Anne Grubert and Volker Hartig

German Brand Award 2020: Become more digital!

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Gewobag has received the German Brand Award 2020 for its successful communication campaign for its 100-year anniversary in 2019.
We talked to Anne Grubert, Head of Corporate Communication and Volker Hartig, Marketing Group Leader about the development and control of year-long campaigns and about how much strategy they involve.

And why now, in times of ever faster communication, topics such as identification and orientation are among the important core messages.


German Brand Award 2020 in the category Excellence in Brand Strategy and Creation

Firstly, congratulations on receiving the German Brand Award 2020 in the category Excellence in Brand Strategy and Creation for your 360 degree campaign for the 100-year anniversary. Did you expect it?

VH: We naturally saw potential in participating in the competition, otherwise we wouldn’t have submitted any documents. However, we did not envision our chances to be particularly large, because you are competing against international automotive, technology and consumer goods brands with 7-figure budgets. Furthermore, 1,200 entries were received from 14 countries – the competition is large. But: We were confident in the quality of our birthday campaign and the many new formats, even for us. And we knew that it was something special and differed from conventional anniversary campaigns. We therefore wanted to face the trial of strength in the creative segment. And yes, our bold approach was rewarded. We were therefore also extremely pleased.

360 degree campaign for the 100-year anniversary: “Future has space”

How was the 100-year anniversary pitched to communicate the Gewobag brand?

VH: We used the anniversary to make Gewobag approachable and to create encounters. The aim of the content was to show how Gewobag thinks and acts in a forward-looking way.

AG: It was important to use to use our 360 degree campaign to create all kinds of different occasions with which to initiate discussions with the different target groups. Whether with campaigns for our tenants, with our major stakeholder event or with our own Anniversary song, where we invited our employees to sing along.

How much strategy is there behind brand staging, such as for the 100-year anniversary?

VH: The entire anniversary communications are backed by a sound strategy. We didn’t simply start to communicate, but instead thought intensively about the target groups, the messages and the media we wanted to address.

Anne Grubert smiling in the interview
Anne Grubert, Head of Corporate Communications

AG: Correct, it is not possible without a strategy. We involved many employees in advance in a process lasting for a long period, in order to truly include them. The ultimate intention was for everyone to be able to identify themselves with the campaign.

German Brand Award: Innovation as a core message

Did you break new ground?

AG: It was a good mix. We naturally also used tried and tested tools such as tenant events and then also organised a major stakeholder event. We recorded an anniversary song with Nicolas Rebscher, which was especially composed for us. That was really something completely new. No other housing association has done anything like it: We were in the recording studio with employees and sang together. Seeing how young and old spoke the same language through the music gave me goosebumps. We also went to an old-established Berlin confectionery shop with the employees and created our own anniversary chocolate. The reason for this was the question “What does Gewobag taste like?”. Sure – an unusual idea, to make the brand something that can be experienced, but a very successful one, as the large demand for the places in the chocolate jury showed.

VH: The motto of our 360 degree campaign was “Future has space”, with the topic of innovation as the core message. The standard we set ourself, including for our many standard formats such as events and print media, was to examine: How can we break new ground? How can we see the bigger picture? We involved our functional departments and then had an enormous list of suggestions for birthday media and campaigns.‑ At the end there were more than 100 ideas, and we had to search for the best. The result was an annual programme full to bursting, which promoted the entire corporate communications. As well as other functional departments. Great teamwork within the Group.

"Future has Space" book cover
“Future has space”, the motto of Gewobag’s 360 degree anniversary campaign.

Strategy and implementation of the year-long campaign

And how was the selection made?

VH: We developed a funnel as a selection instrument, i.e. figurative speaking, we place all suggestions in the top of the funnel and only the best passed through. Specifically, we examined which ideas match the target groups. Which ideas communicate the messages best and, naturally, which are then within the budget and how can they be synchronised in the anniversary year dramaturgically.

With strategy and communication to receipt of the German Brand Award 2020

What significance can year-long campaigns have in the strategic communication focus?

AG: I find year-long campaigns to be important. On the one hand, they provide and anchor and provide orientation for employees in the whole company. All employees knew that the motto for the anniversary year was “Future has space”. Of course, it’s generally not so easy to put together a year-long campaign when there is no 100th or other milestone birthday in a year. It is always necessary to examine what the topics are. The unforeseeable can also occur, such as the Corona pandemic now, which cannot be anticipated and planned in advance, and must nonetheless be dealt with.   

But it is important to use that we do not simply implement a major image campaign, which jumps out at your from poster walls in the whole city. That is not who we are. We want our messages to more indirectly reflect our products, our measures and also primarily think of our tenants and employees.

VH: Topics can be reinforced or focussed by a higher-level, primary campaign. This also makes the marketing work easier. And it is possible to develop modules that are built on each other and that achieve a greater sentimental value among the target groups.

The development of the Gewobag brand

Apropos brand strategy: Why is it important for a municipal housing association to develop and position itself as a brand?

AG: We are one of the largest housing associations here in Berlin. We have more than 70,000 apartments and provide a home for more than 120,000 tenants. We also want all of them to be happy to live in our housing and to know for what we, as Gewobag, stand.

But, of course, we are a housing association. Construction is extremely important to us during the current time and we are doing it with vigour. But in fact we do more than that, we build entire neighbourhoods and, for example, we are also very far ahead in the area of mobility. We enter into diverse cooperations and are highly committed to sustainability. It is important to us to be aware of Berliners, to not only build, but to also be active in other areas. For example, so that a start-up thinks: Hey, Gewobag is always open to new opportunities. I’ll enquire and present my idea.

