In light of COVID-19, which has forced students and teachers alike out of the classroom, we at ICN Business School have been thinking about new – and safe – ways to interact with each other as well industry professionals. At the outset of the crisis, many online learning platforms started offering free access to their services, which has been, on one hand a godsend (despite being a Millennial, I still seem to operate as a luddite when it comes to developing e-learning materials). On the other hand, this has proven challenging for cross-country teaching (China blocks many of these services) and can be overwhelming for students who are expected to download and acclimate to a series of new platforms. In any case, we’re making due!
For the past three years, I’ve been running a course called ‘Smart City Projects’, where students work together with various municipal and industry professionals over an intensive week to propose an initiative that relates to one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within Germany. While the past two years, students have focused on the city of Nuremberg (click here to read about our experiences in 2019), this year, students are turning their attention towards Berlin!
To be sure, Berlin is well on its way to becoming a smart city. As of 2019, the city has more than 120 ongoing projects, including repair cafés, where people meet to repair broken things including clothes, furniture, electronic devices, and etc.; various initiatives focused on installing charging stations for e-cars, mobile devices, and even street lights; and organizations that facilitate cross-company cooperation focused on sustainable urban development. This month, ICN partnered with one such cooperation: InfraLab.
Established in 2016, InfraLab is a joint think and work space that brings together partners who work across industries in order to develop innovative technologies and services that make Berlin more sustainable, livable, and smarter. Although they are known for hosting regular events including Hackathons, movie nights, start-up and networking events, our visit this April was entirely virtual! This meant that nearly 20 students – from all over the world – could come together and learn about the exciting initiatives and ongoing projects InfraLab supports.
Focusing on smart cities, and in particular, smart business districts, Community Lead Anouk Haller and the energy manager/ industrial engineer at the Berlin Sanitation Service (BSR) Marion Bühl walked us through what it means to develop and maintain climate-friendly infrastructure using synergies resulting from the proximity of company locations, with the goals of reducing emissions, resource consumption, running costs, and the specific land consumption of individual companies.
A few of us - those brave enough to use the video function - are featured below:
We ended our virtual visit by overviewing our main takeaways – those points that will stick with us in the next three hours, three days, three weeks. Have a gander at what a few of the students came up with below!
In times of crisis, innovation prevails.. In the context of sustainability, it’s interesting to think about how this might affect the health of our planet moving forward. Economic shutdowns and restrictions on non-essential travel have resulted in a notable deduction in both nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions. But is this in and of itself sustainable? Will COVID-19 lead to a “new normal”? Or might we expect the demand for travel and business to bounce back to their pre-crisis levels once this pandemic is (we hope soon) a thing of the past? Will essential environmental initiatives end up taking a back seat in the coming months (possibly years) to allow countries to relaunch their economies? These are some of the topics I’m mulling over in my self-isolation- these- and of course, the many ways to avoid making a fool of myself whilst recording my lectures. Wish me luck.
It’s 2020 – the beginning of a new decade and semester! With a new campus in Berlin (see below), comes new opportunities, partnerships, and best of all – places to explore. Nowhere is this truer than in the context of dark tourism. The capital of Germany has a rich and varied history. From the so-called ‘Palace of Tears’ to the Topography of Terror exhibition, there is no shortage of destinations to intrigue the thanatourist.
As part of the Consumer & Society course, students are challenged to think about the social implications of consumption that includes, for example, fast-fashion, eating meat, and the commercialization of death, suffering, and/or tragedy. Through these reflections, students are forced to grapple with questions around morality, money, and marketization.
This January, we booked a guided tour through Hohenschönhausen (the Stasi prison). Located 30 minutes outside Berlin’s city center, Hohenschönhausen played a very important role in East Germany’s system of political oppression. The prison was used by the German Ministry of State Security (MfS) or the Stasi, who were known for their methods of psychological cruelty and intimidation, to house those who attempted escape as well as political prisoners.
The tour through the prison was given by Gerd Zimmermann, a prisoner who spent five months in solitary confinement in the Stasi prison and an additional 20 months in Cottbus Prison. Zimmermann explained in fascinating detail the extent of the psychological warfare used by the Stasi, which began from the moment he was picked up in the non-descript van, until he left the prison, and was transferred to Cottbus. Even after regaining his freedom in West Germany, he recalls the experience of being tracked by the Stasi’s “informal employees.”
