Brand Manual is 6 years old. How did that happen?

April 1, 2015

‘Twas the week before xmas 2008 and all was well-ish…

..the global economy had just tanked (but a lot of people hadn’t noticed yet), the snow wasn’t falling but it was probably cold. Four weary and old advertising / design souls trudged into NOP to contemplate the future. Each had his own reason to be worn out with a need for change. Each trudged into the restaurant in his own fashion. One probably trudged in on a bike.

Some months later, on April 1st 2009 Brand Manual started up. Dan, Kaarel, Karu and Margus left their well-paying advertising jobs to focus on something that seemed to have more substance: branding.

At least that’s the impression we had, that branding had more substance. Even though we had over 60 years of experience in marketing, advertising and brand building, it turned out that we still only had a vague idea of what branding really is. Or was. Or will be. But we did know, that before we started running somewhere (or biking there), we had to figure out our pitch.


Running around and trying to find our way

So we put our heads together and spent a month drawing out exactly what it was that we were about to do. One month later we had a webpage up and a lot of statements. Including the one that best encapsulates exactly what it is we do to this day: “We make them talk about you.”

Our first big client was Prisma Supermarket with wonderful Kadri Lainas as marketing director. Although she did make us rewrite our proposal about ten times, to make sure she (and we:-) understood what we wanted to do, we did finally approach the work the way we thought it should be done. Although broadly speaking the task was to better advertise Prisma we were adamant that just more of the same price communication wouldn’t make a bit of difference. So we set out to discover what it was that made Prisma different. We shopped, talked to everyone who would listen and researched benchmarks. We also, inadvertently at first, looked at the whole experience through the customer’s eyes, from the moment she finds her fridge empty to when it’s full again. During this first “discovery” process we devised a lot of the tools we still use today. And it was also the moment we realised that services can be designed.

Kadri Lainas

Our first big client Prisma – Marketing Director Kadri Lainas

It all sounds very logical but the path was never smooth. We argued amongst ourselves over what Brand Manual was and should become. Where it should go. In fact, the first place it should go was an office, because at that time we were working from our homes with occasional meetings at one or the other dinner table and that just wasn’t working. So we found ourselves in an office hotel in Ülemiste City only to escape from there to a downtown office with a bit more character. We took the elevator to a funky tower office in Rotermanni quarter and have stayed in the neighbourhood ever since.


Our second office, Roseni 7 tower


Building our third office, Rotermanni 5

Slava & Joonas joined in 2009

It took more than a year for Brand Manual to begin hiring. Slava joined in September 2010 and Joonas a year later in 2011.

Over the years we’re glad to note that our clients have vindicated our obstinate way of working with being successful. (We sincerely believe that it has happened because, not despite, our best efforts.)

While each client project has a story behind it, perhaps the most interesting story is Brand Manual itself. This is because Brand Manual is an experiment. The experiment of “does branding properly done, work” and “can a focus on quality in such a small market be profitable” and “can we develop our own know-how” and “can we keep learning”?

Branding ABC

Explaining what Brand Manual did and does made us write our own training course

It has become the best way of explaining what branding really is as well as establishing Brand Manual as something different. And in the course of writing it, it turned our thoughts of branding into service design, because our method of branding doesn’t focus on how things look but rather on how companies, products and services actually work.

From Branding ABC it wasn’t a long step to take to write a little book, which for our first birthday in 2010 was aptly titled RTFM! Over the years we’ve written three more pocket books about the future, about innovation, about service design and finally published a proper book this year, which explains our view that effective marketing actually is service design.

a book about service design in a neat pile

Our fifth and newest book

What started as a four-men-and-a-dog outfit has grown up

In 2009 we had a clear idea of becoming an international company and excursions into Latvia and Finland quite obviously resulted in the opening of a Brand Manual office in Stockholm. Our business is a people business and with Maimi, Göran and Rickard, there are like minded people in the Brand Manual office on both sides of Baltic Sea (which incidentally is called the Eastern Sea in Swedish and Western Sea in Estonian but Eastern Sea in Finnish, which is weird).


 Brand Manual Sweden kick-off


 Along the way we have always tried to learn …something

Public presentation

We have shared a lot

But most of all, we’ve had great clients, who’ve trusted our backwards approach. Clients who believed that we did things differently not just for the sake of it, but because we could help them achieve different results.

Therefore, on this, Brand Manual’s 6th birthday, we’d like to congratulate everyone at Brand Manual and sincerely thank our clients, partners, restaurant Platz, friends and family. Without you, we would not be here.

Happy Birthday!

Happy B-Day BM!