Branding Brilliants – Mika Raukko

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Branding Brilliants – Mika Raukko - Framme

'I have always been very interested in discovering how consumers make choices.' – Mika Raukko, Category Manager at Anora Group Plc.

Check out Branding Brilliants, our new blog series where we talk to outstanding branding and marketing professionals. We talk about their work, brand and idealogy, how they got to where they are now, and what they learned along the way.


If you are looking for a super likeable, down-to-earth man who puts modesty itself to shame - look no further. Mika Raukko is a soft-spoken brand philosopher from Finland and a top-of-the-list D2C brand builder. Looking at his CV you find brands like H&M, Philip Morris, and a mind-blowing track record of marketing performance.

Today Mika works at Anora in Stockholm, a leading wine, and spirits brand house in the Nordics. At Anora, Mika drives growth by building brands and product categories. Mika is a person who looks at marketing through the lens of data and consumer understanding. What fascinates Mika is the emotional connection that brands can make with consumers, and he has spent a lot of his time understanding that phenomenon.

With all this said, it’s no wonder we wanted to chat with Mika. Here are some of the insights and thoughts that came up:

First things first - why are Swedes considered better brand builders than Finns?

“That’s the million-dollar question. Are they better, though?

I think it's perhaps more a question of a different approach. Without going too deep into analysis here I think it’s about some form of courage and there are many layers to that. In some things, Finnish companies tend to play it safe and can be a bit traditional.

However, at the same time, Finnish brands and consumers are much braver than Swedes in being original and going against the current. Difficult to still determine who does it better. Swedes have been and are extremely successful when it comes to branding and advertising. “

What does branding mean to you?

"For me, it boils down to one word: relevance. In addition to creating an identity, a logo, and all that textbook stuff, branding is about putting the consumer in the centre. It is about creating something that resonates with the audience both visually and contextually.

That is the essence of branding. The tricky part is then to discover what will resonate with the audience. People have been sitting at home for 2 years. They have been googling and getting to know new brands, and their expectations of brands and branding are high. So, today more than ever, it is extremely important for businesses to be consumer driven.“

How did you get into branding?

“I have always been very interested in discovering how consumers make choices. Even more so, how companies impact those choices. How does a brand get its message through in such a way that makes the consumer go ‘I want that!’?”

“I graduated from Turku School of Economics with a master’s degree in International Business, but slowly started levitating towards branding. Perhaps that one critical career push was when I was doing consumer and market research in my first job. The research was always conducted from a sales perspective, basically, a lot of consumer testing and surveys in brand understanding.

If I had a hint of an interest in the consumer mindset before, this experience brought about a serious hunger to understand consumers. More specifically, to understand the dynamics of the emotional connection that consumers can have towards a brand and how that connection is created.”


“Relevance leads to being the preferred brand in a product category”


“The emotional connection is what we work with when building brands at Anora. One interesting angle of branding at Anora is that we build consumer brands where one brand may cater to many different target groups.

'We work on creating communicational concepts and activation concepts where the messaging is aligned but needs to resonate with different types of people. In practice, we try to figure out how we get our message across to the consumer most effectively. We strive for relevance as that leads to brand loyalty and subsequently becoming the preferred brand in a product category. “

It seems that brands are sometimes created on a gut feeling. How important is research?

“Everything starts with a gut feeling, an idea of a new brand or product, that one has as a marketeer or brand builder. I would say that research is key when it comes to validating that gut feeling.

It shows you what you should do, how you should do it and what you are doing wrong. This, of course, implies that you know how to analyse the data correctly. Research is also one of the most expensive parts of brand building, so you want to do it well.”

“At Anora we use different survey formats to understand consumer choices on many levels. We want to know everything from why they purchased a product to why they clicked on a button on the website. A lot of effort is then put into the analysis as it is imperative to understand the data correctly.

To answer your question; consumer understanding is at the heart of branding and the only way to get to that understanding is by studying consumer behaviour.”

How much do you need to do research for a brand?

