Alumnus Aki Toivonen: The role of marketing and branding will only be emphasized in business in the future

‘I believe that the role of marketing and branding will only be emphasized in business in the future as we move from the current consumer culture to increasingly conscious choices’, says our marketing alumnus Aki Toivonen, who works at the advertising agency TBWA/Helsinki.
Aki Toivonen.
Aki Toivonen, School of Business alumnus.

Who are you? What did you study at the School of Business and when did you graduate?

I am Aki Toivonen, a Helsinki-based marketing communications professional, 5th division footballer, occasional songwriter, and a father of two children. I started my studies at the School of Business in 2010 and graduated in 2017, although I spend the last couple of years working full-time and procrastinating on my thesis part-time.
At the School of Business, I majored in marketing in both bachelor's and master's studies and minored in economics. My degree also included a minor in French philology previously completed at the University of Helsinki, as well as specific courses from the basics of programming to digital image expression.

Why did you want to study marketing?

I became interested in a career in marketing communications already during my high school studies, but I only ended up in the School of Business after graduating with a bachelor's degree in English philology from the University of Helsinki. At that time, I felt that the path to working life might be easier through business studies, and after weighing the various options, I decided to re-start my studies by applying to the bachelor’s programme in business at the School of Business. My interest in marketing communications was the most significant driver behind my major choice, although I found some unexpected new interests, for instance, in the basics of operations management during the first year of studies.

What has your career path been like?

My almost ten-year marketing career has so far included a wide variety of positions and job descriptions, but only two companies. Indeed, my career has always included a certain amount of experimentation as I have shifted from one position to another according to emerging interests and strengths.

I began working in marketing already during my studies. In my second school year, I was in the same study group with another student, who worked in an up-and-coming marketing agency called Dingle. We ended up doing our group assignment for the company, through which I got my foot in the door myself.

At Dingle, I started as a part-time community manager but also quickly transitioned to sales because I saw it as a potentially valuable learning experience - which it was. However, while working as an account manager, I noticed that I was better suited for planning and creative work, so it was time for a new change. I found my work very interesting and inspiring, and alongside with my increasing responsibilities, my focus shifted from studies to working life. 

After five very educational and experiential years at Dingle, I had the opportunity to move to advertising agency TBWA\Helsinki, where I currently work as a Creative Strategist and Head of Planning. I started here as an all-around expert combining content and digital marketing and PR, from which I later moved closer to my current role in strategic planning for marketing communications.

The marketing studies at the School of Business offered a very broad and strategic view on the field of marketing and its toolkit.

Aki Toivonen, School of Business alumnus

How did studying at the School of Business prepare you for working life?

In my opinion, the most essential benefit of higher education is how it teaches to think and understand new information and complex entities. In particular, the rapid absorption of new knowledge is becoming increasingly important in modern working life. In that respect, I value my studies in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Helsinki as much as my School of Business years. Of course, the marketing studies at the School of Business also offered a very broad and strategic view on the field of marketing and its toolkit. As a result, it has been relatively easy to understand the underlying logic of different industries, for example.

How do you think the field of marketing, advertising, and branding has changed in recent years and what kind of future prospects there are in the field?

The transition to digital platforms in recent years and the emphasized role of data and technology in the marketing communications toolkit have certainly been the most significant changes. Unfortunately, this has also made our industry more short-sighted even internationally, but fortunately marketing professionals have started to realize this lately.

However, that transformation has clearly increased the demand for certain skill sets. In the field of advertising alone, the number of different execution options has multiplied, and managing the whole requires more and more new kinds of expertise. There is quite a lot of talk about T-type experts, but in my opinion, the profile is more of an H-type: a hybrid expert who excellently masters more than one specific area and, moreover, is very broadly knowledgeable about other things more superficially.

I believe that the role of marketing and branding will only be emphasized in business in the future as we move from the current consumer culture to increasingly conscious choices. Concerns about our planet’s carrying capacity are likely to lead to consumers becoming more and more specific about what is important and valuable to them. Only companies that are skilled in marketing strategy will be able to remain relevant in that situation.

What kind of tips would you give to students who are interested in a career in marketing or advertising?

The transformation in the field of marketing I mentioned earlier will probably mean that there will be a growing demand for data expertise in the future, especially if it is combined with some other special skill. However, I would recommend studying broadly – you have time to deepen your expertise later in working life – and throughout your career. Aalto University offers great opportunities for broad and multidisciplinary studies, and this in the core of Aalto’s mission. Personally, I did not make as much use of the broadness of Aalto’s study offering as I would now hope.

Furthermore, contrary to my own story, I would recommend current students to leave room for focusing on your studies and challenging yourself through them, instead of mere performance mentality, even when working life is already calling. There aren’t that many similar unique learning opportunities available after graduation.

What inspires you in your work every day?

The most inspiring part of my job is the problem-solving related to client work, and the fact that the range of possibly correct answers is so large.

Another source of inspiration is, of course, my colleagues at TBWA\Helsinki. Being able to learn every day from the best creative professionals in the country and be inspired by their accomplishments is one of the biggest reasons I enjoy my job so much.

Find out more about Aki's career on LinkedIn!

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