About brands, stories and ethnography



After studying people’s relationships to urban space in my Master’s thesis, I am especially interested in how people give meanings to objects or places by memories and storytelling. This applies to services or brands as well.

As customers, we immediately have a relationship with a service if it has a story we can relate to, or we are affected by it. But as service providers, in order to actually create a good story, we should hear out what our customers have to say.

I was reflecting on this matter a lot when working at the Yle, the Finnish Broadcasting Company. How do Finnish people feel about their public broadcasting company? What kind of memories they have of the TV or radio programs they used to watch or listen to as a child? All of us Finns have some kind of an experience of their media content, although some more positive than others.

Everyone knows what is Pikku Kakkonen and who is Arvi Lind. We have a shared story with Yle, because it has a vast role in our everyday life. Our own experiences, both personal and shared, create the story of the brand.

When I was conducting ethnographic research with the online news users, several of them were reminiscing about how they used to gather in front of the TV with the whole family at 8.30 pm to watch the news. To many, the strong traditional aspect of watching the Yle evening news kept them still doing that daily, even though they would not get any new information after following online news all day. Someone even told me that listening to the morning news from Yle Radio Suomi was the only way they knew how to start the day.

ED is no stranger to Yle rituals either. One of our designers, Topias, had a Yle related family tradition for years:

“When I was a kid, for years we would watch the weekly nature documentary “Avara luonto” every Saturday after sauna, while my dad would make dinner. It was a highlight of the week, with everyone in their after-sauna euphoria, in no hurry to go anywhere, talking about the events of the week and thoughts of the moment. It was almost like the crescendo for the dinner itself. An integral part of our family culture. As me and my sister grew older, time together with the whole family started to decrease but the after-sauna ritual persisted for pretty much as long as we were all living under one roof. There’s still something in me that instinctively associates nature documentaries with a cozy Saturday evening with the family.” 

These kinds of rituals and traditions are a great part of the everyday experience. The most important thing is rarely the use of  a service or the brand itself, but all the emotions and habits attached to them. Quality time with family, a moment to yourself, maybe something to talk about. These are the things that the numbers from the TV viewing rates won’t tell us. What a quantitative research can tell us, however, is for example that the Finns have rated Yle as the most trustworthy media brand . Listening and observing these people help to understand why that is so.

So what can we make of these stories? To understand why a service is meaningful, we need to listen to people. If we want to create a service that is meaningful, we, again, need to listen to people and find the dots that connect our story to theirs. In order to find out the deeper motivations behind their actions, it is important to experience even a small part of the users’ everyday life. By carefully observing, we can see what kind of a role the service has or could potentially have in it. When we have understood this, we will be able to tell a story together with the users.


Written by

Veera Suomalainen

Veera Suomalainen

Service Designer


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