Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Betting industry and reputation management : Case Veikkaus

"Reputation or media cannot be controlled. " This is how the director of communication at Veikkaus sums up his experience in dealing with public relations and general perception of the company. Veikkaus, the Finnish national betting agency is owned by the Finnish government. The total profits are directed to sports, art, youth work and science. It controls a large majority of the gaming markets in Finland, which according to many foreign betting companies causes an unfair advantage to free market principles. Sports betting is completely operated by Veikkaus in Finland, and the market access is restricted for other companies. Four years ago foreign companies attempted to take Veikkaus to EU-court in order to end the monopoly. This meant that Veikkaus, and its director of communication Ilkka Juva needed to work hard to defend the company´s image and reputation in front of the international public and media.
"Actually they attacked against the Finnish legislation, not us. 
             But still it irritated me."

What is reputation? Where does a company reputation stem from? Development manager Riku Ruoholahti from the T-Media Oy /Reputation Institute Finland gave a short speech at this year´s "Elonmerkki" -media conference regarding this topic. According to Ruoholahti, reputation cannot be compressed to cover just the balance sheet or sales revenue of a particular company. In reality, it originates from everything a company does: all its interaction with various stakeholders composes the perception. It is a question of trust and a positive emotional bond at its best: good reputation ensures that customers are satisfied and recommend you, employees are loyal and the media views you favorably.

Certainly the particular field of business affects the reputation. When thinking of the tobacco industry in the 21st century, it is hard to imagine how reputation good be naturally decent, at least with regard to its traditional product compilation. The same way, it could be argued that betting and gambling are considered infamous in the Western world. Finnish "Veikkaus" however, has managed to prove otherwise.

Despite the deplorable incident with the other international betting companies, Veikkaus managed to bypass the accusations of monopoly and strengthen its position. According to Ruoholahti from the Reputation Institute, Veikkaus is now the fifth most reputable company in Finland (the number one spot goes to the confectionery company Fazer). Mr. Juva admits that  the goal of Veikkaus has been to systematically stand behind its image as a public benefactor. All the proceeds go "back" for the citizens. In other words, through the act of entertaining games one can take part in taking care of the society as a whole. Charity through betting. This message clearly has saved the reputation of Veikkaus in the midst of European Union and their warnings. In the light of his experiences, Juva upholds skillful mastery of communication as the utmost important asset for today´s company. In his view, communication specialists should be present in the company boardrooms, and not as just  plain sidesupport players. Although media cannot be controlled, one can participate into the ongoing discussion and form a mutually beneficial dialogue.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Angry Birds, Peter Vesterbacka and the Uncomfortable Insolance

Vesterbacka´s speech at this year´s Elonmerkki -conference divided opinions. Some thought he was inspiring. Some said he is brave and exemplary. Others- could not take his arrogance. The underlying discussion beneath the day´s speeches had been Finnish design and ways to take it abroad  - marketing. Or, the lack of better Finnish marketing. As Artek´s leader admitted, they are well-known internationally, but  do not know how to capitalize their fame. Vesterbacka knows a thing or two about capitalizing and taking action when the iron is  hot. And he is not afraid to say it out loud, without embarrassment or demure attitude. And this direct pride is not accustomed to in the Finnish landscape. It is... showy.

The Chief Marketing officer of Rovio ( the company responsible for producing "Angry Birds" game into our cultural consciousness) does not bow down in front of his company´s success. He drops facts and numbers like Agent Orange to a Vietnamese field. The audience gasps and smiles uncomfortably. Some cheer.
"Surely this kind of success cannot happen just like that? Surely this kind of success cannot last? Just look at What happened to Nokia- we shouldn´t brag."

The "Angry Birds" has been downloaded approximately 350 million times so far. At the present rate, it is being downloaded 1 million times a day. 200 million minutes are played every day. They have around 130 million active users around the world. According to Vesterbacka, the company is growing faster than YouTube, Google or Facebook (at present). Last year the company´s revenue was a meager 6,5 million euros. This year, they are expecting the number to reach 100 million (euros). Within the next couple of years, they are going public.  Vesterbacka himself was voted the seventh most influential person in the world
(TIME -magazine, April 2011). Interestingly, the international commentators found his reaction to the newly appointed status as "humble". So what is it that made the company so huge?

