After Benedict: The Church's Branding Opportunity

Imagine that you are CEO of a leading global brand in a service industry.

You are facing a staggering array of issues, including:

  • A loss of market share, especially with young, vibrant, expanding markets
  • Mounting criminal and civil liability brought about by allowing, and then covering up, employee misbehavior that violates ethical standards, ignores your mission statement, and abuses the faith and dignity of your customers
  • Aging leadership perceived by many customers and former customers as out of touch with, and unresponsive to, changing market conditions

What do you do?

In the case of 85-year-old CEO Pope Benedict XVI, you announce—citing poor health—your resignation.

The resignation breaks more than 600 years of Papal tradition of staying on the job until you die. It also provides an opportunity to break other traditional practices of the Church.

If you would acknowledge (or just consider for a moment) that a religious institution has a brand aspect…then the Roman Catholic Church has a wonderful branding opportunity in the wake of the Pope’s surprise resignation.

If the Church were to hire Sanders Brand Solutions as its smart brander, we would offer this advice:

Leadership: Go young. The next Pope should be younger than 50 and from a country with a rising birth rate. Think outside of Europe.

Term Limits for Management: The Pope and members of the College of Cardinals should face term limits of 10 years and mandatory retirement at 65.

Women: Acknowledge women. Open up the doors for female clergy. If you celebrate the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you can welcome female priests.

Sexual Abuse: Admit the problem. Get transparent and proactive about pedophiles and sexual predators within your ranks. Identify, pursue and throw them out. Maintain vigilance and enforce behavioral standards going forward. Welcome legal prosecution of violators and those who condone or conceal their behavior. Be frank with your customers: Priests are human beings and they are not perfect.

Brand Competition: Understand that people can choose how and if they worship. Realize that the many religions around the world reflect the societal, cultural and individual needs of their audiences. You are competing for those audiences.

Purpose: Human beings need a God to provide solace in the face of tragedy, to offer hope when circumstances are grim, to thank when gratitude exceeds human limitations, to illuminate guidance for life lessons. Frame these universal, human needs within the structure of what you are offering your faithful.

Perception: Take a hard look at how your brand is perceived by current and future customers. Are its characteristics conducive to creating a healthy, sustainable relationship with audiences? Is what your religion offers to current customers aligned with what new customers want from your religion?

If the data shows that you are losing customers and personnel, and not acquiring new faithful and priests, it is time for a change.


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