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Column: Finnish Design Brand – cold, expensive and far away

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Competition on the global design field keeps accelerating. The secret of the success of Finnish design companies lies in emphasizing Finnishness, Tuija Seipell writes.

Finnish lifestyle design firms aiming to expand outside Finland must change or abandon all dreams of success.

I’m defining lifestyle design firms here generally as companies that design and sell high-end products that relate broadly to home and fashion. I am focusing on this segment because it is at a turning point.

The worlds of design, retail, manufacturing, marketing and branding have changed immensely, and this is only the beginning. Even countries, including China, that are not necessarily design-savvy are escalating their efforts to become so. Design competition can now come from absolutely anywhere.

But to succeed Finnish firms must stand out on all levels not just design. They must beat the competition also at their two weak points: branding and manufacturing.

Manufacturing

Companies now have access to customers and manufacturers globally – as do their competitors. It seems that everything is now mass manufactured in just a few countries. Smaller Finnish design firms with smaller orders are struggling to find high-quality manufacturers, in any country, interested in their smaller orders, let alone in their obsession with quality.

Yet quality – both real and perceived – matters especially in lifestyle design products that generally are not necessities. People want to make smart choices even with their indulgences.

If all products are mass-manufactured in the same few countries and factories, local craftsmanship and manufacturing quality are no longer competitive advantages. Many design firms around the world are now emphasizing their local manufacturing and craftsmanship. And traditionally luxury design brands have always stressed their countries of origin and their local craftsmanship.

The Finnish design segment as a whole should consider this. Can Finnish design firms give up this quality control and competitive advantage completely? Is it wise in the long term to have no manufacturing in Finland? Could new technologies, the sharing economy, new education or other creative approaches help build a new, high-level manufacturing base in Finland or the neighbouring countries?

Branding

Companies now have access to customers globally, and customers have access to information, ideas and products globally. The competition over their time and money has become infinitely tougher and no design firm can succeed solely on the strength of its design. Branding is the key to differentiation.

Today’s design-savvy customers that are able and willing to pay full price have seen it all. They are truly done with over-consumption and dumb marketing. They trust their own networks much more than they trust brands. They look for authenticity and transparency. They are loyal and fierce supporters of brands they care about and they share their views – both good and bad.

For these customers, a brand’s back story matters. The real life stories of the individuals behind the company and its designs are what makes them unique and authentic. This is where Finnish design firms should pay more attention. Too many Finnish design firms seem to be trying to hide their Finnishness when it is, in fact, their strongest asset.

Finland’s pristine nature, silence and empty spaces, summer cottages and saunas, everyman’s right and recycling, design products in every home, long holidays and the high standard of living. For Finns, these are clichés but for the rest of the world, they are still exotic news. They describe the kind of lifestyle that the over-consumed and over-marketed people dream about.

With the Finnish travel sectors’ current successes in promoting and increasing tourism, design firms should ride the wave and be prouder and louder than ever of their Finnishness.

Some years ago during a speaking tour in Finland I worked with representatives of several cities to brainstorm ideas about how to bring more international sports events to Finland. A participant lamented that it’s so tough because Finland is perceived as cold, expensive and far away. I immediately recognized these words as a great slogan. Indeed, that is what Finland is and we are darn proud of it!

I am not saying that every lifestyle design company should talk about reindeer and sauna or the joys of a cold, expensive and distant country, but I do believe all should focus much more on their branding and take full advantage of all aspects of their Finnishness.

 

Tuija Seipell is a Canadian speaker, business advisor, entrepreneur and editor. She was born and educated in Finland but has lived and worked in North America for the past 35 years, the last 28 of them in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She’s a passionate advocate of customer experience, retail, tourism & hospitality, trends, design, creativity, motivation and especially emotions and hope. Her clients include diverse global and multinational organizations, such as Harley Davidson, Nike and Europarc, as well as cities and other government entities, but also medium-size and smaller organizations around the world. For the past 11 years, she has also been the editor of The Cool Hunter, one of the world’s oldest and most widely read online publications about design, architecture and lifestyle.

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