Before the company made it huge, they were in deep trouble. Money had been burnt by the owners Niklas and Mikael Hed, and something needed to be done. "Angry Birds" was Rovio´s 52. game. There were 51 attempts to make it before the success, and in the beginning, even the birds weren´t that catchy. Game designer Jaakko Iisalo´s pet project was a raw idea that needed a lot of meat for the bones. There were no pigs, there was no slingshot. Besides the brain power of gifted designers, there was also the marketing genius of Peter Vesterbacka, who knew the direction to go for and the measures needed to make the game big. Before the slingshot, the game was not understandable for the average user. Before the pigs, there was no enemy to go against. (Adding the pigs as enemy was also a clever move the in the midst of global swine flu-epidemic). In December 2009 the catapult-puzzle  game was released. By February 2010 it was the top-selling game in both UK and US Apple application stores.

When asked, even Vesterbacka himself does not know the exact reason for the worldwide popularity of the game. He lists the swine flu, the fun and colorful characters, the concurrent rise of the touch-screen smartphones, attention to detail, smart marketing and a cheery game-idea (there are no negative punishments for mistakes).

By now, Rovio´s main goal is to strengthen and widen the brand. There is the cookbook coming, the toys, the film, the shoes, the clothes... Vesterbacka is comparing the brand to the world famous "SpongeBob" -phenomenon, which still (after its creation in 1974) is selling merchandise in the ranges of 4 billion US dollars
annually. The great goal is to be the first entertainment brand with 1 billion fans.This is no small talk, no unassuming muttering, this is plain determination. Will the company make it there?

While focusing on "Angry Birds", it is easy to forget that there is much more happening overall in the Finnish game industry, and Rovio is just the first mega success on the road to many more. According to the recent  Finnish Game Industry  2010-2011 study, the revenues of the whole game industry have grown steadily, and topped 100 million euros last year. The revenues for this year are expected to rise to 165 million euros. In comparison to  game industries in other Scandinavian countries, Finland is now holding the number one spot. In the light of this, it is surprising to learn how little the Finnish government is investing in the education or finance regarding game industry. Preconceived ideas against the field of entertainment?

So what are the possible "next" success stories in the field of Finnish game industry? This year the foreign finance was totaling approximately 60 million euros, from which Rovio took the main cut ( 34 million). The second biggest company to hit the big league was called Supercell, which collected 12 million euros in venture capital from Accel Partners. Also a company called Grand Cru has received 1 million.  According to insiders, much is expected from the oldest Finnish game company Housemarque, when it releases its new version of an old game for Sony  and a puzzlegame for iPad. There is also names like Recoil with its "Rochard" -game and "Trine 2" from Frozenbyte. (On a sidenote, you should check out the soundtrack for Trine1, which features world-class classical players instead of machine-generated pseudo-music. Thank me later.)

Besides Rovio therefore, much is happening in the Finnish game industry at the moment. Although the money might be there, the process to reach glory and fame is still slow and laborious. This does not seem to dispirit the energetic designers. The buzz and drive has spread to other cities outside the capital Helsinki,
and the hopes are high. Who will be the next success in a red shirt? According to Rovio´s brand image, as we have come to associate him, it takes a good idea, some smart marketing and pure courage to try. After all, it was the golden 52. game which took the world by storm. Not the first, not the third. The number 52.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Survival of the Print media and Differentiation

Markus Frey, the design director from "Kauppalehti" (Finland´s premier business newspaper) admits, that design is not the ultimate savior or wonderdrug for the print industry. More is needed.

According to various "estimated per week spent with media" -research results, the usage among "the old" media is diminishing. (These studies are abundant and widely available for all) Not surprisingly for anyone, the great public around the Western world is spending more and more time among the digital media: web, games, digital tv. What is the common newspaper or magazine to do? Adopt game-like features, transform and shift its presence partly to the internet?

In Frey´s mind, the carefree-attitude in making print media has to be abandoned. Now, a clear message and a unique personality has to be present from the get-go. Yes, a paper has to have a personality. A unique soul, that we want to adapt into our lives. The created identity needs to be different from other existing print media brands, and to catch our attention. This is nothing new in the world of marketing, however.

Frey criticizes the what he considers "overly bad taste" of Finns regarding consumption of media. Much more could be offered and consumed. But is the decreasing popularity of old media to be blamed on the general  bad taste of the greater public? "The product is good, the customers just don´t get it" -approach is weak.

