“Why did I survive?” — This question began to niggle at Mariko Fukui, a young girl who outlived a catastropheat the age of six. On 17th January 1995, when the Great Hanshin Earthquake hit Hyogo, it crumbled thousands of buildings to the ground – Mariko’s childhood home among them. Fortunately, Mariko’s family managed to survive but she felt miserable for many people who were not so fortunate to be alive. This life-defining experience made her wonder—”As a survivor, is it possible for me to leave some value?” Since she was surrounded by technology and science from an early age, she decided to create value in the world by being actively involved in the development of technology.
Today, Mariko is the Founder and CEO of Aalto International Japan Co., Ltd., a branding firm specializing in technology fields. Known as Aalto International, the firm is improving the presence of tech companies globally and creating value through connecting them with the world. “Aalto means “wave” in Finnish, and our name originates from our wish to be like waves connecting continents. Our activity with clients oftentimes leads to the creation of international collaborations that aim to work towards developing solutions for global issues,” elucidates Mariko.
The Beginning of Aalto International
Mariko founded Aalto International in Singapore when she was 25 years old. Her previous experience in the sales role made her realize there is a need to build a brand presence for companies. But no branding firm was specifically dedicated to technology companies at that time. So, she decided to take the risk and see whether this idea that was born out of her passion, was actually viable and demanded in the market.
“At the time, people often asked me whether I was scared to establish a company. However, my mind was so engulfed in coming up with new ideas to provide branding solutions for my potential clients that I barely had time to think about it. In 4 weeks, I prepared my business plan and decided to go for it, establishing Aalto,” opines Mariko.
Building Technology Brands across Boarders
Aalto supports technology companies to improve their global presence through its strategy for media PR, content, and industry networking and groundwork in the fields of mobility (EVand new automotive technologies), IoT, Robotics, Energy, and Environment. Its services include identifying the core value of the company or business, creating key messaging and strategy, and telling them as a story through optimized content and specialized channels. Aalto’s content creation process takes into account the technology’s applications and communication trends in the industry. Furthermore, through welcoming experts into its team or pursuing tie-ups with editorial staff in the industry, Aalto develops content that is sure to be accurate and relevant. When it comes to distribution, Aalto utilizes diverse channels that include media, industry influencers, online advertisement or LinkedIn, as well as strong networking with key media and experts in each industry and across several countries. Ultimately, this allows Aaltoto help its clients develop their global influence through effectively communicating the value of their technology. In contrast to advertisement agencies, for example, it is this meticulous process that allows Aalto to foster a unique position in the market – a position that can be achieved because its vast network across various key industries is not simply based on transactional factors. Rather, it builds connections through shared goals, such as the passion to create a better world together through collaboration in diverse technological fields. Aalto International always tries to find shared value with its clients, industry as a whole, and indeed, the world.
Hurdles along the Way
Before founding Aalto, Mariko worked as a Public Relations Planner in Japan for few years. Following that, she joined a newly established Japanese subsidiary in Singapore in a business development role. This is when she realized how difficult it is for an almost completely unknown company to develop business opportunities. “I did 100 cold-calls every day and tried cold-visiting companies over there. But it didn’t work well. People simply didn’t trust this new and unfamiliar company,” shares Mariko.
Eventually, she discerned that branding is the key to address the issue. But, branding and PR services that create invisible value were not well-accepted by Japanese manufacturing companies since they deal with visible products. The belief that “simply making better products is the only way to increase value” was quite widespread at that time. Hence branding was not a priority. However, in the last couple of years the scenario has changed, as companies are realizing the fact that global brands work differently and conveying their values beyond the products is also important. As this need is continuously growing, many companies are now approaching Aalto International to ask for solutions to increase their global brand presence and positioning.
Fostering a Diverse yet Collaborative Work Culture
Aalto’s success and growth to the global level can be traced back to its diverse, value-driven, and collaborative culture. According to Mariko, a team must share the value of the work and understand the ultimate value it creates together. Hence, the diverse team at Aalto works with a flexible and diverse style called “your global team” for clients. Depending on the project theme, the company forms a team with specialist members from different countries who employ different workstyles. Besides work, acquiring new perspectives from personal life is equally important for Mariko, a mindset she fostered while living in Singapore, Germany and France.
“While I was in France, I got quite entranced with surfing. Through my experience surfing, especially when I was just starting out, I could learn things like “A failure is not a shame; it’s just a learning process. Just keep trying. We can develop ourselves more by personal activities and it gives new perspectives for work as well,” affirms Mariko.
Foreseeing the Future
Forging ahead, the optimistic business leader envisions a future where there will be more international collaboration in technology fields for solving global issues. She also aspires to make the clients at Aalto a global top brand in the realm of technology. “Since Aalto International only works with clients who potentially provide technology solutions to global issues, improving branding does not simply mean raising clients’ competitiveness, but also signifies the development of new technology for a better world,” adds Mariko.
Drawing the valuable life lessons from her entrepreneurial journey, Mariko advises emerging entrepreneurs to stay brave, sincere, and collaborative. “When we step into a new world or work on new challenges, we may initially feel scared. But believing in yourself and trying is the only way that makes you stronger. This is the process and the footprints that are necessary to achieve where you would like to go, concludes Mariko.