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Putting ‘a church you can believe in’ on the lips of Dallas

How First Baptist Dallas went about their brand development in presenting itself anew to the city.

By John Grable

To say that branding a 140-year-old organization presents challenges is a colossal understatement, one so large that I suspect you are smiling right now.

Step back and think about branding a church that still worships in a building built in 1891 (that’s not a transposition of numerals either) and in the center of that sanctuary stands a pulpit 118 years old. Then add the geographic context of being located in a city that is home to so many great churches.

That visual of a mountain conjured in your mind is the challenge of re-branding First Baptist Church of Dallas. It seems like another trip to the thesaurus for a better word than colossal is necessary.

In any leviathan endeavor such as this, the work begins with the process. The quality and integrity of the process correlates directly to the success of the brand. Our ability to truly perceive what the marketplace thought of our institution as seen through the lens of our understanding of what people in Dallas want in a church brought our brand into focus.

Unique to the church

It is important to note that from the beginning we recognized that Dallas residents, newcomers and long-timers exhibit attitudes and practices, even nuances in choices that make them unique. So we knew from the beginning we were not out to create a brand or marketing strategy that would necessarily work in any city but Dallas.

The communications office of First Baptist Dallas began this process by identifying the partners needed to make this journey. It was critical to find brand-advertising professionals who knew how to communicate to the Dallas marketplace. In our case, we chose a group that worked together virtually — art directors, copywriters, planners and account managers who understood our DNA.

At this point of brand development, the core question became, “Are we willing to ‘own’ the results of what we find on this journey?” With a positive affirmation on our lips, we began with multiple sessions of blind focus groups. Our criteria for selection began with Dallas residents, ages 25 to 60 who were identified as not currently affiliated with a church but looking to find a church. That group represented the microcosm of prospective guests to First Baptist Dallas on any given Sunday.

Looking through a one-way window, we saw Dallas residents at all stages of life interviewed and queried, sharing their needs and viewpoints of church, and we heard many positive comments on the qualities of Dallas churches. It was fascinating information.

Stodgy and staid?

After six hours of watching these interviews, the assimilation began. Studying transcripts, viewing closed circuit video and tabulating data yielded some valuable conclusions. We discovered responses such as “perceptions of First Baptist Dallas lag reality by decades … stodgy and staid … stuck with lingering perceptions … not a clear new perception on deck.”

With this challenge our ad team went to work. The first product of this process was our brand positioning. This is where it became really fun. The positioning we discovered began with defining our target, then defining how we are distinctive. This positioning statement emerged:

“To people who believe faith should be more than a spectator event, First Baptist Church is the enduring community that applies the Word of God in every facet of life.”

Reading that statement was stunning; it encapsulated the essence of our church. It also propelled us into the next phase — logos and theme lines.

The art involved in logo design perhaps is the most subjective. It proved that way for us. We never had a consensus. In fact, among the team there were many opinions. We ultimately went through 25 design comps. But at the end of this phase, the decision came down to, simply, “what represents who we are” and not what was cool for the creatives, or what we wanted people to think of us — indeed, not even what we thought people would be attracted to. It had to represent who we are today.

Our theme line in retrospect was much easier. It is in perfect harmony with our brand statement. It is the best answer to the question of “church?” It contains a wordplay that points people to God. It is the best response to a number of statements that people feel about church. It is a theme that Pastor Robert Jeffress uses in his appeal at the close of a service.

First Baptist Church of Dallas is “a church you can believe in.”

John Grable is minister of communications, First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX. [firstdallas.org]


CAMPAIGN’S THREE ‘WAVES’

With our theme, “A church you can believe in,” established, we rolled this messaging multiple ways. In outdoor media, we started with a message that said, “Looking for a church you can believe in?” We even did an expandable Web banner that began with this same question that revealed in the expansion: “You’ve found it!” combined with logo and worship information.

Our second wave was a “real people” component. Using actual church members, we added a round of billboards with their image, name and descriptor, plus the line “I found a church I can believe in.” [see photo on this page] We accompanied this with radio spots based on the church member’s story. The tag for these spots works nicely as we stated the emotional conclusion plus our theme:

[Real person
] “You know, that’s a story that I’ll tell my grandkids about how I came to be embraced instantly by First Baptist Church.”

[Announcer] “A church that takes the time to get to know you is a church you can believe in.”

Our third wave launched with the messaging taken from our pulpit and pastor: “Bold, Biblical, Practical. That’s a church you can believe in.” John Grable

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