Getting your youth ministry branding right

Teenagers today care a lot about their style, their identity. They’re not afraid of standing out from the crowd, and they are willing to represent a cause, make a statement. With access to so many different experiences and environments, today’s teenagers celebrate more diversity than perhaps any other generation. So, developing a brand that students connect with is more difficult than ever, but it matters!

Wouldn’t it be a win if your students really felt like they identified with the DNA of your group?  If they felt like you get them, and like your gathering is a space specifically for them. That was one of our top priorities when we recently went through an intentional rebrand. It was one of the most personal, in depth, difficult and rewarding projects I’ve been a part of in my 4+ years at this job. I discovered that throughout the process of relaunching a brand, logo, or name, there are 4 questions that are super-important to ask along the way. 

1. Why are we updating?

In my opinion, logo design is one of the most challenging areas of graphic design. The end result might seem so simple, but a logo has to say a lot with just one glance. Getting colors, shapes, themes, typefaces, proportions and spacing just perfect can be quite a daunting task. So, before you pour countless hours designing, decide what your logo should achieve. Ask yourself what you like and don’t like about your current logo, how big of a change you want to make, and what your goals are. And realize that if you aren’t ready to put the work into making a big improvement, sticking with your current logo might be better for consistency sake.

During my last 4 and a half years at my current job, our student ministry branding has changed twice.  When I first started this job, we had 2 different names. Middle School was called Pipeline and High School was called Axis. Some leadership changes meant that no one was super passionate or clear about their meanings. The first change we made was calling the whole ministry Mosaic Students. Mosaic is our church’s name, which has a great reputation within the community. So, switching our name to Mosaic Students said two things. 1.) We identify with who Mosaic is. 2.) We are part of a bigger whole. To reinforce those two goals, when we first switched our name, we pretty much didn’t have a separate logo.  We just used the same branding as our church.

Now, a couple of years later, we still want to be associated with the bigger church.
IMG_2164But the goal for this new logo, is to help reinforce the idea that Mosaic Students is
a place specifically for teenagers. A place where you can belong, where people get you, where your relationship with Christ can be experienced on a personal level.

2. Who are we?

When marketing firms have meetings with new clients, they usually start out with an in-depth conversation about who the company is at its core. A podcast I listen to, Finely Crafted, calls this an “understand your brand workshop”. This exercise is as much about challenging how the client thinks about their identity as it is about trying to get to know the client. Something I’ve learned from Finely Crafted is to let your story define your brand.  They give an example on Season 2, Episode 3 of a company called Monday Night Brewery, who got started by a group of guys who after work, looorigsen their ties,
hang out in their garage, make good beer, and they’ve carried that story over
into everything they do.  Their logo and physical space incorporate the idea of a loosened necktie. They do a great job of letting their purpose drive their marketing.

One very tangible way of discovering your identity, recommended on Finely Crafted, is to think about what words define you (i.e. inspirational, fun, warm). Come up with these words as a team, so  you have an opportunity to see where the conflicts or overlaps occur.  It’s okay to actually let you own personality inform your brand. Who you are will inevitably seep out.

So take some time and do some self discovery before you start designing. From there, all branding should follow the same story line about who you are and why you exist. As your branding begins to tell a more consistent story, people will be able to more easily connect.

3. What is the end goal?

Ok, so once you have an awesome logo, one that is true to who you are and why you exist… what are you going to do with it?  So many ministries (especially the small ones that are busy already), IMG_2165redesign their logo and then no one ever sees it.
Make a list of everywhere your logo currently exists, and everywhere it should exist (website, social media, signage, gathering media, merchandise…) Then, make a plan for how each of those things will get updated or produced. A new logo is exciting and fresh. So, work hard to update it as well as creating some new pieces, like banners or t-shirts.

4. When is it okay to spend lots of money on getting it right?

Sometimes during this process, you’ll realize that paying extra for some professional design help, or a great font, or a specialized printing method, could really help you accomplish your goals. When I’m about to spend an uncomfortable amount of money or time on something, I always try to think of the pay off. Is this worth it? For example, when I was re-designing our logo, I was looking for just the right hand-drawn, brush stroke font. Hand drawn fonts have been popular for a little while so certain styles are beginning to feel overdone. Some are too hard to read, and some aren’t bold enough to have a substantial presence on something like a t-shirt or a very small application. After lots of searching, I finally found a font I loved called Star Dust, that was perfect, IMG_2468but it cost $28!  I know, $28 isn’t a ton of money, but for a FONT – it seemed like a lot to me (who has never paid a dime for a font).  But then I asked myself how much and where we would end up using it if I did buy it for our logo. I realized that because it was so readable, yet stylized, this would probably become the primary font we would default to for everything we did.  So, once I realized how impactful this font would be and how much we would be able to use it, $28 seemed like a bargain and I hit “BUY”.

Another place where we spent extra time, effort, and money was on t-shirts.  Our logo on a t-shirt was going to be the most intimate and personal experience our students would have with it.  When students buy one of our t-shirts, they will take it home and hang it next to other clothes they have chosen to buy. This t-shirt will be in their laundry baskets, their bedrooms, and their gym bags. They will even decide to wear it for an entire day at a time. Clothing is important! It’s personal. It’s intimate. It has the ability to represent a personality or a style. That’s why we really wanted to get this right! So we worked hard on the graphics, spent extra money on the style and cut of the blanks, and researched a printing method that would be best for our design. Now we have a shirt that students don’t just wear because they’re part of Mosaic Students. We have a shirt that they would probably buy even if they saw it at their favorite store next to a hundred other great options.

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