Significant Objects

What do you believe happens when you pay for creative writers ‘ stories about cheap flea market items, and you associate them with stories of objects which later you sell on eBay?

2009 Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn designed a literary and anthropological experiment to measure the subjective value of an object objectively. Scientists bought a flea market object with an average price of $ 1.25. They hired a hundred authors who invented a unique story for each object. Walker and Glenn wanted to prove that the stories have an emotional value and that they are able to transform insignificant objects into significant ones.

Take, for example, an object that is quite dull and meaningless; paperweight. The Earth-shaped paperweight originally changed hands at $ 1.49 but was sold on eBay for $ 197.50! The handwritten notes attached to the globe were able to resonate with the buyer. The insignificant paperweight became a meaningful object for someone else.

And the aforementioned paper printing was not just a fluke. The total return on all items sold was $ 3.6 million. 2,700% increase in total.

The experiment by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn shows that we are fascinated and attracted by stories. We are not tuned in to facts and logic, which is why they seem to fade from the mind quite quickly. Whereas stories we understand and remember for a long time.

My dear Finnish reader, you probably thought this whole experiment was immoral am I right? I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Why Finns are Slacking in Marketing?

Reasons for modest marketing are deeply rooted in Finnish culture. The features that we admire in each other prevent us from communicating about ourselves and our knowledge.

  • We are frankly honest
  • We’re fair
  • We’re stingy
  • We are stubborn
  • We are modest

Finns are proud of their engineering expertise and, for the most part, for a good reason. Finns are able to design, innovate and implement enormously good products.

However, we Finns do not categorize very well beyond our borders. We seem to lack a clear positive image. When we think of Germany, we think of quality cars, good wines come from France and the Japanese make high-quality consumer electronics. America is, of course, well-known for the entertainment industry and the software we use every day. The Swedes make hits and the only real Vodka comes from Russia. Made in Finland? What is our own story people abroad connect us?

“Our values are above all else based on our respect for logic and reason.”

Honest and Fair

We sincerely do believe that a good product will sell itself. We want to tell you everything about the product in every detail. We feel honest by doing so.

That’s why we sell, preferably, based on reason. Our values are based above anything on respect for logic and reason. We are indeed an engineering nation.

Decisions – hardest of all jobs

An almost equally important reason behind this is that we have trouble imagining buyers other than ourselves. A Finn is always accurate and wants to know all the details. He doesn’t want to make a mistake and he wants to know just about everything about the product.

This pragmatic style works for everyday consumer goods and well-known luxury products in well-established competitive markets. A purchase decision has already been made and the consumer is looking for the best price.

When a product is new and unknown to the customer, pragmatic arguments are no longer effective.

A Finnish entrepreneur knows that a customer makes a purchase decision with emotion and justifies the decision with reason. We just don’t dare to sell with emotion, and we do not understand what these rationales are.


Selling often requires demonstrating the benefits of the product through exaggeration, self-praise or agitation. To us Finns, such a thing represents customer cheating or manipulation.

However, the truth is that we need to be emotionally aware of the customer’s benefits in advance. You can’t do that by just hitting mere facts on the table. The customer is wise, but bad at realizing their own best interests when it comes to a new product or service that is new to them. Yes, and those facts are quickly forgotten.


Do you know the difference between purchase reasoning and purchase reason?

-Purchase reasoning is based on product quality, price, durability, ecology, etc.
-Purchase reasoning refers to the actual reasons that led to the purchase, such as the seller’s professionalism at the point of sale, the company’s reputation, a well-known brand, etc.

As the buyer always tries to justify his purchase with reason, it is important to understand what the rationale is. You must have noticed that buying is also very much a matter of emotion.

Features Tell. Benefits Sell.

Finnish “Sisu”

We pride ourselves on the perseverance we find when everything goes sideways. If need be, we will surpass ourselves, we can solve every imaginable problem no sweat. That’s something to be proud of for sure. If the situation does not directly require overachieving, however, we will be happy to let others pave the way. We want to see the end result before we dare to invest in it.

We observe what our competitors are doing. We steal the best ideas. Finnish “sisu” can be practiced best in a competitive situation. That is why we are stealing the market from our competitors rather than creating a new market.

How Would We Learn to Inspire the Customer?

Marketing = implementing change. Spreading ideas win. In today’s world, successful marketing is achieved through empathy and service.

Since we are an engineering nation, we ideally implement those traits in our marketing. Measurement, A/B testing is a fixation for us. Problems start when our meter shows no change. Our engineers tell us that there is a defect in the product, and we start to upgrade the product’s features with fury. Because we know how to improve a product.

What we do not know is how to express ourselves in a way that makes our product interesting, credible and desirable in the eyes of our potential customers. We shy away from those things which are not in our comfort zone and that is unfortunately marketing. After all, it is against our core values.


Empathy is a Superpower

According to studies, Finland does not seem to be a very empathetic country. In fact, we are one of the least empathetic countries. We are in 58th place out of 63 measured.

Empathy in marketing means stepping into the customer’s shoes. Speaking from a consumer perspective. We should understand their experience at an emotional level so that we can offer what they truly want.

Marketing Should Feel Like Helping

Marketing should feel like helping

-Help the customer identify and solve their problems.
-Find ways to make your client’s life better / happier.
-Produce content that helps your customers understand the benefits of your product more clearly.

Don’t try to simply please your customer, but be genuinely interested in your customer. Your customer is very sensitive in any attempt trying to sway him/her.

Customer service is a competitive advantage

We Finns joke about how bad we are at customer service. It is important for us Finns to get the maximum amount of margin, with the least amount of effort. The bottom line is an indicator and we love to measure. That’s why there is only one waiter in our restaurants and plenty of room on the side of the hall.

By giving people what they value and need without expecting anything in return, you create a bond that exudes trust and appreciation.

Share everything you know with your customers. You probably don’t have any such special knowledge or skill that your customers can’t find simply by Googling. If you are washing cars for a living, tell your customers about how they should/should not wash their car so that the paint surface stays good for a long time. The next time he wants to wax his car again, he will remember how Interested you were in his car paint surface. It would be crazy for the buyer to choose another service provider.

If you’re at all interested in the business literature, it’s hard not to come across examples of Zappos. Zappos’ longest customer service call lasted 10h 43min. If Zappos is unable to find a solution to your problem, they will try to find a solution to your problem from a competitor. Their products have a 365-day return policy. 75% of customers buy again from Zappos.

We Finns should pay more attention to our communication skills. Marketing already is and will increasingly be bidirectional. Every business is a media company. The one who communicates the most – sells the most!

Tell the story of the benefits of your product so your customers understand how your solution improves their daily lives. Avoid the temptation to do marketing for your ego. The customer is not interested in your ingenious solution, they’re interested in themselves.

If you want a better margin for your product before you think about where to shave off, think about how you can improve the story of your product? Are you communicating enough? Are you telling your story where your potential customers are?

Final Thoughts

Finnish entrepreneur. You come from the culture of mighty Kalevala – the land of storytellers. Do what your forefathers did and you will succeed.

Thanks for reading this post, it means a lot to me. My writing is based on my own experience over a long period of time, with various startups. My role in most of these companies has been a UX designer.

There is a huge amount of potential in Finland and it is unfortunate to see a great deal of effort and money pouring into a sink. The reason is not the inexperience of marketing experts or the poor quality of innovation. It is a folk disease deeply rooted in our fundamental values.

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