Reimagining identity in the rebranding of ESMT

AI image with prompt "rebranding berlin"

by Tammi L. Coles

In a recent episode of Campus 10178, I discussed the transformative rebranding journey with Andy McLane, the creative director at Anything is Possible (AIP Media), and Jeanne M. Gaebler, our deputy director of corporate communications at ESMT. They peeled back the layers of ESMT’s rebranding process, offering a glimpse into the challenges, triumphs, and lessons of evolving an institution’s identity.

Why rebrand?

Jeanne M. Gaebler

The decision to rebrand ESMT was not one made on a whim. As Jeanne shared, the impetus for change was deeply rooted in our school’s evolution and the readiness to step out from the shadows of our founding ethos. Last year, we celebrated ESMT’s 20th anniversary. We seized the power of that moment to redefine the school’s future, something we encapsulated in the tagline “business as unusual.” Rebranding was thus an opportunity to affirm our commitment to innovation, leadership, and analytical thinking, and to set the stage for a future where ESMT defines excellence in the global business school landscape.

Who was involved?

The journey to rebrand ESMT Berlin was not just a project but a community-wide initiative that showcased the spirit of collaboration and inclusivity that defines our institution. It drew on the diverse experiences and insights of the entire ESMT community, rooted in the belief that the essence of our school could only be fully captured through the voices of those who embody its values every day. This led to an extensive engagement process of workshops and focus groups involving students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the leadership team. These stakeholders were not just informants but active participants in ESMT rebranding.

Recognizing the importance of an external perspective to challenge and expand our thinking, ESMT partnered with Anything is Possible (AIP Media), led by Creative Director Andy McLane. Andy brought over three decades of creativity, design, and branding expertise to the table, guiding the process with a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of brand evolution. This collaboration was instrumental in translating the community’s collective vision into a tangible brand identity – logo, tagline, and color palette – that speaks to both our heritage and our future aspirations. This strategy ensured that every participating stakeholder felt a sense of ownership and connection to the new brand identity.

Andy McLane

What were the highs and lows of the process?

Every transformation journey has its peaks and valleys, and ESMT’s rebranding was no exception. One of the peaks, as Andy reflected, was the spirit of collaboration and trust between ESMT and AIP Media. This partnership fostered a creative environment where no idea was too bold. This was not merely about encouraging wild or out-of-the-box thinking; it was about nurturing a deep sense of trust and openness, allowing each suggestion to be explored without prejudice.

A quintessential example of this approach was the conceptual development of our new logo. Early in the creative process, the team faced the challenge of encapsulating ESMT’s unique identity and its connection to Berlin. It was within this context that a seemingly audacious idea surfaced: to reinterpret Berlin’s iconic TV Tower.

The TV Tower, a familiar sight on Berlin’s skyline, could have been dismissed as too literal or commonplace. However, under the “no idea was too bold” mantra, Andy’s creative team envisioned the tower not in its traditional form but as a stylized element integrated into the ESMT logo. By simply tipping the tower element on its side, it was reinterpreted not just as a geographical marker but as a symbol of innovation, connectivity, and progress.

What was the feedback within and following the process?

The unveiling of ESMT’s rebranded identity marked a significant milestone in the school’s history, so the feedback from within and beyond the ESMT community was eagerly anticipated. This phase was crucial, as it served to gauge the impact of the rebranding efforts.

To date, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with students, faculty, staff, and alumni expressing a sense of pride and ownership in the new identity. This collective endorsement is a testament to the inclusive process that underpinned the rebranding initiative. “The rebranding journey, with its emphasis on community involvement and feedback, ensured that every voice was heard, making the new identity a true reflection of who we are as ESMT,” said Jeanne.

What can others learn from the ESMT rebranding process?

The ESMT rebranding process offers valuable lessons for any institution or organization contemplating a similar journey. Drawing from Jeanne and Andy’s insights and experience in this, they offer key takeaways on rebranding:  here are key takeaways that can serve as guiding principles:

Embrace an inclusive approach: Involving a wide range of stakeholders from the very beginning ensures that the rebranding reflects the diverse perspectives within the community. This deep listening – paired with clear and ongoing communication – ensures a new brand identity that is both aligned with organizational goals and one that fosters a sense of ownership and connection across the institution.

Be flexible and open throughout the creative process: Being willing to iterate and refine concepts – even those that seem audacious at first – ensures the development of a brand identity that truly stands out that uniquely represents the organization’s ethos and aspirations.

Recognize the power of collaboration: The trusted partnerships between internal teams and external creatives can accelerate the generation and impact of bold ideas.

Prepare for an emotional journey: From the excitement of exploring new ideas to the challenges of aligning diverse viewpoints, acknowledging and preparing for these emotional dynamics is crucial for navigating the process smoothly.

Use challenges as opportunities: With so many involved and so much at stake, a rebranding process will have its lows. These can serve as levers for organizational reflection and growth and deepen stakeholder engagement in the development of the organization’s identity.

Celebrate the new identity: You’ve done the work, now celebrate the results! This not only marks the culmination of the rebranding effort but also reinforces the community’s commitment to your organization’s renewed vision and values.

By adhering to these principles, organizations embarking on a rebranding journey can navigate the complexities of transformation with confidence, ensuring that the new identity authentically reflects their unique character and aspirations.

The road ahead

The rebranding of ESMT Berlin is more than a change of visual identity; it’s a declaration of the school’s journey towards redefining excellence in business education. As we look to the future, the insights shared by Andy and Jeanne give testimony to our continuous quest to innovate, inspire, and positively impact society. Through this journey, ESMT reaffirms its commitment to empowering entrepreneurial leaders who think globally and act responsibly, embodying the spirit of “business as unusual.”

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