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Why Helsinki Is an Innovation Hub

Trends and Insight 347 Add to collection

TBWA\Helsinki CEO Sami Tikkanen on how the Eurobest host city's engineering heritage is having a global impact on creativity

Why Helsinki Is an Innovation Hub

Helsinki reflects a certain facet of Finnish society, which has two aspects right now. The first is a nostalgia for the Nokia era, which was a dream come true, as well as for the forestry industry and a more craft-based economy.

The second, far more positive aspect is the entrepreneurial, start-up generation, which is innovating in IT and gaming. These are the small, virtual companies creating global opportunities and expertise. They are dynamic and optimistic.

This generation was perfectly represented by the Slush conference in Helsinki this November. The Slush team are in the same building as us and we are very close to them in terms of mentality. We’ve certainly evolved from a traditional agency into an entrepreneurial and innovative one.

For instance, we’re involved in product innovation and creating new media platforms for our clients. Although we still need marketing tools, these have also evolved because people now consume media in very different ways. Brands need to find alternative routes for interacting, engaging with and even servicing customers. 

In order to do all that, our teams combine competences in three main areas. 

1. Narrative skills, because we will always need to tell engaging stories for brands.

2. Creative technology, because we want to invent new tools and products for our clients.

3. Data gathering and analytics, in order to constantly adjust our messages. Campaigns have become reactive and real-time, almost like a newsroom mentality.

As such, the agency is attracting new kinds of employees: digital creative thinkers, technologists and data hackers. The results can be seen in the things we do: such as the Nismo smart watch, which connects drivers to their cars; the Paulig Muki interactive coffee cup, which uses a social app to project an image on the side of your mug; and a customer loyalty app that creates a personalised experience via shopping mall displays. We’re very interested in bringing virtual technology into the physical world.

Because this work is quite experimental, we have a sub-brand we call Pilot. Its team are literally ‘piloting’ new things – designing the technology we’ll propose to our clients in the future.

Finland may have moved on after Nokia, but it has also benefited from that time. Engineering has been a pillar of our education system for years, and it’s part of Finnish culture. Nokia was essentially a logistics and engineering company, rather than a user-centric marketing one like Apple.

That last point may have been a shortfall for Nokia, but it also means that there are a lot of great software people around. When I’m recruiting, I’m competing not only with other agencies, but with software and gaming companies, all of whom are looking for the brightest and most creative talents.

So Eurobest is taking place in a thriving and rapidly transforming environment. I also see it as something of a marketing training camp for our engineer-driven business community. Not all of them realise how fast they need to react. Being exposed to these cases will help them better understand a changing world.

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TBWA\Helsinki, Mon, 01 Dec 2014 11:05:55 GMT