Sleep deprivation, total isolation, and the pervasive feeling of “being buried alive” were among the many psychological intimidation techniques described by Zimmermann. One dark windowless cell (the rubber-room) was soundproofed and completely padded in thick black rubber, so as to prevent potential suicides.
Today, Zimmermann spends much of his time in sunny California – being from Arizona myself, I can’t blame him. But he makes it a point of coming back to the place where he was held prisoner and tortured for months on end to give these tours and tell his story for a simple reason: he stood up for what he believed in and, in the end, he won. And for this, the students at ICN and I are grateful.
For those of you interested in learning more about the GDR and life under Stasi surveillance, Zimmermann recommends Weisensee, available on Netfilx. This, he says, paints a more realistic picture of the situation at that time than the The Lives of Others, the academy award winning film which trails the life of a dissenting Stasi officer (something that Zimmermann suspects likely never took place).
Fostering Sustainable Students
Sustainability is all the rage these days. From the KonMari method of tidying up your home to the stellar IPO of Beyond Meat earlier this month, there’s no shortage of material to use in the classroom. And yet, we still live in a world where the President of the United States can claim the ‘climate crisis’ is not only 'Fake News,' but 'Fake Science.' To be fair, this isn’t specific to Trump and the US; right-wing politicians across the world continue to downplay or downright deny climate change despite urgent warnings (think: Jair Bolsonaro from Brazil and politicians constituting the far-right Alternative for Germany). To make matters worse, research shows that it’s not just the politicians who ignore the problem, but culpable too are the consumers (think: you or me). While I have many smart and clever friends working hard to deter the effects of climate change (check out my friend Danielle’s Down to Earth podcast), I can’t claim to be a sustainability researcher, at least not in terms of environmentalism. Nonetheless, it is a crucial issue and one that I hope our future business leaders and politicians will be able to think critically about as we move forward. Thus the ‘Smart Cities’ elective was born. The purpose behind this course was to essentially raise awareness around sustainable initiatives that are happening in our cities and what might be done on a more macro level to help curb the effects of climate change. Yes, recycling is important, but it’s ‘small change’ compared to the systemic change that needs to take place if we are to realize real progress.
To help me in this aim, this year, I partnered with various companies, startups, and scientists in Nuremberg who helped paint a picture as to what exactly goes into the development of a smart and sustainable city.
First, we met with the Deputy Mayor for Environment and Health of the city of Nuremberg Dr. Peter Pluschke, who took us on a tour of the Max-Morlock-Stadion (Nuremberg’s historical football stadium) where we learned about the environmental aspects affecting a massive sports arena. Aside from installing solar panels on the top, we learned about how the stadium optimizes their heating, lighting, and watering processes to lessen their costs and carbon footprint. Most recently, the stadium implemented a reusable cup policy, where rather than sell visitors a one-time use cup that will most likely end up in a landfill (taking up to 1,000 years to decompose), customers can now return their cups to receive a deposit (or a pfand as we call it in Germany). With a capacity to hold over 50,000 people, it’s not hard to imagine the huge effects such a policy can have.
Afterwards, we took advantage of the sunny weather and Dr. Pluschke took us along a small creek nearby where he explained the city’s renaturation activities and showed us the storm-water retention basing that was installed in a small forest as a natural retention structure. Along the way, we also learned how to test for air quality, discussed duck population, and contemplated some of the problems associated with urban water bodies and their quality for recreation.
The next day, we all met at the city Townhall (Rathaus) where we were greeted by the Scientific Officer in the Department of Environment and Health of the city of Nuremberg Dr. Susanne Sprößer. Here, we overviewed the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and discussed how a city like Nuremberg is not only adapting and implementing these, but also monitors them via hundreds of indicators. Dr. Sprößer also walked us through some of the latest initiatives Germany and the city has undertaken, including Germany’s pledge to phase out of nuclear power completely by 2022 and offering subsidies to help fund and increase e-mobility.
