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Slottsskogen, Gothenburg.

Remembering who we are

Startups as well as larger companies must constantly work with their brand. If a company and its employees forget who they are, or the mission they fulfill, the company is slowly eroding away. Finding the cultural values that drive the brand is therefore as important as building unique products and talking to customers.

Article imageSmaller companies can be as successful as larger companies when it comes to building a public brand, sometimes even more successful. Having 100,000 employees doesn’t guarantee that a brand name will sell new products and services, especially when customers don’t know much about the company in the first place. There are many examples of smaller companies who have been outstandingly successful in building their brand, usually in the luxury market or in the consumer segment. The Champagne house of Bollinger has 300 years of traditions, a cultural capital they use very skillfully in building their brand. Vintage Champagne isn’t a business that scale easily, it’s dominated by manual labour and it doesn’t let itself to economic thinking one will find in other types of industries. It’s a business that never can corner its market, the way telecom or software can, which means they need to build their brand to survive in the long turn. A brand is very much about connection, as humans we need other humans to connect to, but branding symbols without a human touch isn’t worth much. We therefore need to hear a human voice tell the story why we should care. The risk large companies take is that we care as much for them as we care about our electricity providers.

A brand for a small company can never be about chauvinism. Being a market leader and all the other baloney one is served on a pervasive basis is utterly wrong, when everyone can see that a company obviously is not. Instead, branding ought to be about cultural values, ideas we find interesting and sympathize with. Most people can probably not tell a Bollinger from a lesser brand, but if they aspire to hang out with people who drink Bollinger, they can’t drink anything less. In Bollinger’s case, the creativity isn’t applied to the process of producing Vintage Champagne as much as it is to the branding of the product.

It’s always risky for a company to forget why it exists. If employees feel there isn’t a real mission to fulfill, any internal branding exercise will be perceived as plastering. Employees and customers must be reminded every day what the company mission is, and if they don’t buy that mission the company is slowly eroded from inside. There is a reason why the Bollinger business model works. It’s not only about how the French soil is suitable for growing Pinot noir, it’s also 300 years of traditions and knowledge that is past from generation to generation. Someone with an MBA diploma would probably suggest they move to China, as the labour is cheaper and they can grow grapes in China as well, but that MBA person wouldn’t understand what accomplishes the business of a Champagne house in the first place.

Sweden is very much about nature, clean water and air. It’s also about trust and honesty, even if those strengths are slowly eroding away with time. We care about health and healthy living. If you see a tall, healthy looking person on Champs-Élysées in Paris, that person comes from one of the Nordic countries, for sure. We also care for clean and simple design, making products uncomplicated (opposite to German design) and affordable. On the down side, we are naive, easy to fool, believe in the government, and are generally afraid of conflicts. We are discreet in everything we do but desire nothing more than to be discovered and put in the limelight — at least for a day or two. These are cultural values that should be ingrained in our companies and products. Instead we want to be like everyone else, and we slowly forget who we are.