Simple Lessons Every CMO Can Learn from Pope Francis

Even the most complex brands get reduced to a few symbols. Sound bites have crushed 2,000 years of the Catholic Church down to pedophile priests and financial scandals. Media coverage of the selection of a new pope suggests the church’s brand is nothing more than a puff of smoke.

In a world of symbols, where you have only 140 characters to tell your story, Pope Francis—the simple man—may have what is desperately needed to restore the Catholic Church and the church’s brand—a simple plan.

Keep it Real

The best brands have higher callings. They contribute to the human condition. Christ was poor, lived among the poor, healed the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited prisoners, saved the lost and told His followers to love God and each other. A higher calling, if ever there was one.

Keep it Simple

This pope wants to restore that higher calling. He sent that simple but clear message when he chose the papal name Francis in respect of Saint Francis of Assisi who followed Christ by selling everything he owned and giving to the poor. This choice symbolizes to the world that he will serve Christ by serving people and caring for the poor.

Tell the Story

Every brand is a story so the question becomes, how will yours be told? The pope’s namesake, St. Francis, urged, “Make us instruments of your peace” in a famous prayer that shares how to live a life of love and service extended to all people and all religions. Pope Francis shares this powerful story through his short, simple masses and symbols such as plain white robes and the unadorned iron cross around his neck. He wrote a new chapter in the story when he refused the stylish, custom-made red loafers of his predecessor insisting instead on wearing plain black shoes.

Live the brand

Pope Francis is not only telling the story, he is living the story. He has decided not to live in the luxurious papal digs, choosing instead a small apartment in the Vatican hotel, meals in the communal dining room and Mass with Vatican workers. In a sermon to fellow priests, he encouraged them to get out of the rectories and become shepherds among the sheep. Last week, the 76-year-old Pontiff could be found on his hands and knees washing the feet of 12 young juvenile prison inmates including two women and two Muslims. As he hugged and kissed the feet of each one, he shared, “This is a symbol that I am at your service.”

What can we as marketers learn from this new pope? Make it real, keep it simple, tell and live the brand story everyday in everything you do. The moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of a humble man with a simple plan. Oh, and whatever you do, keep it real—lose the shoes.

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