What can humanities experts contribute to companies? A great many things, according to a group of researchers who are starting their own company

The company Tositarina (“True story”) is based on research. The researcher-entrepreneurs’ expertise in language, history and culture gives them an edge.

The world is full of stories. But not all stories are created equal.

Terhi Ainiala, who is a university lecturer of Finnish language, Pia Olsson, a university lecturer of European ethnology and Petja Kauppi, an entrepreneur who produces research support services, are showing how research in the humanities could help companies market and brand themselves – effectively, to tell the story of the company.

How does Tositarina stand out from PR and ad agencies which also help organisations tell their stories?

“We take full advantage of our connection to research in the humanities. Our work is based on cultural, historical and linguistic analysis, which gives us information about the traditions and environment of the company or organisation as well as its temporal and social strata,” explains Terhi Ainiala.

The employees of Tositarina know which archives and what kind of literature to look into for the information they need. They can also generate new information, for example through interviews and ethnographic observation. 

“We carefully dig through the background and environment of the company or organisation to find the solid, compelling core which can be used as the foundation of the organisation’s identity and brand. We always look for the solutions in facts, the true stories,” says Ainala.

Why would a company even need a story? Simply because a good story sells. It can help companies build a stable identity and provide material for communications and experiential marketing.

“International examples prove that companies and products with a true story which is skilfully told can significantly increase their sales,” says Ainiala.

According to Ainiala, a good company story is always based on something real. With an existing company, the story can come from its history, while a new company could use an example from the traditions in its field.

The company story can be referenced in communications, or in the name of the company and its products and services.

“Overall, it will be apparent in how the company identifies itself and shows itself to the world,” Ainiala sums up.

Company stories, experiential stories

Tositarina’s pilot clients include digital health service provider Memocate and the Porvoo restaurant Glassikko.

Camilla Lindholm from Memocate states that the cooperation with Tositarina went well. Originating at the University of Helsinki, Memocate develops digital services to support the care of people with memory disorders.

First, Lindholm drafted the needs of Memocate together with Terhi Ainiala and Pia Olsson. With help from Tositarina, Memocate recruited a trainee, who interviewed Memocate employees and stakeholder representatives, writing stories for marketing use based on the interviews. Tositarina representatives supported the trainee and guided the process.

“We gained great stories for use in communications and marketing. According to the Tositarina model, we drafted both a company story and experiential stories about our stakeholders – memory disorder patients and their families as well as the healthcare professionals who care for them,” explains Lindholm.

The stories are now a part of the everyday work of Memocate, particularly its communications and marketing. Memocate has used the stories on its website, in presentations and in client negotiations. They have also been the basis for marketing videos.

“The stories are written by professionals and they are very touching,” enthuses Lindholm.

“They’re very relatable, particularly for people who have memory disorder patients close to them.”

Room for employees to think about objectives

According to Lindholm, drafting the company stories and doing the interviews were also important for internal communications, as the interviews provided all employees with the opportunity to think about Memocate, its role and objectives.

“We have continued to think about our vision, values and strategy inside the company, even after the stories were completed. The materials we created with Tositarina have been useful.”

Particularly stories in which memory disorder patients describe their own diagnoses and experiences gave new perspectives for the work at Memocate.

These stories have not yet been published. Memocate has been building up a story bank which it can later use both for marketing and for building its own corporate identity.

“The stories help us to keep the focus on the patients and their families and to remember why we’re doing this in the first place,” says Camilla Lindholm.

For example, one 65-year-old woman recounted the following:

A few years back, my daughter started asking me why I would ask her the same thing again and again. Why are you saying that for the third time, she’d ask me. That’s how it started, and I was a little grumpy about it. It didn’t feel like a memory disease, it was just a blank space. I get by and I’m reasonably happy, but I may say the same thing three times. Things just disappear from my head. I suppose that’s what it means to have Alzheimer’s.