for all the ministry initiatives, states and regions and partner organizations. We also retired the use of some older logo assets to strengthen the equity of the CBF visual identity. For a tagline, we decided on “Forming Together.” This, to us, encompassed so much of the organization. As CBF partners to renew God’s world, they do so by collaboration and spiritual growth. Abstract enough to be left up to interpretation, “Forming Together” is as much of an invitation and challenge as it is a method of operation.
Jeff: The brand research confirmed what many of us knew to be true. We appreciate the freedom we have to worship in autonomous congregations. But we also appreciate and celebrate collaboration with others and the important exchange that happens while spreading the hope of Christ in ministry and missions. Those with whom we minister have a lot to give. “Forming Together” celebrates the spiritual formation process molding us in the image of Christ, but also the cross-cultural “forming together” that happens among CBF field personnel and the most marginalized people on earth. So, you’ll notice that we will use the “Forming Together” narrative often as we put words and images to telling the story of the Fellowship. Visually, you’ll see a system and logo that represents the individuals, congregations and partners that make up the Fellowship, first and foremost, to witness God’s work in the world. You’ll see parts forming a whole because that is our strength.
What else can you tell us about CBF’s new tagline, “Forming Together”?
Jeff: “Forming Together” provides handles that Cooperative Baptists — individuals, churches and partners — can use to talk about their engagement in the work of the Fellowship. And when I say the Fellowship, I mean (to borrow a word from Suzii Paynter) the whole “denomi-network.” Individuals are forming together with congregations; those congregations are forming together with other congregations and with state and regional CBF organizations, which are forming together as a group of autonomous CBF bodies, as well as with CBF Global.
The parts making up the whole is our strength. The “Forming Together” concept is abstract enough to prime our thinking about all the ways we are “forming as one” and ways we are “forming together.” It is a concept that allows us to talk about CBF’s missions and ministries in fresh ways and in ways that invite others to the innovative collaboration that is a hallmark of CBF. This is collaboration around things like chaplaincy, church starting, advocacy, Student.Go and Together for Hope, and collaboration alongside field personnel all over the globe.
With the brand audit and strategy processes complete, what are your hopes for CBF?
Jason: It was such a pleasure to work with CBF on this initiative, and we built great relationships with the team. I personally hope to see CBF stay true to what we built and have the courage to act out of who CBF is — as God has created the organization to be. I would hope to see the organization extended in its effectiveness of missions, ministry, community and encouragement.