The Rebranding of the Branding of Buddhism Pt. 1


Steve Buscemi branded himself as a weirdo with a soulful, penetrating gaze...

This is Part one in a four piece series on the rebranding of Buddhism.  It is important to note that this is not inferring an alteration of the BuddhaDharma or a “stripping” of elements that may or may not be considered “Western”.  This isn’t changing the message but it is altering the venue of delivery.  It is an experiment in rebranding how a zendo, temple or meditation center is perceived by the public and community.  Cheers ~ The Management

As Big Mind, commercialized zen and the internet continue to strive ever forward, the Buddhist community continues to question and attmept to forecast its role in society. Innovative centers nationwide (and worldwide) have seized the opportunity to reinvent themselves, bringing a new level of excitement to otherwise dull and token ritual (*ahem* Japanese rapping monk bartender). Yet puzzlement remains on what strategies, what roles will work in communities where alternatives are so readily available.

Commercial industry may be able to provide a well-meaning hug from behind (platonically) and provide some insight on how to deal with an evolving structure by effectively managing the brand the Buddhist center holds in the community. A confusing concept that is often scoffed at by non-marketers (you know, people with a soul or at least a self-realized Buddha Nature), a brand is the definition of your institution that exists in the consumer’s mind. 

Branding is the process by which a company or individual differentiate themselves and stand out from the background by identifying and articulating their value and then extending it with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal.  We all brand ourselves it just depends upon the scope. ~ From the Marketing Dude I met at a bar last weekend

Your center’s brand is the space you’ve captured in the minds of customers—it’s all the things that come to mind, all the expectations they have, when they hear the word Buddhist Center.  Now, here is the greatest difficulty.  Your expectation and understanding of your center’s brand may not be the same as the rest of the non-practicing community.  They may *gasp* view it differently.  By rebranding, you are not changing your center (at least not that much) but altering the perception of it by producing a consistent message and value.  In other realms this is called education or outreach.

While others center on image management or the altering of what you are in order to fit other’s perceptions.  I am suggesting that branding is a product of sincerity and authenticity.  This is approach is centered in the Dharma.  

Part 2 will be featured on Tuesday January 26th.




14 thoughts on “The Rebranding of the Branding of Buddhism Pt. 1

    • I will be interested to see as well! 😀

      This little project evolved from I task I recieved at work to begin the rebranding process. When it was tasked to me, I went and did some follow-up work and research and popped up on the “Branding Buddhism” post by Jerry on One City.

      Upon reread I realized that he wasn’t talking about rebranding at all. He was suggesting a switch to the “core” teachings of Buddhism. Which is fine but it leads to a fundamentalist viewpoint.

      I, on the other hand, see rebranding as a focus on the strengths of a organization or person and then crafting that message to the community and public. When the perception of that organization is on those strength, then you have sucessful rebranding. The only change is in the skandhas and not in the Dharma.

      This will be a fun project and I hope that it goes somewhere helpful. As I rebrand the library I plan on providing tips at rebranding Buddhist Centers and not Buddhism. Hopefully, by the time I am done I will have a set of steps to aid centers large and small.

      Or I won’t. We will see.



  1. Re-branding has been a large part of my work in my business, which has been to get TV stations to first recognize that their Web sites are not a duplication of their broadcast product, but a unique product of its own. We then re-branded the product by giving it its own identity that was not connected to the broadcast brand, a instead of What the stations do hasn’t changed, they are still local news organizations, but by re-branding their Web product, it allows the Web site to attract audience that wants the Web coverage of local news, but is uninterested in any TV brand.

    So you’re right, a Buddhist center doesn’t change what it does, its strength, rather re-branding just provides an opportunity to tell that center’s story in a new way that allows its identity to become stronger and more easily grasped by the larger community.

    You are already a brand, and it starts with your Web site title, ZenDirtZenDust; that name is a brand and it reflects what your Web site is about.

  2. Watch out the Zennist is gonna get you for this post! haha While I agree with pretty much everything you said, I wonder just how many “YOU ARE DESTORYING THE DHARMA’s” you are going to get.


    • Yes! Which is funny because everything I am (and will) outline will not concern itself with the stripping of elements or altering the Dharma. It is all about getting your community to notice and appreciate your strenghts.



  3. Another good blog Jack. To touch on Richards post a bit, if the organization is new or their message has not been reaching folks in the community overall then rebranding wouldn’t need to represent any real change. But, there is an opportunity in rebranding to get another look from folks that have previously haven’t connected with the message. What a great way to announce a significant change.
    And with a nod to the Zennist, alienation is always a risk when we change what we are presenting to the community whether it’s an organization or personally. That risk has to play into the decision to go forward. Balancing the opportunity for growth without loosing out on the base we’ve already established is the trick and the overall goal. And there are some that will never be okay with change, but a good chunk of those folks usually aren’t all that crazy about the status quo either.
    In thinking about good branding certainly sincerity and authenticity are a necessity for making a message, but involvement and consistency are required for the delivery.

    • Rebranding doesn’t have to mean a total change or switch but it can represent a broadening (or narrowing) of the message.

      For example many zendos work through Community Learning Centers in non-Dharma classes (secular meditation, “Dharma” crafts etc.). One member of my sangha teaches bonzai arts. This activity expands the brand of a zendo past Buddhist practice.

      Yes, the decision to rebrand is not a random one but to build on the brand that is already presented is an easy decision.



  4. Hello Jack…thanks for cutting to the chase…asking questions no one wants to hear. Refreshing.

    Branding (marketing > desire > suffering) and Monkey Mind are Blood Brothers.

    Good luck on this,


  5. An interesting idea! I look forward to watching the series unfold.

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the “state of the union” of the Buddhist Brand. And if you’re talking about buddhist centers rather than buddhism in general, which are the more successful and which are the less successful brands?

    I spent the last year in a monastic artist’s community in Italy that is not outwardly buddhist (or outwardly anything, even though they’re repurposing an old Ursuline convent). Their brand has more to do with being a community of professional artists than with the dharma or spirituality, and yet the majority of the monastic ‘technologies’ they employ are Buddhist in origin (with some Gregorian Chant thrown in to pretty things up)…

    Would love to get in touch with other communities/centers whose mission is something other than the dharma, yet who employ contemplative tools toward their goals.

  6. Is conducting Dharma talks in English a form of re-branding? If so, then Buddhism has been re-branded many times and still survives (although I believe Zennist would disagree).

    • Yes, that would be a form of rebranding. However, I think I would include that this is not a change to be made to Buddhism as a religion (ie. change language to English) but rather a choice that can be considered by a specific Buddhist Organization.

      The monks that I posted about in Japan who went to rapping and lsinging booze is an example of a re-brand. It is obviously meant to attract a younger crowd but at the same time one has to consider the effect on your current (I hate to say the word “customers”) patrons.



  7. Not sure this is a new topic; just flip through the pages of the latest issue of any Western Dharma mag. I’m a Tibetan Buddhist, and I think many Tibetans still don’t understand why we have to focus so much on advertising/marketing/branding in America’s spiritual supermarket. With Osho and Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Clare Prophet ad nauseum feeling empowered to write their ‘Buddhist’ books, we have to be a little more forthright of it’ll just become a meaningless mish-mash.

    • When I am talking about branding I am not talking about the BS spouted by Deepak and Oprah. What I am talking about are centers getting an understanding of what they are out to the community. That is branding. It odesn’t have to be a commercial but it is engagement.



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