For our last presentation of the week, we switched gears and headed to the Zollhof Tech Incubator with a wide range of startups working towards solutions in digital health, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and of course, urban mobility. Here, we heard from Stefan Eckart, one of the co-founders of Smart City System that is working towards developing parking infrastructure for smart cities. Developing sensor technology to be installed on single parking spaces, Smart City System is able to detect whether spaces are free or occupied. This allows cities, real estate owners, and car park operators to direct navigation to free parking spaces and better analyze the used parking infrastructure. Smart City System is also working with various partners to offer and develop a wide range of mobility services such as helping drivers locate charging stations, detecting safe temperatures for snow mobiles to operate, and creating a peer-to-peer (P2P) platform that would allow citizens to rent out their private parking spaces. What was especially exciting about this startup is that Eckart and his partner founded this company in 2017 when they were still students in Nuremberg! They have since grown from 13 employees to 30+ in just a couple short years.
Building from this momentum, ICN’s MSc. students worked towards developing their own smart initiatives and competed amongst each other for the winning ‘seed money.’ While great ideas ranged from setting up cross-generational community gardens to electricity generating sidewalks, the winning project was one that focused on an initiative to encourage the recycling of cigarette butts: changing the world one butt at a time.
We at ICN would like to thank all of the speakers and organizers who played such a crucial role in making this sustainability week a true success. I hope that we can follow your lead and take the steps necessary to act, live, and work SMARTLY. Before signing off, I will leave you with some recommendations from Dr. Sprößer as to what we as individual citizens can do to live more sustainably: (1) Consume less! Do you really need 30 pairs of shoes or will 5 suffice? And (2) Go vegetarian (or even better, vegan) – this has been consistently identified as one of the BEST (and easiest) ways to fight climate change.
For the second year in a row, the MSc students at ICN welcomed Dr. Christian König, a Senior Business Consultant at ROI based in Munich. With offices around the globe, ROI has made its name specializing in industrial digitization, manufacturing, logistics, and supply chain management – all essential competencies for the industrial marketer in today’s age.
An expert in digital production and logistics, Dr. König outlined how digital innovation redefines businesses, disrupts markets, and changes the way we work. But don’t be mistaken: the pathway to “industry 4.0” (the catchall phrase that describes automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies) is not a linear one. And significant barriers to digital transformation include a lack of infrastructure, funding, skill, and above all, a deep-seated fear of losing control (think: Hollywood’s I, RobotorEx Machina). But can we decipher fact from fiction? Will technology control and manipulate employees as business processes become more automated? Or can humans act as conductors of value creation?
To be sure, the solutions are not so clear cut. A majority of companies have yet to define an overall data and digitization strategy. Many complain of a shortage of skilled workers in the necessary fields of digital competence. And yet, as Dr. König made clear, our predictions regarding the impact of technology in the past (especially about Big Data) have been vastly underestimated. .
Later, the students put their cyber-skills to the test: identifying various digital opportunities for medium-sized production companies. Together, they identified how digitalization might be optimized to improve advertising efficiency as well as post-sale communication and maintenance.
In addition to offering us a glimpse into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Dr. König shared with us what it takes to make it or break it in this career path. While an “up or out” ideology has long defined consultancy firms, he emphasized that in today’s climate, one’s staying potential depends much more on their digital analytical skills, critical thinking abilities, and their experience working in international and multicultural teams.
For all of these insights – we would like to extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Dr. König and ROI. We look forward to welcoming him back next year at our campus in Berlin!
A Final Hurrah in Nuremberg
Dark tourism, medicinals, fashion oh my! The Msc Marketing and Brand Management students started 2019 off with a bang. Beginning with a visit to Nuremberg’s Documentation Center Nazi Part Rally Grounds, we took a guided tour through the Fascination and Terror exhibition, analyzing different forms of propaganda the Germans deployed in WWII. Afterwards, as part of a segment on dark tourism, we brainstormed about what exactly goes into branding a dark tourist destination like the Documentation Center (Germany has plenty of these), but also spots like Auschwitz in Poland and the Père Lachaise Cemetery in France. The students then thoughtfully discussed ways they might brand these types of destinations so as to appeal to a younger, digital native audience, while still remaining ethical and keeping the missions of the destination intact. Talk about branding outside of the box!
