Alex Nieminen: “In Finland, technology is the master, not the slave”

Alex Nieminen is one of Finland's leading voices in digital marketing. He started the country's first online marketing consultancies back in 1994, long before many people were even online. He answers some questions while preparing to participate in the part-time MA in Digital Management at Hyper Island Stockholm.

You founded one of the first online marketing consulting companies in Finland in 1994, long before many people were even online. How has your work changed since then?

“Well, I’ve used the ‘driftwood method’ when it comes to career planning, so my work has definitely changed a lot. Nowadays, I’m involved with several different businesses outside of my main work at N2 Helsinki Oy, but then again, I’ve never made any difference between work and non-work. I only do what I love and that’s one thing that hasn’t changed throughout my career.

When it comes to digital development, I’ve jokingly said that I could easily use slides from 1999, which I think is quite sad. I think we are too technology-oriented (vs. business-oriented or goal-oriented) in Finland, when it comes to digital thinking. Technology is the master, not the slave. Naturally, the marketing communications business has changed a lot and it will continue to change, faster than ever before. And, it will lead to faster change, different kind of players and new kind of relationships between different supplier companies and clients.

The question of data –  and more specifically, who controls it – is becoming ever more important issue. Media Monks, the company Sir Martin Sorrell just bought, has very interesting ideas about the client/agency relationship, and I don’t think that anybody can afford not to pay attention to these changes.”

Tell us about your work at the N2 Group.

“I’m no longer running the marketing communications agency since June of this year. We have a great leader (he is good manager, too) in Jarno Varis, who joined us in the beginning of the year. That has given me more time to do new things, and work with our existing agencies and staff. Naturally, I’m involved with new business, and business development in general, but as the CEO of the group of companies my main task – in my opinion – is to find out where, why and how we should go next. We just launched Mellakka Management, which is an extension to our influencer marketing/PR agency. Mellakka mean “riot” in Finnish. The company manages creative influencers. I’m currently working on setting up a new vertical offering on a select business area. I’ll tell you all about it soon.”

How do you approach such diverse clients as Audi, Lapin Kulta, Kotipizza, The City of Helsinki, Honor and others?

“The approach is always the same. We are here to help our clients do better business through creative solutions. We are definitely the more strategic and business-oriented agency of the lot. There are naturally several factors that are different from one business area to another, but in many ways there are similarities and similar problems to be solved. I’ve worked in this industry for over 20 years, and I’ve yet to meet a client that doesn’t want more sales. But how that is done in a way that creates long-term positive effect for the company and creates brand value is much more complicated issue.”

“I’ve yet to meet a client that doesn’t want more sales.”

Alex Nieminen
N2 Helsinki Oy

Are you planning a follow-up book to “Exposure” (Aula, 2003) about social media in the late 2010s (or beyond)?

“In total, I’ve written three books: One is a diving and travel book, one is a cookbook. Exposure, which we edited and wrote together with amazing collaborators with Jyri Engeström and Marko Ahtisaari, was a book about social media when and evolution of copyright and the “future web” at the time none of these things were not mainstream issues. It was a highly collaborative effort that had a lot to do with the Aula collective we were all members of.

Now, all these great people are scattered around the globe and the publisher Aula doesn’t exist anymore. So no, I don’t think I’ll be writing a follow-up. That book was – even though I’m definitely biased on this issue – so far ahead of the curve when it came out.

For us, the emergence of social media, evolution of media and copyright (as demonstrated just yesterday with the passing of the new EU copyright law) was clear as a day. This will happen, it is already happening. It is not as straightforward to predict the changes, as it was then. But I’d be saddened if the social “fourth wave” of the online world was the last big change to take place.

We predicted a rather sci-fi future for mobile with Icon-colleague Björn Schulz in 2000 in which we would have automatic, algorithm-based management of “event horizon”. That still hasn’t happened. I surely would enjoy a delayed flight to trigger later wake-up call, and automatic delay to my taxi-order for the airport. Maybe the development in the AI field will finally create the thinking network that will help us in daily tasks like these.”

Does your work as a DJ and food writer influence your work in digital marketing and advertising?

“We like to think of people as logical beings. We are not. Everything influences everything. DJ-ing is something I do for the love of the music and radio (I did my last live gig last summer, so I’ve pretty much stopped doing that). Food and hospitality is a field that has been traditionally slow to change. Vegetarianism, veganism, understanding of how the food is produced, the environmental effects, craving for authentic produce etc. has suddenly changed a lot of how consumers see and behave.

Seeing that sort of change in grand scale is a rare occurrence in our business, the last similar thing was the emergence of low-cost carriers (LCC) in the airline industry. That suddenly changed the consumer’s perspective of the world and how new holiday destinations were available for more people. These kind of changes have ramifications within the industries, but also outside of those industries. LCCs inspired the bus and rail travel sector to change their behavior in Finland, for example. These changes are fuel for marketing communications work.”

Part-time MA in Digital Management

What are you hoping to get out of participating in the upcoming part-time MA in Digital Management at Hyper Island?

“I’m actually expecting to learn a lot. I have high hopes for Hyper Island. I was inspired enough to learn about Hyper Island when I first heard about it from my friend Micke Ahlström. Now, I finally have the time – and the need – to find new ideas and tools for thinking. I also expect to graduate. I’ve lost interest in eMBA and some university programs for various reasons sometime along the way. But, I’ve promised my mother that I will do the “study thing” later when she was backing my DJ career after high school. So it’s payback time.”