In March, Finland was named the Happiest Country in the World for the fourth year running. But another underrated area where Finland leads the world is in innovation. In the marketing tech sphere, startups founded in Helsinki are helping major US brands automate and scale their marketingThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
A Tiny Population with a Big Global Impact
In 2021, Finland topped the list – yet again – for being the Happiest Country in the World for the fourth year running in a UN-sponsored report. The report evaluates how countries are performing in the eyes of their citizens on six dimensions: GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption.
In a year marked by Covid-19, even amid the pandemic, Finland’s ranking remained unscathed, along with those of its Nordic cousins – Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, Finland. The authors of the report wrote: “Societies with higher trust in public institutions and greater income equality were shown to be more successful in fighting Covid-19.”
But Finland not only leads the world in good governance, quality of life, trust in society, and wellbeing.
When it comes to education, governments around the world look to Finland as a beacon to model after. Finnish student test scores consistently top world PISA rankings, and for the last two years in a row Finland has ranked #1 on The Economist’s Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI).
What else is Finland good at? Innovation and startups.
When it comes to innovation, Finland is a country that also gave the world the first internet browser, SMS technology, ice skates, heart rate monitors, the sauna, Linux (named after Finnish inventor Linus Torvalds), Angry Birds, Clash Royale, and key contributions to 5G technology. The last decade has been no different.
According to The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020, published by Startup Genome, the Greater Helsinki startup ecosystem is the fourth most attractive location among 100 emerging ecosystems worldwide. The Greater Helsinki startup ecosystem is valued at USD 5.8 billion, which is significantly higher than the global average for emerging ecosystems.
And Finland has achieved all this despite its small population of 5.5 million people, harsh and dark winters, and subzero temperatures that make it one of the coldest places on earth with a permanent population.
Yet for a country with such a high concentration of innovation, Finland is notoriously bad at marketing itself.
Finland’s Marketing Problem
“Finland has a shyness problem,” writes Ira Kalb, award-winning professor of marketing at University of Southern California. “Finland is not very well-known outside its borders — especially in the United States. When you have a great product and the world does not know about it, that is the ultimate proof that a lack of marketing expertise is the problem,” adds Kalb.
The Finnish journalist Roman Schatz echoed similar sentiments in the book “The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia“. According to him, when it comes to selling a screw, an American would say something like, “This screw is going to change your life! It is the best screw in the world.” A Finn, however, will just say, “Here is screw.”
Ironically, the country that is bad at marketing itself is helping the world’s top brands market in the digital age. Over the last decade, Finland has produced an array of fast-growing martech companies serving brands including Netflix, Uber, HelloFresh, NARS, and Mango.
The Finnish Startups Silently Powering the World’s Top Brands
When most people think of digital marketing today, the first names that come to mind are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like. If you mention the names BrandBastion, Smartly.io, or Supermetrics to your average person, you’ll probably get blank stares. But mention these same names to a marketer managing ads and marketing for a global brand across dozens of markets, hundreds of cities, and thousands of ad placements – and you might see eyes light up.
What do they all have in common? They’re Finnish-founded companies, are official partners of some of the world’s top platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, and they’re used by some of the biggest brands and top marketers in the world.
Unlocking social media performance through creative automation
With a powerful suite of automation tools and templates for creative and media buying, Smartly.io helps marketers automate every step of social advertising to unlock greater performance and creativity. Instead of having to use different tools, marketers can use a single unified interface for running campaigns in multiple channels and optimize performance through data-driven insights and creative automation.
Kristo Ovaska, CEO and Co-founder of Smartly.io, said: “In Finland, we found all the infrastructure we needed to attract investors and grow our business. We now manage nearly $3 billion in ad spend across social media for over 650 brands including the likes of Uber and eBay, and we are constantly scaling our product to meet the needs of world’s most advanced advertisers.”
Driving better conversations on social media
While Smartly.io enables marketers to advertise more efficiently, BrandBastion uses machine learning and NLP (natural language processing) to help brands manage the conversations that take place on their brand ads. Boasting clients such as Netflix, Uber, Hello Fresh, NARS, Mango, and over 400 other accounts, BrandBastion gives brands the ability to moderate and automate their customer conversations across social media, enabling scale through automation, while maintaining personalization across tens of thousands of comments and conversations.
“Finland’s reputation in the region for being an innovation hub allowed us to attract the global talent to scale internationally. Today, we are trusted with ensuring brand safety for top social media advertisers such as Netflix, Uber, Mango and HelloFresh. In this social world, it’s not just what you say about your brand that matters – it’s what other people are saying about your brand and how you’re interacting with customers online that matters even more,” said Jenny Wolfram, CEO and Founder of BrandBastion.
Analyzing customer interactions at scale
Being able to advertise at scale and have conversations with your customers at scale across the globe is one thing. Analyzing the millions of data points you are gathering in the process and trying to make sense of them to inform future marketing decisions is another. That’s where the “data grabber” tool, Supermetrics comes in.
“We founded Supermetrics as a small company in 2013 to try to solve a simple problem: helping busy marketers get marketing data from a host of different platforms and dashboards, into their preferred tool of choice. Today, Supermetrics has grown into the leading marketing data engine globally for effortless cross-channel data crunching and reporting,” said Mikael Thuneberg, CEO and Founder of Supermetrics.
A “Hypercollaborative Ecosystem” Driving Finnish Success
Lauri Järvilehto, Professor of Practice at Aalto Ventures Program, the entrepreneurship education program at Finland’s Aalto University, has a theory about the secret to Finnish startup success:
“Finland has started to attract a disproportionately large amount of venture capital, talent from international growth centers and has generated dozens of new startup millionaires that bring their money and knowledge back into the ecosystem,” he said.
The key difference, however, compared to Silicon Valley and the Asian ecosystems that they “thrive on being hypercompetitive”, while in Finland, a hypercollaborative ecosystem has come to life”, based on “the social-democratic ideal of inclusivity and the self-directed nature of the student activities.”
Järvilehto likens the phenomenon of Helsinki’s startup growth to that of the underdog Finnish hockey team at the 2019 World Championships, when they beat NHL-trained juggernauts like Russia, Canada and USA. The Finnish team consisted mostly of young and inexperienced players, none of whom had NHL experience. Instead of competing based on the individual strengths of players, “the Finnish team doubled down on functioning as a team, pushing their collaboration on and off ice beyond the typical boundaries.”
A similar story can be seen if you look at the global brands that Smartly.io, BrandBastion, and Supermetrics serve. You’ll see the same names cropping up again and again, with Smartly.io running a brand’s ads, BrandBastion empowering the same brand to engage in customer conversations on the ads, and behind the scenes, Supermetrics data connectors being used to report on the performance of those ads.
In classic Finnish style, these startups are doing what Finns do best – collaborating, innovating and pushing new frontiers – and being very quiet about it, silently working behind the scenes to prevent the next social media crisis.