When discussing the success of the "Monocle", Frey mentions emotions, personal relations to the paper and perceived quality. A consumer object becomes more than it is, a friend -and a prestigious one.

Frey also mentions, how the style and idiom of communication changes with times. Guttenberg´s bible would be incomprehensible for most of us today, as its text style is so old. Should print media borrow the style of digital media more? Or, should they evolve and fuse with the new technology entirely? With the arrival of iPads and growing fusion between television and internet, this is not such a small question to ask.

The Genes of Passion include Simplicity

Christian Lindholm has an impressive resume. He has been called "the god-father of mobile phone users´", with his ideas on making Nokia mobiles (at least in the past) easier to use. Lindholm could be named as the "father" of Symbian s60-smartphone. (Before Symbian had the bad rep that it carries today). He has also been the vice-president of global mobile products for Yahoo! and has been labeled as one of the 180 movers according to VentureBeat. Clearly, this man is to be listened to, if anything.

At Elonmerkki, his main message was the need to reach passion as the ultimate user experience through service design. In this present occupation as the director of Fjordnet Limited, his goal is to transform digital through "elegant simplicity". In other words, he tackles problems of pure misguided design in digital services.
Lindholm´s main thesis is, that anything can, and should be made better. At present the problem in a lot of modern organizations is weak software. Companies do not invest in better programs simply because they, or their employees, do not care enough to change the situation. This ´status quo`, however, is changing. Increasingly people as employees or consumers are demanding better user experience. C**p, as he says, does  not sell. Services like Dropbox are a troublesome issue for monolith companies like Microsoft, simply because they work, and beautifully so. But if the issue is so simple, and easy to point out, why does a megacorporation not tackle it and offer better products? Lindholm does not answer this, and obviously it is a more deep-rooted issue related to bureaucracy, conservatism and resistance to change.

The highest form of design for Lindholm represents  the so-called "of course" -logic: an idea is so powerful and well-functioning that we cannot fathom how we lived before it. The newly designed and improved wrench is an example of this. A clever idea by a mechanic to twist the ends of a wrench proved genius. Elegant and simple. Ergonomics re-invented. The old design becomes wrong and the new is accepted as the prevalent norm. This reaction brings with it an emotional bond and eventual love affair with the product or service. (Albeit it is one-sided or imaginatively reciprocal at best)

According to Lindholm, love affair is what companies should be after. "The right-brain business" brings more value for the company- what he does not add, is the other term that could be used to describe this approach. The irrational business, the religion approach. When a brand becomes more than it is, a consumer product or service, when a bond is achieved that almost no rational argument can break. When we actually name our consumer goods (as in vacuum cleaners or cars) like children or pets and they become semi-living objects in our minds. They become the signifiers of a secular church that we attend to with a religious-like mindset when the real spirituality in our lives has diminished in importance. And this is the world that we are moving into.


Design forms it all - even Communication?

What is design? According to Wikipedia, it can be defined as "specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints; to create a design, in an environment (where the designer operates)". 

Short and sweet. But not really telling us much. Is it something that we know "when we see it"? Is bad design design at all without consistently successful end result? Is mass-production design? Is design only performed by certain individuals with professional ties- who gets to be "a designer"? Is a child´s sand castle design? Is design always art?

The dean of Aalto University´s School of Art and Design, Helena Hyvönen, has attempted to define some of the concepts related to this universe of design. In her speech ("Elonmerkki"), she dares us to look beyond traditional views and stereotypes. The time of strict categorization and authoritarian ownerhip is ending. Hyvönen talks of Designthinking, which is a new way at looking at the age-old concept.
Designthinking approaches the individual as an active creator, never a passive object. Individuals and usability move to the center of focus. In this regard, (good) design talks with the user, not to the user.

Hyvönen admits that the old ways of thinking inside organisations are difficult to break. When before design was considered something extra, separate from the actual product/service, it now needs to be incorporated into the entire process. Design has become essential in the final user experience, and part of the perceived value of the whole package. Simply put, we cannot ignore it. We need to cut the chains of the old school of thinking, and embrace the new, holistic and playful mode of "design-thinking".