Next, we were off to Neumarkt to visit the Bionorica Headquarters, a leading global manufacturer of herbal medicines (you might have heard of their signature product, Sinupret), with sites and partners on almost every continent. We started the day off by ‘scrubbing-in’ for a tour of the production facilities. With our white coats, blue shoe covers, and hair nets (some of the boys also had beard nets, as shown below), we learned how these herbal medications are produced and packaged. After lunch, we ended the day with Dr. Jürgen Ott and Carina zu Löwenstein who presented an in-depth look into how Bionorica goes about marketing and branding their products to an increasingly digital audience. To help them with this aim, the students were tasked with researching various digital marketing strategies deployed by well-known dermocosmetic brands like La Roche-Posay and Eucerin. Needless to say, digital marketing is not one-size-fits-all…
This point was cemented following a visit from Andreas Pauls, a strategy consultant at Brandtrust: a top branding-oriented consultancy in Nuremberg. Here, we learned about the importance of linking a marketing campaign to the customer’s experience- one without the other does not a successful brand make. Then, applying Brandtrust’s Brand Matrix, the students analyzed the market and developed a rebranding strategy for Mustang Jeans, a German company that has traditionally marketed itself as an American lifestyle brand. There was no shortage of creative ideas – ranging from differentiating the brand as a sustainable fashion company to relocating its production processes to match the company’s claims. Following this exercise, there’s no doubt, in my mind at least, that these students well understand the necessity of integrating a branding strategy across all functions of a company.
In continuing with the fashion theme, we traveled south to Munich, where we visited the Stylight Headquarters. Immediately upon entering the building, we could sense the start-up vibe. Located in an open-space warehouse, we were taken aback by the young, hip, and international feel of the fashion aggregate company (think: something like a fashion google). Greeted by Ilenia Sarman, the Head of Brand and Content Marketing and her team, we were able to glimpse into the fascinating, yet complex world of content marketing, social media, and corporate design for an e-commerce start-up. With fun campaigns featuring the Minions as Minionistas and a Sex and the City treasure hunt, it’s no wonder the staff seem so thrilled to be working there. Their enthusiasm was contagious and evident in the student workshop where the students were asked to ideate 360° marketing campaigns to increase brand awareness and loyalty. Ideas ranging from fashion shows through the streets of Paris, pop-up shops located across Germany, and an addition of a ‘trendy food’ segment, did not fail to impress.
As ICN prepares its move to Berlin, we are both saddened and excited. While we have benefitted so much from Southern Germany’s fantastic industry, we know there is much to explore in the East, with tech start-ups to dark tourism spots abound. We can only hope that the businesses there will be as welcoming as the companies that we have partnered with over these past two years in Nuremberg, Neumarkt, and in Munich. And I can only hope that the students will be just as inquisitive, clever, and thoughtful as these two groups have been.
At the beginning of 2018, ICN was visited by brand expert and consultant, Dr. Judith Meyer from BrandTrust. With their headquarters in Nuremberg, and one of our very own (Madeleine Brey) starting there as an intern in the spring, BrandTrust was at the top of our company “wish-list!”
With offices across four locations in Europe, BrandTrust has emerged as one of the top management consultancies specializing in increasing brand attractiveness. And aside from what conventional wisdom might tell us, they don’t do this by advertising. Instead, the consultants at BrandTrust focus their efforts on creating connections: joining brands together with customers to create brand communities.
With that in mind, Dr. Meyer focused her presentation on three key learnings that she applies to her work on a daily basis:
Utilizing the workforce at hand, Dr. Meyer then put the students to the test. Using a brand matrix, students were asked to map a brand and its relevant competitors on the basis of attractiveness and awareness (this wasn’t as easy as it looks)!
As it turns out, awareness is simply not enough to ensure the success of a brand and attraction (desire) is equally, if not more important. Afterwards, the students engaged in a lively discussion about whether brands with established brand communities are more successful than their competitors. The answer, of course, was a resounding “yes.” But communities don’t simply happen – and that’s where Dr. Meyer and BrandTrust come in.
The brand management students at ICN were all – to put it in one word – infatuatedwith the work that BrandTrust is doing. To see theory being put into practice was a unique experience for the students, and indeed, this would not have been possible without Dr. Meyer, who’s passion for brands is infectious! We would like to thank her for taking the time out of her busy schedule (the life of a consultant is not an idle one) to spend the morning with us and for bringing the abstract to life.
