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Leading the change from the driver’s seat – the brand’s new role as a strategic tool

Originally published in Nordic Business Forum, Nordic Business Report 2023.

In a world where virtually all management is change management, the ways businesses think and plan must evolve too. Branding is gaining recognition and securing a prominent position in the C-suite as one of the most vital tools for adapting to change, ensuring business success, and gaining a distinct competitive advantage. The egg may have paved the way, but the chicken is sprinting ahead.

“The power relationship between brand and business is going through a revolutionary transformation,” says Tatu Ahonen, Chief Creative Officer and Partner at Ahooy Creative. “Companies are gradually understanding that today brand is the key to successful business instead of vice versa.”

Ahonen points to companies such as Tesla, Apple, and Meta, who have shown the world that it all indeed starts with “why”. Brand building rarely works when it is used to sugarcoat what business does. Good brand building is about going deep – discovering the purpose of your business, understanding why it’s meaningful to people. It’s about creating pride and proving that you make a real difference. “For strong brands, products in a way are consequences of what the business believes in. That’s why it’s so natural to buy phones and earbuds from one technology brand but not from those who have a weaker identity and approach to their business.”

From vague assertions to meaningful relevance and tangible outcomes

The days of empty statements such as “You can trust us”, “We do what we promise”, and heaven forbid “A good product sells itself” are fading from existence, or they should be. Today’s best brands view their identity as a practical management tool and a true fountain of youth for their business. When authentic and meaningful, a brand can bring people together and inspire an irresistible invitation to collaborate. What’s even better is that in times of change, a brand can actually transform the way change is approached.

“The frontrunners realize that good leadership is reliant on purposeful marketing,” Ahonen explains. “Instead of having to come up with reasons and rationales for change and trying to urge people to react, companies can focus on their purpose which in turn gives employees and consumers good reasons to want change to happen and to be part of it.” With a strong, relevant brand at their back, people are more easily motivated. When our work has meaning, we can recognize new opportunities and the positive impact they can bring. It makes sense that a well-led brand is one of the best contributors to a positive employer image.

Strong emotions that make sense

A good brand strategy lives in perfect symbiosis with the business strategy. While the latter still represents the brain, a purposeful brand gives brand strategy more opportunities to be the heart – that is to create powerful emotions and touch people on a more meaningful level. In the end, it makes the brand strategy more interesting and relevant.

A brand strategy should also serve as the distinct and unique foundation of the entire company culture. In its finest form, it has the potential to unearth valuable long-hidden elements embedded in the company’s genetic ancestry and within the collective consciousness of its employees. Tatu Ahonen points out that while a brand strategy may not unveil entirely new aspects of a company’s existence, it possesses the power to make a lasting impact by articulating long-known elements that have lingered within the organization. The process of clarifying and distilling these elements often stirs up a range of emotions, particularly among top management

“We have seen clients be moved to tears upon reading our suggestions for their brand strategies. In those moments, you genuinely sense being on the verge of something truly transformative.”