This is the story of Nova SBE's new brand, written in the first person.
Author: Paula Delgado |Reading time: 11 minutes
“The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” Muriel Rukeyser
I’ve first encountered this quote by Muriel Rukeyser last year on the students’ welcoming speech of Professor Daniel Traça, Dean of Nova SBE. And at that moment I knew we were on the right path.
By that time six months had passed since we started the process that has now come to life as the brand & communication strategy and consequent rebranding of the school.
What you now see is only the tip of the iceberg, as it is impossible to grasp the number of people involved, the number of hours, work, effort, and the immense belief that drove an entire team to, indeed, define the bold path it’s taking.
My name is Paula Delgado, I’m a designer, a brand strategist, a storyteller, and as someone has presented me recently — a disruptor — the one who keeps challenging, questioning, wondering — a.k.a. A pain in the #ss.
I’m also an Alumna of Nova SBE and the consultant responsible for carrying out the brand strategy process developed during 14 months.
What I like to do for a living is to grasp human potential. Find the inner truth of an organization, and pin it down in an enticing narrative that one can make their own — the why/what/how (thanks Simon!) that make people do things, not because they have to, but because they choose to.
I’m fascinated by organizations, and how important it is to deliver a sense of purpose that can move a group of people in such a way that they will give you their best and surprise you along the way.
There are three main conditions, for this to occur:
A moment of change, and the subsequent urgency that derives from that moment;
A bold, brave, and committed group of people leading the way — an organization and its leaders willing to undergo a process that it’s neither trivial nor linear. Even with a precise method, the outcome is intrinsically related to the diagnoses and solution that derives from it;
A mindset of curiosity — a genuine and pure interest in wanting to know where can the process lead us, what we will find out along the way, and what we can learn from it.
In sum, the perfect storm.
As you can imagine it is not common to find organizations in such a state, let alone in Portugal.
It’s easy to understand what a privilege it has been to develop this work for such an institution as Nova SBE and why it makes sense. With its 40 years of disruption, its bold ambition of creating an international school based in Portugal, that can transform the national higher-education sector in a case study; with its vision of becoming more than what is actually expected from an institution in a peripheral corner of the world.
So this was the background I encountered when I first set foot in Nova SBE, for lunch with one of its outstanding figures — Professor Pedro Santa Clara — so it had begun.
Chapter I — Capturing the spirit
Capturing the spirit of the Institution — a tridimensional photograph of the past (its legacy), present (its moment) and future (its opportunity).
As in any rigorous process that wants to produce insightful information, one needs to begin with field research. In this process, this was done by conducting interviews, desk research, competitor benchmark, and literature (a lot of it!). You have to gather as much information as possible in the shortest time possible. Since one needs to have a fast learning curve, the one-on-one interviews are fundamental to inform and conduct the research itself. Intended to be as personal and precious as they can be, and in each, you can gain an actual pulse of what it is that makes the organization unique, what are the real reasons people are a part of it.
In this process, we conducted dozens of interviews, with profiles that cover the entire ecosystem of stakeholders to have a comprehensive and holistic picture.
In parallel, there’s a need to consider all dimensions of the market, moment, target audiences and drivers of change (trends & challenges) that can place the business on a map; a landscape where one can understand where the brand is and where it can go.
Chapter II — Challenging the status quo by wondering about the future
At this point, you have to be brave to pose several scenarios, from the most obvious (and consensual) to the most disruptive (hence absurd). Wondering the impossible is fundamental to create something that is as bold, as it is possible.
And by now, you need to have an accurate idea of the pulse, mindset, and stamina of the organization. To avoid the bias of the average, I tend to pay particular attention to those who sit at the extremes and understand their needs, expectations, and desires. By considering these opposite perspectives and trying to understand how can they exist in the same organization, one is forced to look for what are the bridges, the connectors, the points in common. And so, you start realizing what is laying there, often hidden that is indeed a unique and outstanding attribute of the organization. One starts understanding what it is that has made the organization succeed, in the best of times, and fail, in the worst.
And this, my friends, is when the real magic starts happening!
You start connecting the dots and, in the process, encounter a universe of possibilities that you have never considered. And, most importantly, you are doing it in a group, together, involving everyone. Which makes all findings feel genuinely shared and the process co-created.
Chapter III — The Eureka moment
Establishing the insight and consequent central concept that will inform the brand and communication strategy, requires resilience and belief. This is, in fact, the loneliest part of the process since what is asked of you is to grab all you know and all you have established as a possibility for the future and define an idea that can point the way.
In this chapter the tools used are in fact storytelling. You have to establish a character with a role to play. One writes down the challenge the hero is going to endure, the mentors, nemesis and friends they are going to find along the way, a vision of where one wants to go.
