• Transform magazine
  • July 18, 2024

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Do you dare to be a brand design optimist?

Sasu Haanpää

Sasu Haanpää, head of design at change agency Ellun Kanat, urges us to seize opportunities and push for change with meaningful brands.

In today’s world it’s easy to be cynical. It's all too tempting to just file away clients' problems into neat little boxes and shrug. What’s much harder is to roll our sleeves and face those problems – and the world – with genuine optimism.

At Ellun Kanat, we’ve made a conscious decision to be brand design optimists. Brand design optimism is all about understanding the world and society around you. It’s about finding potential where others see none. It’s about seeing possibilities in the impossible. It’s about taking the future into your own hands. It’s also about writing stories that are bigger than you.

So, what’s the point of it? The world is changing, and people are increasingly keen for their choices to reflect their values. This puts the pressure on brands to step up and start tackling big societal problems. What’s more, being positive is a competitive advantage in times of crisis. Whining doesn’t work, and sulking doesn’t sell.

Besides creating a more positive vision for the future, brands have the power to push for tangible change. This is exactly what we did with our clients in these three branding projects:

1)   We built on hidden strengths and helped locals thrive

Picture a small town in Finland, just outside of the capital, Helsinki. Kerava is one of those towns. It wanted to grow bigger than its reputation, from a sleepy suburb into a vibrant city that reflected its people. Though Kerava had a questionable reputation, its reality was quite different - with happy residents and a thriving independent cultural scene.

We focused our branding work on showcasing what the locals were most proud of - their culture. By giving people a sense of ownership over the brand, we inspired in them a sense of pride for where they live. And when people love their home town, they're more likely to flourish there – which adds to Kerava’s pull for new residents, too.

2)   We invited people to create the future of learning

Finland is known across the world for its top-notch education system and its students’ performance. Yet projects to promote learning are still seen as dull and unappealing. This was the challenge we faced with Digivisio at the start of the branding work.

Digivisio is joining forces with all Finnish higher education institutions to align study programs with the changing needs of society and make lifelong learning accessible to all. At the heart of this mission is the desire to demonstrate credibility and proactively shape tomorrow’s education. The ultimate aim is to keep Finland at the cutting edge of higher-level education, now and far into the future.

A brand with both meaning and a bigger mission attracts involvement and motivates everyone to set the bar higher. Along with a sense of pride, it generates interest well beyond the limited target audience. What’s more, it gets people committed to a shared goal: Future Proof Education.

3)   We set employees free from strict norms – and the ad jargon of the brand

Can you think of a single company today that doesn’t have to fight over employees and customers? Especially in the highly competitive IT industry, companies have no choice but to stand out. Rakettitiede wanted to use branding to make itself more interesting in the uniform IT consultant space, while also boosting employee satisfaction.

Their plain-speaking brand rejects empty advertising lingo and consultant jargon. This frees the consultants to be themselves and let go of strict norms. Customers still receive first rate work, but the stuffy suits of the past have given way to a down to earth, no-nonsense approach. At the same time, this branding work for one company is shaping the norms of working life on a much bigger scale - it's okay to be direct, bold, normal, or abnormal at work – in short, to be yourself.

The effects of branding show on the bottom line

Companies and organisations can’t solve all the world’s problems, but they do have the power to make an impact. Brand design optimism is the key to harnessing that power.

As branding professionals know, brands aren’t just created for fun. Well-executed branding has a direct impact on a company's bottom line. In a world facing one crisis after another, responsibility has never been more crucial for brands.

Many organisations have already realised that without responsibility there’s no future. However, responsibility is also a powerful way to make a positive difference – to the world and to companies’ own bottom line.