It’s early in the morning as the ICN students in Brand Management make their way on the bus for their last company visit of the semester. Having previously visited Allianz, a global insurance company, and ProSiebenSat1, a national media company, it was time to switch gears.
Just a short trip from the ICN Business School in Nuremberg, The ICN students in Brand Management make their way to the Bionorica Headquarters in upper Bavaria. With its roots in Nuremberg and a rich history expanding 80+ years, Bionorica to this day remains family-owned. This is no small feat, given that the company is now a leading global manufacturer of herbal medicines (you might have heard of their signature product, Sinupret), with sites and partners on almost every continent. Its headquarters in Neumarkt symbolize the ethos of the company: integrating nature with technology. Not to mention, it’s one of the most sustainableoffice buildings in all of Europe.
Making our way towards the bright, sky-blue building, the students and I are warmly greeted by Dr. Jürgen Ott, the Regional Head of Central Europe, and his capable team of marketing and sales professionals. Ushering into the conference room, an array of Bionorica products await us at our seats. Dr. Ott kicks off the morning, providing us with an overview of the company. The students can hardly contain their enthusiasm and welcome the opportunity to jump in with questions galore (it’s clear they have done their research)!
After Dr. Ott’s presentation, we ‘scrub-in’ to prepare for the production tour (unfortunately, there are no photos documenting this, as we had to leave all electronics behind). With our white coats, blue shoe covers, and hair nets, we are guided through, step-by-step how Bionorica manufactures its products: starting with the seeds, to the cultivation and harvesting of the plants, to the modern technologies, and the packaging processes, we are offered a unique glimpse into how plants are transformed into medicine.
After lunch in the employee canteen, we are escorted back to the conference room where we hear from Dr. Martin Lehner about the current status of Bionorica’s R&D developments. He even reveals some insights about new drug discoveries that might become available in the not so distant future. Dr. Christian Lottner then joins us to discuss some of the challenges a global medicinal company faces, particularly with regard to legal regulations and guidelines. While no doubt, a complex and complicated topic, we get a first-hand introduction to the many approaches companies can adopt when entering new markets with new drugs. And as a growing company in a burgeoning industry, Bionorica is the expert.
But now, the students’ expertise is put to the test…
As Bionorica continues to expand its global operations, it must familiarize itself with the markets and competitors. Anne Schwenghagen and Christina Häupler walk us through how Bionorica conducts in-depth competitor analyses and before wrapping up the day, they ask the ICN students to do the same. While novices in the medicinal industry, the ICN Brand Management students are masters of marketing. Currently working on competitor analyses for the French, Austrian, and Chinese markets, the ICN students will deliver their findings and recommendations to Bionorica at the beginning of March. Being able to obtain hands-on experience at an actual company – working on real and tangible deliverables– is a unique opportunity, and one that is not lost on the students.
Therefore, we would like to thank the team at Bionorica for welcoming us to their office and taking the time to thoroughly explain the on-goings of their operations and the secrets behind their sustainable success. In particular, we would like to thank Dr. Jürgen Ott, Elisabeth Schuster, and Andrea Schels for organizing such a fantastic program.
ICN explores Allianz
Walking up to the historical buildings of Allianz, located adjacent to the famous Englisch Garten in Munich, you get the sense you are being transported to another time and place. The simple, yet modern elegance of the offices make it easy to lose sight of the fact that you are in one of the world’s oldest and largest insurance companies and financial service providers in the world. Yet nonetheless, here we are. Following the invitation from Christiane Hach (Head of Communications at Allianz Investment Management), the MSc students in Brand Management headed south to experience a day in the life of an ‘Allianz-er’.
After filing into the company’s historical archive, we are warmly welcomed by Christiane, who introduces us to Allianz’s intricate history and ongoing ventures. Did you know that Allianz is one of the top insurers of Hollywood and Bollywood films? They also insured the Titanic, but luckily, only part of it. We also discussed Allianz’s role as an asset manager: To be sure, much responsibility comes with managing over 650 billion euros in assets. And of course, all of these activities require a carefully and strategically designed branding strategy. This is where the Global Brand Management team steps in. Here, we learn about Allianz’s unique endeavors and challenges that come with being a globalinsurance company. Nonetheless, Allianz has managed to rank among Interbrand’s top 50 brands worldwide for seven consecutive years! “Explore with us” summarizes the key message that Allianz hopes to communicate with its customers.