In this case, Nova SBE had already set its course, establishing a new home to grow internationally, but it still needed to voice out why and what would they be doing in this new space. And by voice out I mean, the realization of the exact reasons why one decides to embark on a journey even if, apparently, there’s no good reason to leave, to move on.
Pinning down the concept we may now know as — a clear horizon — was an exercise of test and trial, writing and rewriting, to find a discourse (a reason to believe!) that was loyal to what Nova SBE is and always should be — its values, culture, and beliefs; and relevant to stand out in the international (highly competitive!) landscape.
As often, the idea happens by serendipity, by navigating the layers of cross-reference to find a glimpse of the concept that is yet to be imagined. For this, we all need to thank Sir Alfred Hitchcock and its response to a simple (often too trivial!) question — what is your definition of Happiness?
When this question is posed to those who know happiness is not a thing, but a moment — in a context, in time and space, you know that in fact what you’re talking about is a state of mind. Nothing you can actually grasp, but something one is always looking for.
Many of us don’t allow ourselves to even try to consider that moment as a possibility you can work for; but something of chance from time to time.
True emancipation is to realize that even if the conditions have to be favorable, most of the time is entirely up to us to create the best state for wonder, joy, impact, and meaning to occur. What Hitchcock pinned down so nicely was precisely this.
And in fact, what Nova SBE has done so far, starting 40 years ago, has been what exceptional people such as Hitchcock truly cherished — to keep setting up the conditions for an open space where we can come together and create a future of prosperity that can have a meaningful impact in the life of many, of all.
Chapter IV — Contamination
The power of a good insight is the time it spares us to convey what this is all about. When defined correctly it can expand in all directions without losing track, because it carries the why and what to anyone, it gains its own life.
So, when the time came to start gathering a team to create and expand the identity, narrative, and look & feel, it was particularly exciting to see how the many experts we had involved inside and outside, could easily translate our clear horizon into images, words, motion. Into print and digital. Into social networks and events. Into press releases and discourses.
As previously, there was plenty of research done to inform the creative process.
Firstly, to understand what are the discourses and visual narratives of the sector nowadays, and what are the ones we can relate.
Secondly, to realize that there was space for something completely different in the industry; something that could reflect the pace of change and the role of business & economics schools in the XXI century; something that could indeed illustrate the combined forces of the two sides of the brain working together.
So, after identifying the most innovative approaches in the higher education sector, we started looking for other references in the world that could inform our visual & verbal discourse without losing track of the rigor and excellence, one always needs to assure.
We’ve found in the art, culture and philanthropy sectors vast sources of inspiration, because of the role this type of organizations want to play in society — of being spaces of wonder and support for the greater good. Hence organizations such as Gulbenkian or TED were references considered for their outstanding use of visual & verbal material to engage their audiences.
Indeed they played a significant role in informing the creative process along with remarkable brands in another disciplines that, at their core, are driven by the same values and beliefs we share — Journalism — rigor, freedom, and the impending quest for truth.
In the challenging times’ Press & Media now face, we were particularly interested in those beacons that are managing to prevail by keeping faithful to their essence: renown brands such as The Economist or The New Yorker, widely known for the smart way they combine rigors content with highly curated look & feel.
The result is what you may now experience as the new brand of Nova SBE.
A brand of an Economics & Business School based in Portugal and actively participating in what the future may be. Driven by rigor and excellence, as always, proudly cherishing the European values of Freedom and Solidarity, open to the World, and positive about the many possibilities that may derive from the massive change we are witnessing.
A new brand, brave, curious and young at heart. With an enticing discourse that embraces the many creative ways in which one can engage others. In its audacious shift Nova SBE, intends to keep faithful to its roots, to its name and above all, to its driving focus — Youth — the young and bright minds that populate our school and will drive, shape and create the future.
Chapter V — Looking Forward Together
By now you are maybe connecting the dots and are trying to understand the complex curated net of touch points we designed to convey our message to our multiple audiences. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, what lays beneath is an organization that is now on an immense transformative journey; a challenging one, with loads of work to be done, but with one clear vision of where it wants to go, why, and how.
By now you also understand this work wasn’t done by a few, because it would have been impossible. In fact, this was done by so many of you. People that I’ve encountered in this process that may not even have a clue of how much they did actually contribute to the process. Sometimes in brief, casual conversations, sometimes in larger events, by answering to a few (apparently useless) questions.
By now you may also realize that, in fact, this new chapter of the story of Nova SBE has just begun. It is a bold ambition to do such a project in Portugal, and there’s so much more to be done, but so much has happened in the past years that have favored the cause.
The urgency is still there, so is the opportunity, for the School and all of us. What Nova SBE has now is a clear line shared (and shareable) by many — a direction we all can look forward when looking ahead.
Originally published at Nova SBE's Medium