As an example of the new joint process of creating design Hyvönen mentions today´s fashion blogs. People customize, tailor and express themselves through their own designs made with store-bought clothes, which they proudly display on their blogs.  The actual fashion designers follow the ideas, and make new design based on this fruitful communication. The circle continues. The ownership to design has become grey area. Everyone can be a designer and part of the process. In this way, design is communication. Communication is design. Design makes the world more understandable and controllable for the individual. Thus through design we create, and re-create our personality and place in the world.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Elonmerkki" -media conference

Today (25.8.2011) I will be blogging live with 15 other bloggers, related to "Elonmerkki"-media conference, in Helsinki, Finland. It is an honour to be chosen among other bloggers to witness this event.
The day´s theme is related to design, innovation and their strategic significance for organizational value. The need for differentiation in today´s organization is massive. Various daily messages are bombarding us and fighting for the attention that is getting harder to catch.  Design, as we are have come to associate it, has usually been linked to surface, commercialism, embellishment and frivolous enhancement. The core value has been thought to lie somewhere else. The message of this year´s "Elonmerkki" -conference states otherwise. Design is more than a hip afterthought in an engineer´s daydream. It is a complete experience that tells a story of the product/service for the great public. Design is an inseparable, essential part of the product/service.

All the blogposts will be edited into a book. As a plus, the proceeds originating from this publication will be donated to Unicef. Comments are highly appreciated.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"The Help", marketing and Racial Relations

How many of you have read "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett? Chances are, a lot of the reading ladies have, men -maybe not so many. Published originally in 2009, it became an instant hit, which undoubtedly was a sweet feeling for the writer Ms. Stockett, who managed to receive countless rejections before the greenlight for publishing. That tells you that those literary watchdogs at publishing houses do not know everything: "The Help" remained on the NY Times bestseller list over 100 weeks. 100 weeks, people. So all you writer-wannabes, do not get discouraged. Ever.

The story of the "The Help" is situated in the deep south, Mississippi of the 1960s. Point of view is switched between the black nannies working for the well-to- do white families and a recent white college graduate, who begins to question the often silly practices resulting from the race relations. The womens´ lives intertwine regardless of racial differences, friendships evolve and bittersweet destinies are told. This is not Kafka, by no means, but it is touching and... interesting. There are many good writers in the world, but to be interesting and catch people´s attention -that is a whole other ballgame. And Stockett clearly knows how to swing the bat.

So I do recommend the book. If anything, it makes a good companion on those cold fall evenings alone at home, just before the bedtime.( And again men, I do realize if this topic does not quite hit the home planet)
So what happens to a bestseller book in this world of ours? It gets made into a movie, of course.
So far, the film "The Help" has grossed 30 $ million dollars in the US, and it opened just last week. For a small, women-based movie, it is a lot. It is tougher to get women to the movies, you see. The expectations for the worldwide-profits are huge, of course.  We´ll just have to see how the rest of the world reacts.
The film has an impressive cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Alllison Janney. And it stars Emma Stone, whom I find genius in her own craft.

Like in all marketing, different versions are produced for different markets. Naturally. So there exists the international trailer and the US trailer. Watch below.
The US-trailer:

And the International trailer-version:

Notice the slight differences? Just to clarify, here are the book covers.

The US book:

And the UK-version:

Interesting, don´t you think? For one reason or another, I do find the International trainer to be more fitting for the book, warm and slightly more realistic. Whereas the US-trailer is pure smiles, laughter, soppy comedy and borderline lame slapstick pie.The real issue of the original book, racial tensions between the women, is more obscure and hidden within the US -film trailer. But then again, when looking at the book covers, there seems to be a general theme here with the marketing line. Race is still a sore issue in America, let us not forget that. King´s dream might still be, albeit slightly, out of reach. And for extra discussion concerning the book, which has divided opinions left and right, go here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Architectural Delight- Or, the not-your-average Crib

Those of you who have followed my scribbles for awhile, know that I like to engage in a bit of architectural dreaming every once in a full moon. And I´m not thinking just any old architecture with an IKEA simulacrum, but something with a twist. Those people who live in an old lighthouse turned family dwelling? Marvelous. Castle-living? Expensive, but impressive. An apartment turned into Star Trek -ship by the very detail? Neurotic, but still admirable. People have their passions. Mine is, plain and simple, architectural daydreaming.

