To Finnish company managers, expressing an opinion – especially one that is refreshingly edgy or divides public opinion – has traditionally been agonising.
Our market is small, and CEOs are supposed to please everyone: for example, staff, clients, owners and the company board.
If they fail to please their staff, people start talking behind their back. If, on the other hand, they fail to please clients, clients may turn to a competitor instead. And if they fail to keep the owner(s) and the board happy, they may get a practical lesson in the dodgy employment security of CEOs.
Best then to keep one's tongue tied.
Or is it?
Kauppalehti's editor-in-chief Arno Ahosniemi has expressed his amazement at the quiet demeanour of Finnish managers:
It is actually rather strange that one of the pivotal groups in society does not use its voice in public discussion.
Our corporate leaders have not understood that in avoiding irritating anyone with their words, their unexpressed opinions do not make anyone happy, either. If no one is delighted, bosses do not create positive value for themselves, for their companies or brands.
A brand without purpose is nothing but air and a boss without opinions is useless.
In order to have a meaningful enterprise and manager, a company and its brands should have a brand purpose. An articulated reason to exist. A parade flag leading owners, corporate management and personnel to march.
A brand needs to meansomething to form a closer relationship with customers. A relationship that communicates the shared values between customers and brands.
This sort of impact does not develop, if the brand does not have the courage to stand up for a cause.
It also frequently means being against something.
Luckily, there is an abundance of matters these days that consumers also want their preferred brands to stand for. For example, from the easiest end: inequality and global warming. From the most daring end: current laws or elected government, such as the country's President.
Could a consumer “vote” against, say, the President of the United States by buying a product from a company that openly rebels against the head of the world's most powerful democracy? Yes. And the business booms. There are many examples: Patagonia, Nike, Starbucks and so on.
Procter & Gamble had a research study completed in the United States, according to which 67 per cent of consumers believe brands have more power to change the world than governments.
For this reason, consumers also want to vote for brands. And brands are voted for with wallets. However, if a brand does not offer an opinion, a perspective or a purpose to align oneself with, it will not be voted as before: in other words, purchased.
The same has also been noticed by another giant American brand. Of Unilever Group’s forty top brands, eighteen are part of Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands, and have a brand-specific responsibility programme.
In 2016, these brands already generated 60 per cent of Unilever’s growth, and grew 50 per cent faster than Unilever’s other brands.
According to research by communications agency Miltton, 75 per cent of Finns want companies to participate in social discussion and resolving shared problems.
In particular, young people expect concrete actions and statements from companied – also on subjects outside the company’s business operations.
For example, Finlayson has also built value for itself outside its regular business operations by consciously challenging even existing laws: when you buy Finlayson sheets, you are not just buying bedding. By buying Finlayson products, you also give your vote to gender equality and tolerance.
Actions that become news can also be statements.
When Viking Line did not allow Swedish neo-Nazis to board their ships to participate in right-wing protests in Helsinki on Finland’s centenary day, Viking Line changed its significance in the eyes of many consumers.
In the writer’s eyes, too.
An increasing number of consumers, investors and employees want to make more responsible choices from the perspective of people, the environment and surrounding community.
Those enterprises and brands benefit from value choices infused with brand purpose.
Thus, the winners are those who dare to voice their differing opinion – for example, through their boss. And act upon their vision.
Even if the measures do not always please everyone.