Now the strategic expertise of our students is required. The challenge: How can Allianz become a partner in theirlives – one that allows their generationto explore the world without any unnecessary worry and stress that somehow creeps up in our daily lives? Putting their heads together, the students came up with some really creative ideas: ranging from catchy slogans and hashtags to go-pro film promotions – ideas that Allianz might implement in the not so distant future!
Switching gears a bit, but staying with the spirit of the day, we tour Allianz’s historical archive: A three-story museum dedicated to Allianz’s rich (nearly 130 year) history. Here we learn about how the branding and advertising strategies have changed over the years to accommodate the evolving nature of the insurance business: moving from serious to funny to empowering themes, it’s clear to see how they’ve managed to be successful over all these years.
After breaking for lunch, we are picked up by the colleagues from GCORE (Group Communications and Corporate Responsibility) to tour their newly renovated work space that rivals that of Google. The sense of community cultivated by the space is not lost on us as we all gather around for the last presentation. But now we aren’t just talking about insurance anymore – no, we’re talking about football, Formula E, drone racing, and the Modern Museum of Art. The sponsoring activities of Allianz are big business and allows Allianz to be a forerunner in new technologies and amongst its customers and employees.
As we depart Allianz, I reflect on my own time here. Having spent some time working with Christiane and the GCORE team before finally arriving at ICN – I am reminded of all the valuable opportunities I was granted and am thrilled to be able to share those with my students.
We, at ICN and particularly the MSc’s in Brand Management would like to extend our gratitude to the employees at Allianz who made our visit possible. An especially big thanks to Christiane Hach who organized everything, Claus Stickler, who supported us, and the AIM and GCORE colleagues who helped to make the trip so enlightening!
It was one of those rare sunny days in January: The perfect backdrop for exploring the exciting media world of ProSiebenSat1. Having been invited by one of the most successful independent media companies in Europe was indeed one of the highlights for the ICN students enrolled in the ‘Branding in Germany’ course. Yet, even I couldn’t anticipate just what the company had in store for us! We kicked off the morning with a vibrant introduction by the Employee Branding team – who convinced us all of the importance of “doing what we love.” And no doubt, that is exactly what the ProSieben employees are doing!
With piqued interest, we then got to the heart of precisely what a massive media company is all about. The major takeaway: ProSieben is much, much more than your traditional media company. In fact, a huge part of their business is the investment side. Major German start-ups like Stylight, Amorelie, MyDays, and the Parship Elite Group are all part of ProSieben and good thing too –ProSieben has no shortage of media power that helps these companies grow exponentially! The students filled the room with questions. What is ProSieben doing to stay current and digital in the era of FANGA (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Apple)? How will the new General Data Protection Regulation impact the company? I was impressed and (I have to admit), pretty proud. Before breaking for lunch, we heard from the inspiring Oliver Dietrich, the Director of Creative Ideation, who explained branding through a series of funny, sad, and artistic ad campaigns.
Lunch, of course, was an experience of its own. Like the ProSieben campus, one could easily get lost in the busy and bustling canteen. Afterwards, we were able to get up and move around during a studio tour where we got to view the studio where they film shows like Taff and Galileo. We also got a sneak peek into the Director’s studio before shuffling back to the outside terrace where we enjoyed coffee, cake, and discussions. The day ended with a task: The students were challenged to develop their own 360º campaign for a ProSieben company. While not an easy feat, I am convinced that the students - newly equipped with the knowledge, skills, and maybe even a little bit of the love needed to make it in this business – will not disappoint.
We, at ICN and particularly the MSc’s in Brand Management would like to thank all of the wonderful employees at ProSieben who made this company visit as amazing as it was! In particular, I would like to thank Inna Ivanova-Genova for making this visit possible and for connecting ICN with ProSieben.
I've been lucky enough to find a career that combines my love of traveling, passion for educating, and need to work in sweatpants at least 50% of the time (see I really am American).