Our brand building lacks ambition

It is easy to look back and appreciate brands that have achieved great success, but it seems difficult for us Finns to comprehend that brand work is what creates the value of the product. And why is it that many companies play it safe when it comes to branding? We sat down with Jussi Solja, Chief Creative Officer at Superson, and Anna Rauhansuu, CEO at Myssyfarmi to point out  the sins when discussing branding and to share their views on bold brand building.

1. Stop dissing the relevance of a brand 

 The Finnish branding discussion can be approached by understanding the underlying factors behind the current situation. Anna Rauhansuu begins by pointing out that we in Finland have fairly short traditions in brand-based business operations. Historically here export has been strongly focused eastbound. It did not require brand building. This is reflected in attitudes and the appreciation of marketing.

– In many companies marketing and branding is still viewed as something nice girls tinker with, which is infuriating, she says.

Rauhansuu gives an example from her career before Myssy. She worked at an advertisement agency and, in the early 2000s, she participated in the brand renewal of a Finnish café chain. Renewing the visual aspect alone led to double-digit increase in sales. Nevertheless, an acquaintance with a background in engineering wondered whether the pattern of a wrapping paper actually matters.

“Even if you yourself do not understand anything about branding, you should be open to the fact that brand work is relevant.”

– Even if you yourself do not understand anything about branding, you should be open to the fact that brand work is relevant. You should understand that marketing needs a great product and a product needs a brand that appeals to people and guides every activity, continues Jussi Solja adding to the sentiment.

What needs to be scrapped is the way companies go about marketing by listing the technical properties of a product and responsibility as a characteristic. The mindset that the best product in the world will find its buyer. It will not.

As an example of the value of branding, Rauhansuu brings up Finnish growth companies manufacturing amazing renewable, bio-based textile fibres.

– The coolest guy isn’t the one who sells bio-based textile fibres for a couple of euros. It’s the one who sells the finished piece of clothing, made from the fibre, for hundreds. The greatest value creation in our business comes from the immaterial, intellectual aspect, and it’s something people here tend not to recognise, Rauhansuu says.

When brand-oriented business fails to be understood or appreciated, there is often insufficient knowledge of financing as well.

– Swedish top brands are not created by acquiring business funding from the business funding from the government  and then also signing a personal guarantee for a small bank loan, and proceeding tospend years building a brand. They go at it with both barrels, says Rauhansuu.

– And refining a brand doesn’t mean needing ridiculous amounts of money. Do the brand building well once and for all. It will take you far for many years to come and it will be reflected in the sales, Solja agrees.

2. Raise your bar and go for global benchmarks 

– It is enough to be good in Finland? No, that’s being complacent and lazy, says Solja answering his own question.

Of course Finland is a small market and you can get by by ”okay level” business activities. But, what if from the get-go you think about your clients and competitors as existing out there in the world?

– You cannot be very niche in Finland if you want to grow. But, on a global scale, the target group of your niche might be 100 million people. On the other hand, even if you operate solely in Finland, your brand should be world class, Solja says.

The difference between the market in Finland and the international markets is that competition is harder, which leads to brands and companies spurring one another on.

– Back in the day working for Nokia took me to international settings and working in those circles made me realise that they are just as clueless. They don’t have the philosopher’s stone for building a brand. The way they operate, though, is on another level. They want to be the best in the world, not just the best in Finland.

When it comes to going international, Solja has noticed that Finnish brands often have the illusion that when you are well-known in Finland and your brand is a household name with a good vibe, it will work globally, too.

– Nobody knows you out there and nobody cares. There is a hell of a lot of competitors. When you go out there, you need to know your audience, aim your efforts accordingly and think about why they should especially care about you. You need brutal honesty and to take along people who know the market instead of imagining that from here you might have an idea what resonates in Japan or Germany. You need to be open to the feedback and ideas you get from local operators, he says.

 

3. You need money if you want to play things safe – do you have it?

– If you play things safe, you need awful lot of money to steamroll in the media using your product and to gain visibility. If you are a small operator, you need to be bold. Don’t be afraid to elicit emotions. There is nothing to lose, says Solja.

