TEXT: KATJA ALAJA
Who says learning has to take place only in the classroom? When we unleashed students to apply their learning to leading international companies, innovative ideas resulted.
Finnair turns into a design airline
This was the brief for the students of Aalto University School of Economics: “Finnair wants to distinguish itself from other airlines with its service design concept and become the most wanted European four-star airline between Europe and Asia. As part of this development process, your task is to benchmark three airlines and three hotels, which fall into the following categories – low budget, design, and luxury. As an end result, we will get a theoreticalvalue curve, which includes the ten most important criteria having an impact on customers’ choice of an airline.”
In just four weeks, Kati Lehesmaa, vice president of customer experience design, and her colleagues from the internal service design development group at Finnair, the Finland-based airline company, was able to start reflecting on the ideas that the students presented. The student groups prepared their assignments as part of a service-marketing course at Aalto University School of Economics. For Finnair, the chance to use academic research was a natural reason to cooperate with Aalto University.
“We wanted fresh angles on this topic. It was really amazing how open
and direct the students were in their feedback. They also offered constructive criticism, and we respect that,” Lehesmaa says.
From self-service to live opera. Finnair has defined the steps where service can make a difference in the customer’s journey, from buying a ticket to giving feedback. Lehesmaa says the students came up with valuable ideas that Finnair can use in this new service design concept. The ideas ranged from service encounters to visual concepts.
“Interestingly, the students highlighted self-service as a means to make traveling easier and more enjoyable. For example, people could download magazines to their tablet devices. Students also thought that customers would be willing to pay for certain customizable services. It also became clear that web pages and social media should never be on the savings list,” says Lehesmaa, summarizing the results of the mutual sparring session.
Students also suggested offering live entertainment during the flight. “It is a wow idea that passengers could enjoy a fabulous live performance by the Metropolitan Opera,” Lehesmaa reflects.
Another idea was to group passengers into specific areas. “Some business travelers want to work, some just want to sleep. People traveling with children have different needs from those traveling alone,” Lehesmaa says.
Service design plays a key role in Finnair’s Asia strategy. The company aims to double its Asian traffic from the current number of 70 weekly flights by 2020. In spring 2012, Finnair will open a new route to Chongqing, one of the fastest growing technological hubs and a center for Yangtze River cruises in China. Lehesmaa is so satisfied with the results that she plans to continue the cooperation. “The next step for us is to think together about Finnair’s service to Asia.”
“Finnair is one of the most admired employers in Finland, and, as an airline, it naturally evokes strong opinions from its customers. I’m delighted to see the national carrier rethink its business model, as the traditional best practices of the airline industry are simply no longer sufficient.”
- Pekka Mattila, group managing director of Aalto EE
Saga Furs goes web
Saga Furs was a new fur-auction company in need of assistance. It was looking for insights on how to support its product and brand management process. But more than just theory, Saga Furs wanted ideas it could put to use in its daily work. That is why they contacted Aalto University School of Economics.
Saga Furs was born as a result of an acquisition when, last October, Finnish Fur Sales, which organizes international fur auctions, bought Saga Furs Design Centre, a fur product development center, along with the Saga Furs brand.
Openness is key. For Saga Furs, one theme was supreme: corporate social responsibility. “Marketing students felt we should provide more information about the fur production process and how we can trace down the whole production chain – from fur producers to our courtyard. They also encouraged us to highlight the ecological aspect of fur. A fur coat is not something you buy and throw away easily. These ideas help us to inspire international fashion designers to use fur,” says Päivi Mononen-Mikkilä, director of communications and corporate social responsibility at Saga Furs. She and her team member Ljudmila Sirjaeva met the students four times. Two Saga Fur briefs were followed by presentations with students and lively discussion sessions.
“One of the most interesting ideas presented to us was a leadership question. Should Saga Furs somehow motivate fur farm employees?” Mononen-Mikkilä says.
The marketing students also brought up the incentives for the fur producers as another means to get quality furs that are produced responsibly and thus fit into the company’s brand.
“One of our core values is honesty, so these ideas work nicely for our company,” she adds.
Satisfied with the outcome. Saga Furs has put these ideas into use in their newly launched web site, which also offers a forum for fashion designers to share ideas.
Additionally, the company has published its first Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) report on corporate social responsibility, which gives more in-depth information about Saga Furs’ responsibility actions.
Mononen-Mikkilä is satisfied with the smooth cooperation with Aalto University School of Economics and Aalto University Executive Education. She appreciates how quickly the students understood the fur business and the various clients of Saga Furs. “To my surprise, some marketing students contacted fur producers to boost their brainstorming process.”
“We combined crowdsourcing and open innovation with training on management of a raw material brand. This was an effective way to cooperate, as Saga wanted to proceed quickly. It is thrilling to follow closely the evolution of a wholesale company into a niche fashion brand.”
- Pekka Mattila, group managing director of Aalto EE
Ruukki extends its strategic marketing
Ruukki, manufacturer and supplier of metals and metal-based products, signed up for the Ruukki Marketing Excellence program to refocus its marketing approach from technology
“Over the past years, we have shifted the focus of marketing from pure communications to a more strategic and business growth direction. For example, we are now emphasizing customer segments and the positioning of our businesses and products. This program is a natural evolution in our efforts to extend our marketing capabilities,” sums up Kimmo Kanerva, marketing director at Ruukki.
Marketing Excellence, Ruukki’s development program, uses innovative methods to flush out specific company needs. In the pilot program, participants work with the construction industry. There are two learning themes: customer innovation and marketing planning.
To enhance their current knowledge, the participants read various articles and attend two-day workshops held by top professors from Aalto University. Together, they learn new concepts and participate in group discussions. Key role in the learning is given to Ruukki’s real-life business cases. The cases and key learning outcomes are discussed in wrap-up sessions where the focus is on finding ways to leverage the key results within Ruukki.
Marketing Excellence is a unique learning concept, as it is meant not only for marketing and sales people but also for technology managers and directors. In the pilot program, participants revealed that thinking about value-based marketing and sales was not an easy
group project, as each participant worked in different functions inside Ruukki and brought his or her own perspective to the issues.
“It really expanded our thinking. The target customers are architects, property investors and construction companies, to name a few. They have different needs, each of which must be met, as together they have an important impact on sales. We developed our skill to highlight the right key advantages to each client group,” Kanerva explains.
Triple advantage. The work on Ruukki business cases continues even though the program is officially over.
"Our marketing, sales and technology people are applying their new skills in commercializing and launching two different Ruukki products. Both were hand-picked by the management group of the company,” Kanerva says.
The first product is an airtight sandwich panel for the construction industry. The new product can save tens of thousands of euros on the annual energy consumption of a building. The other product is an innovative package to sell rain water pipes to private consumers. Instead of picking up a hundred parts by hand, buyers get all they need in two neat packages.
The next development program is already in the pipeline.
“When we chose to partner with Aalto University Executive Education, we felt that their pedagogical methods for executive level learning are very special. We were right,” Kanerva concludes.
“The role of Ruukki’s top marketing management was crucial to the success of this program. Their commitment to program planning, as well as their contributions during the modules, was highly appreciated by program participants. Also, their willingness to invite participants from sales and technology played an important role in fostering internal networking across functions. Working on real business issues increased the meaningfulness of the learning.”
- Raija Kuokkanen, senior account director at Aalto EE