When Your Community Doesn’t Adopt Your New Brand

Let’s take a look at Emerson College’s branding debacle


I will start by saying that I am, yes, an alum of Emerson College. I have a BFA in Design Technology and a BA in Writing, Literature and Publishing. Since graduating, I’ve worked as a theatrical professional, continued on with my writing studies, written a fiction manuscript and founded my own company (you guessed it, a boutique branding firm).

Thus, I would argue I have “become a creative force,” as the new brand message states. But I would be the first to say that I do not identify with the visual branding that the college has just launched. And I’m not alone.

When the initial announcement came out a few months ago, alums across the country took to social media to protest the new logo, largely due to what they felt was a lack of quality, creativity and accuracy for the alma matter they love. 

Even with this reaction, the college moved forward. While they have stated that they’re making an effort to take focus off the swoosh logo, it is still part of the branding and the community isn’t pleased. Social media posts with the hashtag #notmylogo are starting to pop up more frequently in my feed.

What’s more, the Beacon wrote an article on the launch and cited one student as saying “Everyone I know hates the flourish with a burning passion…It feels so simple as to be obtuse.”

So, now what? What can we learn from this situation?

As a brander, my immediate reaction is not to outright criticize the design (although I could). I think, “How could an organization as supposedly creative and communication focused as Emerson miss an opportunity to unite their community and further engage not only current students, but prospects and alums?”

The answer is simple: They didn’t listen.

When rebranding, companies can often confuse ‘new’ with ‘better.’ Just because there’s new branding doesn’t mean it’s better than the branding that was there before. Existing brands have engaged a community that’s loyal to them, and they’ve won that loyalty for a reason.

Taking the time to listen to that community is critical (and arguably non-negotiable). Emerson’s decision to ignore such a strong response from the community the brand is trying to represent suggests a lack of genuine interest in who they are. That is the definition of inauthenticity, which we all know is the death of any brand.

As an alum, I look for out of the box solutions. I would have loved to have seen a more innovative approach – using their own community to design their brand, for example. Elon Musk was crowd sourcing designs for the Boring Company, why not Emerson? They could have done so right from the beginning, or used the initial reaction as motivation to take a different approach. For a brand saying it’s a “creative force,” what an exciting way to involve its “mafia” of creative voices in shaping how they want to be represented.

For those of you building a brand, remember this example when it comes time to rebrand yourself. First, make sure you have a very good reason to do so in the first place, and when you inevitably do rebrand, don’t miss the opportunity to engage your community around your brand’s quality, authenticity and heart. It will provide the best results for you, and for them. They are why you exist in the first place. 

Katie Burkhart