First, clarify the core of the company or the brand. Why does it exist? It’s not enough that it’s crystal clear in the mind of the founder. It needs to be put into words and its essence condensed so that others, too, get it.

– Ask yourself if the idea is clear to other people. Does it differentiate? Is it bold? Does it exclude things? When you clarify a brand, you need to be honest – patting everyone on the back and being okay is not enough.

Your operations need to be world-class level from the beginning, even if you only operate in Finland.

The brand is what helps obtain financing. A bold brand that makes an impact and tells a story will resonate. Solja says that a brand should make you feel FOMO if you are not in on it.

– What frustrates me the most is something that you see a lot in Finland, a certain sense of hiding away being brilliant. You make a product that is so good that it wouldn’t even need to be so perfect, and you go all in with your resources polishing it to make it even better. Then all you know to do is list the technical properties or wait actively believing that a good product will find its way to a buyer. That is so annoying, Solja says.

4. Believe in your vision and dare to do things differently

Solja sees incredible opportunities for Finnish companies.

– Our values are in place and products are epic. Our education system produces the greatest clothing designers in the world. There is no reason why Finland could not yield the most significant clothing and textile brands in the world.

When Solja has brought designers from abroad to work on projects in Finland, they fall in love with Helsinki and are amazed how much design and a certain kind of aesthetics are part of our everyday life: Iittala and Hackman products are available as household goods in hypermarket chains accessible to all.

– We were strong in the 1950s and 60s. That was when our architects and designers were doing their own thing. But somewhere between then and now we managed to lose that confidence.

There is a special quality and madness inherent in Finnishness, a quality used to push through all obstacles. Solja considers Käärijä (Finland’s representative for Eurovision Song Contest 2023) a perfect example of a Finnish brand that has redefined everything on a global scale. Käärijä was something unprecedented.

“I am happy that there’s a new generation of designers and entrepreneurs who have rediscovered the courage and confidence to do their own thing.”

– I am happy that there’s a new generation of designers and entrepreneurs who have rediscovered the courage and confidence to do their own thing. They are not trying to copy what people elsewhere are doing.

A great example of carving one’s own path is Myssyfarmi (Finnish for beanie farm). The company is situated in Pöytyä, the southwest region of Finland. The brand has been seen as part of new kinds of partnerships. The Myssy x Fiskars Tissit (a colloquial term for breasts) shirt gained attention as part of the Pink Ribbon campaign. Myssymummot (Myssy grannies) were spectacular as the faces of Skoda’s worldwide campaign. Previously Myssyfarmi has also been featured in Vogue.

How did all these collaborations actually come about?

– Well, by doing our own thing. You cannot plan and budget those kinds of collaborations, yet you cannot just sit around in Pöytyä hoping for someone to approach you. We have actively established connections – visited fairs, business events and participated in different cooperative projects. One thing has always led to another, says Rauhansuu. Myssyfarmi has always responded actively when different collaborations have been suggested.

– We’ve always had a great attitude going into things, working on how to further ideas and how to get the partnership to work and what to do in it.

Rauhansuu says that a steadfast attitude of believing in your own thing is what is behind Myssyfarmi’s success. Myssyfarmi has never restricted its thinking within Finland’s borders. It sees the international potential – not aiming for the national championship, but going after the world championship.

– We were never the Finnish fashion industry favourite and none of us have a degree in the field. We also knew from day one that nobody in Finland is going to get this Myssy thing of ours. But when you succeed and generate interest abroad, you raise interest among Finns, too. Throughout the years we have managed to achieve the finest global distributors list there is, she states.

5. Get inspired by the success of others!

Finally, a challenge for the brand builders: rejoice at the success of Finnish companies, share what you have learned, do better and spur on others while you are at it.

Solja tells about his confusion back in the day in the Silicon Valley when meeting competitors while working on a Finnish sports application. Competitors were openly sharing their solutions, giving advice and sharing their expertise.

– I was astonished over them being open to one another telling these stories. They said there are enough clients in the word for all of us. They wanted to be better together. The same goes for the fashion and textile business: If you stick to thinking about the market in Finland, there won’t be enough clients to go around. But if you think on a global level, there is enough for all brands, Solja says.

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