“During the last 5 years and especially during covid, the consumer perspective grew more important. The challenge that many companies are facing is that they are not able to do research often enough. E.g., If you are making a new branding concept you need to test it on your consumers many times during the different phases to discover the communicational and visual style that resonates with the consumer and creates an emotional connection.”

“There are no shortcuts here. The key is to ask the right things, often enough. Understanding what it is you want to know is crucial. And often you need to learn it the hard way, by asking the wrong things first. So, you look at your responses and then you see that “oh, this is what we need to look into a bit more” and that takes you towards a new line of study. “

When surveying whether consumers like the new brand, what would be a good result?

“Well, if we are building a new brand, it is quite normal to get 50% of the audience against the brand and 50% for it. This kind of data should not discourage you. It is very unusual to see data where most of the respondents love the new brand immediately.

Instead, you need to look at both the positive and negative data to see the whole picture of the concept. At Anora, we build our quantitative surveys with a lot of open-ended questions.

This makes the analysis of the responses more arduous, but those open-ended questions are key to helping us discover some of the underlying nuances that consumers are experiencing, and those nuances help us find the “why” for the brand.

This can be quite a manual task without sophisticated tools but the positive impact of all the manual work is that it allows you to grow your “gut feeling” – you get better at seeing the opportunities and you build confidence.”

What do you think are the most important things to keep in mind when building a brand concept?

“I would narrow it down to 3 things. First, relevance is a must-have. So, what is the unique thing about your product that resonates with the customer? Figure out is the one thing that makes your product stand out from the crowd. Secondly, simplicity.

If your brand or your concept is too complicated, you are in trouble. If your brand messages or your visuals require explanations, they will probably not work. Keep it simple. And remember that simplicity does not exclude uniqueness.

Thirdly, you need to be brave. I feel like the modern consumer has seen it all so being brave will allow you to bring something new to the table. You should be brave in all dimensions. And remember, a simple thing can be enough to make it or break it. “

Do you focus at all on the brand experience when building brand concepts?

“Actually, yes! Especially in this industry where we cannot communicate about the products in-depth. We emphasise that each time the consumer meets our brands is an experience - everything from seeing the product on the shelf to grabbing it, feeling it and to visiting the distillery. And all those touch points need to be consistent with the brand message.”

Big brand houses have been criticised for not giving enough time to new brands - how much risk are you willing to take with a new brand?

“The projects I have worked on so far have been such that we have been willing to give them time. But perhaps ‘giving time’ to a brand is not necessarily what it’s all about. I believe it’s more about minimising risk through consumer feedback.

At Anora we try to keep a finger on the pulse at all times of the development process and so we invest a lot of time in understanding the consumers. During the branding process, we keep testing the brand concept and the product itself as much as possible.

We want to make sure that when we launch something to the market, we are not doing it blindly. Consumers have so many alternatives on the shelves, so you won't stand out if you don't do your homework and find the space that has not yet been tackled. “

In terms of the whole process from gaining an understanding to getting validation from sales, how long does it take to build a brand? 

“I am one of those people who has a lot of patience. I think branding and especially brand renewals should be given proper time. As a benchmark, we had a whiskey project, Carlow Irish Whiskey, that we worked on for nearly two years."

Two years sounds very long for most people working with trends and fast marketing cycles, what would you say to them?

“Trends do change for sure but trends, in general, are tricky for me because they come and go. One trend or phenomenon can last for a week or even a day, especially in the age of TikTok.

I don't think one should follow trends too much. However, global trends go in 3–5-year cycles or even longer. So, you can take your time to build concepts that tap into those trends.

The important thing here is relevance again. Your brand should consider tapping into trends if the trends are relevant to your brand. I sometimes see brands acting on trends that have nothing to do with the brand and that doesn't work, it can feel fake.”

What about modernising a brand - how do you do that?