So here we go: first of, the hotel in drain pipes. Yes, it is called " Das Park Hotel" in Essen, Germany, and you can actually book a room between May and October. Before it gets too darned cold, that is. Here some images of the wonderful little pad. Romantic getaway?

Obviously, showers, toilet or the much needed minibar do not come with the tube, but apparently the public facilities of the park are available. Which gives an interesting add to the term "romantic getaway". Paging George Michael? The bed looks somewhat comfy, but I hate to think of waking up in the middle of the night, alarmed by the small tube-cube, and mistaking it all for a bunker in the Second World War. Smaller things can give you nightmares, you see? Anyways, I´m sure there is a market for this. If they arrange sold-out tourist trips to Chernobyl, there must be eager beavers for this experience, as well.

Next stop takes us to the skies. Airline companies are struggling. Even with taking our last pennies from every carry all, glass of water and legroom, they are still after blood. The green kind, of course. Korean Air has decided the take our primal need to get wasted on-air to the next level. In order to get us really wasted and spend every dime on needless fancy cologne, plastic airplane and other lavish trinkets they hustle for us poor passengers tied to the chair for various hours. At least, that is my theory.So, why not actually stick a bar there? Or three? All for the duration of the trip. The boozing class is aimed, unfortunately, just for the first class PAX. Which is where they get it completely wrong. Don´t they have free drinks anyways? Why do they need the bar for socialization purposes? Isin´t part of the first class allure to get more privacy and space in the small confines of an airplane? They should have aimed for the meager pockets of the common folks over at the coach class.
That´s all I´m saying.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Facebook pushing advertising into Your Friend Feed

For those of you not yet alarmed by the growing problems of the big blue beast, here is one more interesting add on -feature interfering your social enjoyment: Facebook is planning to integrate shameless advertising into your Friend Feed. Yes, in the middle of your lifeline. In other words, if you think you can escape and ignore those agonizing ad slogans on the side, think again. Think of tacky Viagra ads popping up in the middle of ogling at your friends whereabouts. And there will be no way to hide those pesky lines. Yes, a mass of people will probably object. But will they abandon ship?

With over 750 million users and growing, the chances are good old Zuckie just simply doesn´t care what we think. Why should he? At this point, the beast of a company is mainly interested in generating income, in masses. We, the people, are commodity being sold to the advertisers. This is nothing new, it is how most of the privately-owned media works. But has Facebook grown to be something more than just a medium? A virtual living room consisting of our social life, private information, desires, loves and hates? If you change your status into single, would you object to condom ads popping up in your feed? Heck, they already introduced the idea of announcing your unborn child, so what is off-limits anymore?

E.B. Boyd from Fast Company already announced Facebook´s new partnership with the Nielsen company in creating an Online Campaign Ratings -system, which basically observes the demographic data behind ad usage within the network. Who is viewing and what; much like what Nielsen has done so far with measuring television use. This is clearly just the start. 

One might say that ads aren´t cool, but then again, is Facebook cool anymore? Has the fickle aura of hipness shifted and traveled over the rainbow somewhere like the Google+circles? What do you think?


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mr. Hugo Chavez and the Art of Exercise

So, no matter how we want it to last forever, the summer will end. Not yet, but soon. Our busy schedules return to  full swing, and so does the pressure of being a fit, active member of a society idolizing the disciplined body.
Really- have you seen the gym floor on those first, cold fall days, when people start getting anxious and hating the effects of summer laissez-faire on their physique? It is a cattle fair. Last only a short while, before most people just give up, relax and stop panicking. At the end of the day, life is short. Don´t get me wrong- it is  good to do sports, but it should not be an obsession. And all you Tracy Anderson -wannabes, I hear you, but choose to ignore you. My prerogative, let´s put it this way.

So what to do, to get the inspiration for a jog or two? Let´s turn to the help of the rich and famous.
Surely, a nice fellow from the land of Venezuela can help, no? Meet the friendly dictator  leader Mr. Hugo Chavez, who just recently recovered from some health problems of his own. Now the new lifestyle is just oozing out of him. So much so, that he decided to share his fave moves with the rest of us mere mortals. After all, he is the Man, who claimed capitalism was the reason behind the end of life in Mars. A man to follow, certainly. So there we go. Don´t get all obsessed with the head tilt, though. I´m sure it is not good to do too many repetitions in a row.

Chavez stars in exercise video by reuters