A little while back I was posting through the process of putting together a church website (post 1, post 2). While I’ve been posting about other things, the process of actually putting together and writing content for the new website is picking up steam.
One of my big jobs before we launch the site is coming up with a content strategy and a content schedule – defining the scope of our website and thinking about what sort of things we’ll post, and putting together a calendar for posts that matches up with our church calendar, and keeps things coming along with regularity. I can’t emphasise how important these two things are if you’re going to do something other than a static website.
Content is king.
New content is, like in the history books of any exciting monarchy – more interesting than a royal who sits around and gets bloated or doesn’t really do anything different.
But before one gets to content, one needs to think about how this content is presented. It’s not that style triumphs over substance. It’s a question of one of the biggest bits of getting any sort of traction or recognition for a brand.
Your church is a brand.
Brands aren’t creepy corporate entities like they used to be – they’re something that describes the association people develop with entities. Including your church.
Your brand is not your logo.
Your brand is your story, it’s your character, it’s what people think when someone says the name of your church… your website helps create your brand because it’s where people experience your story, and your character. It’s where they hear your voice (or read it).
So the first step – assuming you’ve got a pretty realistic notion of what your brand is (hint, don’t pretend to be Apple if you’re Dodo, Dodo, the internet that flies…), is to figure out the sort of voice and tone that is going to carry your brand messages (stuff you want to say about you) to other people. The people reading your site.
This needs to match up with what people are going to experience if they move from your virtual front door to your real world front door on a Sunday. Nothing will turn people off quicker than something that isn’t authentic.
For those who’ve been following at home as I’ve unpacked the relationship between ethos, pathos, and logos when it comes to church communications – your voice, in this sense, is mostly pathos, though it’ll influence the words that you use – but it has to come out of your ethos…
So how do you figure out what your voice sounds like.
I sat down with a few people the other day to think about how we want to sound as we write – across the board. We don’t want to be really prescriptive – there’s no blacklist when it comes to what words we will and won’t use – it’s more a descriptive thing.
And one of the things that helps is to play a little brand association game. There are plenty of big money brands out there who spend a lot of time thinking about their target market (pretty much our target market – in just about every case), and tailor their messages accordingly.
So we thought about some popular brands – Australian brands – who resonate with the kind of people who we might find in our neighbourhood. And we thought about our “product” – what a church service feels like, what the personalities of our preachers are like, and our service leaders… what the vibe is on a Sunday, and what we’d like it to be.
This will be different for every church because there are heaps of variables – but I’m not a huge fan of all churches sounding the same on their websites. I’m not a fan of churchy jargon. I’m not a fan of overly technical language. So it helps me, as I write, to write in character – what would this type of person say… maybe you should think of your church as a famous character or actor… as long as its authentic.
Hopefully if everybody jumps on board with this style it’ll drive consistency across our communications, so that the job of moderating, rewriting, and posting stuff to multiple platforms doesn’t fall to just one person. It’ll also hopefully stop anyone hitting post on anything reactive where the tone of our reaction is damaging.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the document – I hope it’s helpful.
Bear in mind – this is a draft, it isn’t anything official – it hasn’t been approved. It’s not our church policy. We’re not inauthentic Billy Connolly rip-offs, just with less swearing…
This is just something I’m doing as part of the process of launching a new website, and it’s something I think is important to that process.
This is a corporate style suggestion for guiding the approach to speaking, presenting, writing, graphic design, and recording as our church across different platforms including:
- Online – Our website, our blogs, social media
- Written resources – Printed material, the ministry papers, and e-books
- Marketing Material – Announcements, Slides, handouts, advertising, and fliers
- Videos and multimedia
It is not a prescriptive or restrictive guideline for individual personalities within the staff team, or congregation – that would be odd and decidedly inauthentic, but, instead, describes an aspirational corporate approach to communication conducted on behalf of the church community to represent our church to the community at large.
Ultimately, we don’t want our individual or corporate personality or brand getting in the way of people hearing about Jesus clearly.
Our brand personality – the “voice” we choose to speak with – can be described up through a list of the qualities we aspire to, but in summary we aim, through how we communicate, to:
- faithfully present the good news of Jesus,
- be persuasive to our audience – be it those we aim to reach, those connected with us, or those we serve,
- encourage people to connect with Jesus, and with our church.
We aim to be winsome, generous, interesting, and wise in our contribution to any conversation – taking our core business (the gospel), and convictions (our philosophy of ministry), seriously, but not taking ourselves too seriously in the process.
We want stories the gospel itself, and stories about the work of the gospel in the lives of real people to drive our message – not our own corporate spin or in house jargon.
We want testimonials not advertorials.
We want authenticity, so real people with real stories will carry the communication load wherever possible – rather than simple assertions like this one.
This means we aim to present our message, and ourselves, with:
- good humour, including a dash of laconic “Aussie” self-deprecation.
These are essentially the traits we hope to display every time we put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard – whether we are presenting our own position on issues, or responding to criticism.
We are, ultimately, in all areas, beggars telling other beggars where to find food.
Some “golden” brands to plunder…
Ultimately we hope that our communication will be shaped by the Lord Jesus, and the cross, and that we will be guided by the Holy Spirit, and the example of the apostles and those who have gone before us – but there is also much we can learn about communication and branding from the world around us.
Augustine says we should see truth wherever we can, and “plunder the Gold of the Egyptians” to serve the communication of the gospel.
Here are some secular brands that capture something of the communications ethos behind the Creek Road “brand personality.”
The best brands to look at are those with lots of money to spend on advertising and branding – banks and beer companies…
If we were a bank, we’d be something like ING – both focusing on, and presenting ourselves as focused on, our core business with minimal distractions (for them – banking, for us – the gospel). We pursue excellence in our product rather than spending time and money talking about how good we are. Our communication is personality driven, and simple, without expensive bells and whistles (or walking ATMs). When we speak with a little self-awareness, and self-deprecating humour. The joke is never at the expense of others, but ourselves.
Like ING, we recognise that people in our audience have negative experiences or impressions of our product (Church), and industry (religion), but expect, and speak as though, our product (both the Gospel, and our church) can exceed overturn those impressions and past negative experiences.
If we were a beer – we’d be XXXX, the beer for the everyman, sold through human stories and relationships that people can relate to (think the group of guys on a camping trip), with an emphasis on our humanity and our fallibility (like the guys making bad mistakes on their camping trip), and on our desire and intention to achieve our others-centered goals (like the guys cooking dinner in a new and exciting way). We’ve got an old product – one of the oldest brands going still in existence (Jesus), but like XXXX, we’ll try new ways to make it appeal to new audiences because we believe in the product.
This is a voice I think we can pull off without having to moderate our personalities too much across our team. It’s not a perfect fit for anyone – but it’s a comfortable fit for everyone. It seems real. It seems manageable.
So what do you think?
Does this whole process seem a little artificial?
Is it really all that necessary (it’s possible we’re overthinking this)?
How important is consistency?
How would you describe the voice of your church? How would you describe the voice of other churches using a famous pop-culture character?
1 thought on “The step before content: finding your website’s voice”
I appreciate your analogy and if you’re going to do more with this theme can you further explore your analogy with voices in the following way: what if the you’re speaking with an ING voice while everyone actually banks with the big four; or with a XXXX voice when everyone drinks either Corona or Heineken? (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)
Is our voice already there, or is it something we have to identify and then stride to actually become?
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