“Let’s talk about a specific case: O.P. Anderson aquavit. For those who are not familiar with the product, it is the original Swedish aquavit launched in 1891. It is so tied to the core of Swedish culture that we could not just simply go ahead and change it radically at once without risking push-back from consumers. And this is more or less true for all legacy brands; you want to be careful with changes.

The legacy may feel like a burden and your aim should be to try to keep a balance between the legacy and modernisation. Our project started with baby steps. Our first task was to figure out how we talk about the traditions linked to aquavit with a modern language.

The next step was to look at the visuals. Taking the traditional midsummer dinner table into a setting that is more accessible for everyone. Sustainability has been a key topic that we have wanted to emphasise when renewing and creating relevance for O.P. Anderson aquavit, which has a long tradition in sustainable production.”

“This long-term background work has also enabled some exciting collaborations, like the collaboration with Omnipollo® brewery. The collaboration was a big step for O.P. Anderson’s aquavit both visually and in communication. The brands are very different. O.P. Anderson Aquavit’s world is rather traditional and Omnipollo® is visually very striking. What made the collaboration possible was that the core values of both brands are strongly tied to craftsmanship. So, while these two brands came from very different worlds when you combined them, it felt natural. Consumers accepted it. This was one of the most successful collaborations I have experienced.”

How is success measured in this case?

“Success is measured in consumer reaction and sales. Visibility in social media, PR etc as well as merch demand during and after the collaboration. It became a bit of a phenomenon and the O.P. Anderson Aquavit brand itself became more accepted and accessible. People saw that this old giant can pull something like this off.”

Where do you start with a brand renewal? And how do you know you need one?

“It depends where in the life cycle the brand is in. The younger the brand the easier it is to change it. With O.P. Anderson Aquavit, for example, the decision for renewal came from a notion that we need to guarantee that the brand evolves in a relevant way for a new target group. It takes time to create appeal for the younger adult generation but if we get some share of mind now, they might think of it later when they are in the relevant situation.”

“A renewal does not have to be a 180-degree change, rather, a little bit of fine-tuning the visuals or alike. The reason for keeping it fresh is that your brand lives and changes with the world and that should be visible to the consumers.”

What aspect of the brand are you most passionate about?

“It’s the part that is not visible to consumers, the ambitions and strategy of the brand. The core of the brand as it has an impact on the visuals and copy. Without a solid core, it is difficult to build and maintain a brand.”

How do you build and maintain a brand across markets?

“That can be quite tricky in practice, and it requires two things: being consistent and flexible. Consumers should be able to see the same branding and brand messaging in all touch points both offline and online.

As the world has gotten “smaller” consistency has become more important. You can and should do some localisation due to language or culture. But the core of the brand should stay the same.”

How difficult is it to make people stick to brand guidelines?

“Quite difficult, I would say. The more you have people working on your brand the more versions you tend to get. Using a marketing communication and material platform can be a very good tool in managing a brand and keeping consistency.”

“I believe that allowing some flexibility in the guidelines is a good way to get people engaged in the brand. When they have the freedom to work with it, they feel like it’s their brand as well. In my work, I try to balance full control and a nice level of flexibility.

So, Mika, what is your favourite brand?

“I follow brands from my industry and look at what cool stuff they come up with. Right now, I like what Jameson has been doing. They are a huge global brand and, yet, very down-to-earth - I like that. They do things in an insightful and fun way.”

Lastly, here are Mika’s top 4 advice for branding people

  1. Remember that You are a consumer yourself, so believe in that instinct. This has helped me in my career. Doesn't matter what the industry is, put yourself in your customer’s shoes more often, and try to figure out what could be done better.

  2. Be curious, ask questions, and try to understand the big picture.

  3. When launching internationally, find a good collaboration partner. They are the key people who tell you what works in their market.

  4. When evaluating success - be practical. Marketing is sometimes tricky to turn into money, it’s not linear and you cannot always show that with this marketing you get these sales. If you can't report sales data, then try to find KPIs that are relevant to your work and convey your message through them. It might not be very creative, but if you can argue that with this investment you can do this vs that, it gets you forward.

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