Anne Grubert and Volker Hartig in interview
Volker Hartig, Marketing Group Leader at Gewobag.

VH: Brands are basically nothing more than a quality pledge. With our brand communication we want to develop trust, to signal that we are true to ourselves and therefore also provide security. Anne has already mention, it also involves recognition and distinguishing ourselves from the competition. Many of our activities are aimed at creating identification among the tenants, as well as the employees. Brands are also valuable for employee acquisition.

Are there differences between Gewobag and its five state-owned Berlin sister companies?

AG: Well first of all there is what we have in common. We all build. We all have specific standards and objectives, so that active exchange takes place between the companies. This is often very helpful. We are all sitting in the same boat.

However, one difference can be seen if you look at the map of Berlin. Gewobag is represented in all Berlin’s city districts: from Charlottenburg to Lichtenberg, from Spandau to Prenzlauer Berg through to Neukölln. We are at home everywhere. We also differ in the area of digital communication, which we expanded widely last year. We communicate on the three social media platforms Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and there we continuously increase our range. Communicating digitally is important to us. This is why we will only publish our annual report digitally in 2020. I believe that none of our sister companies have done this.

VH: If you take a closer look at the communicative presences of the state’s own housing association, you quickly see that each company presents its own brand identity. In addition to the individual visual appearance with logo, etc., the companies want to be recognised for their communicated services (services, products). And it tends to be more emotional factors that highlight the distances: the language or behaviour, internally and externally.

What significance do the topics of brand identity and corporate identity have in relation to how Gewobag positions itself as an employer and landlord?

VH: Very significant, if only for the recruitment of new employees. In interviews we repeatedly receive feedback that our brand presence is highly relevant among the applicants. And, of course, we also want to use active marketing to increase identification among the existing Gewobag team. The same also applies to the tenants: Here our brand work is focussed on customer acquisition and loyalty.

Gewobag branding on merchandise items
100 Years’ Gewobag: Branding from the anniversary assortment.

Communication topics of the future

Housing construction, newbuild, redensification, peripheral development are permanently current topics; do you have the capacity required to plan and implement future communication topics?

AG: We in corporate communications do not build ourselves (laughs). We have functional departments for that But, of course, we have got to stay on the ball. Our tasks often support specific topics.

Our main attention continues to be focussed on construction and on tenant communication with the corresponding press enquiries, topping out ceremonies, cornerstone ceremonies. We also provide communicative information and support for other topics such as mobility or digitalisation. We are in constant exchange with the functional departments and examine where certain topics match and how we can best get them on the road. Ideally with a new idea, for example, like this online magazine.

Current Gewobag projects

Where can the Gewobag brand be found in the city?

VH: Naturally in the 70,000 apartments of Gewobag, with all that that involves, such as the building entrances or signage. In such a major project as the WATERKANT Berlin, naturally also with advertising areas in a prominent place. Gewobag is visible in the service and neighbourhood offices, in our social partnerships and commitments. For example, at the URBAN NATION Museum in Schöneberger Bülowstraße, with which we implement façade art projects and social neighbourhood campaigns.

German Brand Award: Digitalisation as an important future factor

What role does digitalisation play when it comes to branding and communication at Gewobag?

AG: A very large one – and not only due to Corona. We will also need to continue to develop our channels such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and we also want to expand our moving image communication through videos. We are also examining how we can better present our newbuild projects on the internet, to generate added value for all existing and future tenants.

What are the communicative challenges of the future?

AG: Internally we must ensure that we get all employees on board with the digitalisation, especially the older employees. But many of our tenants also have respect for the internet and its possibilities. We want to continue on this path to digital formats and at the same time, take everyone along with us as far as possible.

Externally, I wish that the media perception would move away from focussing on all that is negative. The bad messages are generally getting out of hand at present. It has become more difficult to generate positive headlines. If heating fails, it is reported on immediately. But what about the positive things, such as the neighbourhood festivals, our social commitment, our newbuild projects? I find that a shame. Our aim is to rediscover the key to establishing positive perception of the real things that are happening. For me, establishing this balance is one of the largest media tasks in the short-term.

VH: I agree with Anne. The important challenges include that in all marketing measures we must include the future at the same time. Media, internet portals, apps, which everyone uses nowadays, can disappear again very quickly. The communication is no longer as permanent as used to be. Classic media such as poster advertising are loosing their significance compared to digital solutions. In addition: Communication and discourse have become faster, information is available all the time, which means that the response times have become shorter. And it is necessary to incorporate the topic of interaction in our marketing. Whereas in the past we simply placed an ad, now customers discuss with us in Facebook advertising.

Future Gewobag projects

Which future projects are you personally looking forward to?

AG: To holding proper events again, after further restrictions have been lifted. The laying of a cornerstone, a topping out ceremony, for example. To again be able to be in personal contact with people. That is my wish for this year.

VH: I look forward to our first purely digital annual report. We will offer new interactive services – I am looking forward to seeing how well they are received. And, naturally, we must always continue to develop the Gewobag brand. Even if you receive a prize such as the German Brand Award – in marketing you can’t stand still. We will soon be busy with refreshing the brand, to keep our presence up-to-date, both visually and in the media.

Vielen Dank für das Gespräch!

Anne Grubert
studied business administration and has been with Gewobag since 2016. She was initially employed as the deputy press officer; she has been the head of corporate communications since 2019. Before joining Gewobag, she worked for Hertha BSC for 12 years, most recently as its press officer.
Volker Hartig
studied business administration and international marketing management, and has held managing positions in marketing at Gewobag since 2002. He has been the Marketing Group Leader since 2017.

Photos © Maren Schulz