Today Pope Francis visited the United States starting off with a visit to the White House. Even if you do not follow a particular religion or are not Catholic, you must recognize this is a big event, as it’s been seven years since a Pope has come to our country.
This blog post is not a conversation about religion, and/or whether you should or should not practice a faith to be a good person. Instead this is a blog post about the brand of the Catholic church and the leader of the brand, Pope Francis…a brand quandary!
My Upbringing & Connection
I was raised Catholic, but have not practiced since I moved out of my parents’ house at the ripe age of 19. That's me in the pink clearly looking at my iPhone back in Italy as a kid! Over the years I’ve watched the Catholic church lose touch with not only my generation, but barely hold on to the attention of my parents generation.
My Mom snowbirds for six weeks here in Arizona every year. She’s been doing so for ten plus years, and during her visits she attends a Catholic on Sundays. In the 10 years, she’s attended three different churches here in Phoenix. The first church she attended one service and said that they had “fallen away” to an even older style Catholicism than I remember. The second church (heavily Hispanic) she went to she attended for probably five or more years, and watched them go through a variety of priests over time. Most recently, she has decided to go downtown to the Basilica. For those of you who don’t follow the religion, the Basilica is the “head” church in a large city. She seems much happier going there.
Yet, I can’t help but hear her comments and think the Catholic church is still exactly what I have thought it was all these years: conservative, judgmental, out-of-touch, antiquated and just plain not for me.
According to the CBS Sunday Morning show that aired on 9/21/15, I’m not alone in my belief of the Catholic church. According to a poll of Catholics in the U.S., 53% strongly approve of this new direction being provided for by Pope Francis, and only 9% disapprove. When polled about how Pope Francis has handled the sex abuse by priests 48% agreed he’s doing a good job which is a significant improvement over Pope Benedict’s 19%.
Sure, I’m fascinated by this new Pope! For the first time it appears the Catholic church has leadership that might result in some change of these outdated beliefs. Pope Francis is being described as a “change-agent” along with a warmth that many find intriguing and are filled with hope that he may shift the culture of the church to be more inline with the generations of today.
And here is the ultimate issue…leadership can begin to shift the brand with their personal beliefs and actions, but it takes action by the Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Deacons to really create the lasting change Catholics are looking for IN their churches. This isn’t unlike your business. You may have a tremendous vision and mission, and have built a brand that will position you as an authority in your industry, but what about the people you have on your team.
The Brand Connection & Evolution
In 2002 the $500 M company I worked for did a name and brand change to overcome a negative brand reputation externally. Our customers did not like to do business with us, for good reason. They were treated poorly and left to believe they were not worthy of purchasing an automobile because of their bad credit. I can’t even begin to describe to you how our 100k customers were treated from point-of-purchase to the end of their term. It was truly dreadful that any human would treat another human in this manner. So, the name and brand change occurred to overcome this image.
Fast forward to the year 2005…still the same problem at the store level. I’d have to say the problem was within executive, director and manager level within the corporate office too. As a result, three years after the name change we realized our brand change had not occurred on the front line. Sure, we changed all the brand expressions; logo, colors, signage, tagline, business cards, forms, etc, but that doesn’t change attitude and way of doing business. It was only then did we realize we needed a brand that was more customer friendly and aligned with the front line staff. The tagline changed from “The Financing Dealership” to “The Go-to Guys for Cars and Credit”. It was like night and day, this new brand. Our front line people felt empowered and begin to embody the idea of treating customers with respect. We also began hiring a higher caliber of front line sales and management in our stores.
It was amazing to watch the brand really begin to evolve and change to become more friendly and helpful as the front line staff changed their attitudes. You might not be following me… just because you, the leader, change your brand or direction doesn’t mean the impact is felt on the outer circles. And until you truly deal with the issues on the outer most circle, just saying we’re new and improved at the corporate headquarters doesn’t move outward very quickly.
The Catholic Brand
This is the concern I have for Pope Francis and his brand of encouragement, warmth and change. Is this change in heart being transmitted to the bishops, priests and deacons who are the front line for the Catholic church? According to many of the younger generations, their local church or community hasn’t changed all that much. Those that have gone back to the church because of the Pope Francis affect are leaving disappointed and left feeling “change” isn’t happening. You see, the Catholic church has a brand problem. While they’ve changed their brand with a new leader in Pope Francis those in the communities who are much further removed from leadership than our front line staff haven’t changed that much.
In summary, your brand is lead by you, the CEO or executive of your company, but if you don’t find a way to change the outer ranks of those who are touching your customers on a daily basis you too will have a brand problem like the Catholic church. Your brand has to be relatable by your employees first. If they don’t relate or you haven’t taken the time to share with your people your brand you’re going to have a disconnect. Your people, whether 1, 2 or 100 or 200 must understand how their actions need to be consistent with the brand. Spend the time to get your people onboard with your brand, because they are the disciples of your promise…your brand.
Brand beliefs do not change overnight. As a former brand change agent at a $1.5 B company, it’s never too late to start building or rebuilding your brand. It’ll be time well spent. After all, we are kind of like elephants…we have a long memory of things gone bad and a short memory of things gone good.
Where do you stand? Do you have a brand that your customers and employees love and support? If you’re saying to yourself, I don’t know what my brand is then you do have a problem. People have a need to understand who you are as a business, before they are loyal and trust your brand’s offerings!
Read more about the rebranding of my former corporation in Rebranding: Ugly Duckling to Swan!