‘Brand Sweden’ goes local

Part of Sweden’s celebrated image can be credited to the fact that the country has a unified brand platform, the result of incorporating the Swedish Institute, VisitSweden, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Invest in Sweden Agency and the Trade Council into the Council for the Promotion of Sweden, which generated a common brand platform for most of the relevant aspects of the country. Now, the Council wants Swedish regions and cities to use the platform for their own local promotion and branding.

Nowadays, a place is also a brand. But branding a place is fairly different from branding a product. For Swedish regions and municipalities, the “Brand Sweden” platform may make the job easier.

In 2006 The Council for the Promotion of Sweden (NSU*) launched a brand platform for Sweden. The NSU is a cooperation between the Swedish Institute, VisitSweden, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Invest in Sweden Agency and the Trade Council. The platform describes the essence that is the foundation or starting point for all official communication of Sweden abroad.

It is quite unique that organisations with such diverse missions from the government share a brand platform, and similar organisations from around the world have shown interest in the platform. The Swedish Institute has also noticed a growing interest from Swedish regions and municipalities, both to learn from the process of developing a brand platform with a broad group of interested parties and to relate to “Brand Sweden” when they develop their own brands.

Branding is becoming ever more important. For companies targeting the consumer market it’s a prerequisite, and for most business-to-business companies as well. But many still think that branding of places is a little bit strange, sometimes even controversial. However, places have as much to gain from a strong brand as products and services. And quite often product brands and place brands interact; you all know which country builds the best quality luxury cars or where the most cutting edge consumer electronics come from.

Branding of places has some additional challenges compared with branding of commercial products. Products can often be changed to fit a brand platform, something which is very difficult or impossible when it comes to a place. There is also a broader range of interested parties involved, who will have to contribute to realising the brand but also have something to benefit from a successful brand. A brand platform for a place needs to be accessible to the public and is therefore more likely to be questioned and criticised.

The Swedish regions and municipalities have far less resources to allocate for branding than the NSU, so sharing the experience from developing “Brand Sweden” is a good way for the Swedish Institute to help them move forward in this process. In the spring of 2009, the Swedish Institute arranged a seminar together with Geobrands, where we presented the brand platform for Sweden together with some insights into how the national brand can be interpreted and used on a local or regional level.

For the regions and municipalities it is essential to know how Sweden is perceived abroad for their own branding efforts, and they wouldn’t be able to afford to carry out all the research that the Swedish Institute does. Sharing this information broadly is also a way for the Swedish Institute to reach its target of a stronger, clearer and more up-to-date image for Sweden abroad.

Brand Sweden is the sum of all encounters between people around the world and anything Swedish – products, people, culture or actual visits to Sweden. The key to a clear and strong national brand is not only in what message the Swedish institute or the rest of the NSU send out, but what all Swedish regions, product brands, people, etc do and say.

For example, companies like Volvo and Ikea have done a great job of positioning Sweden as a country that makes products where design and innovation is really used for the benefit of ordinary people. If we can get more Swedish organisations to share and use the Brand Sweden platform and communicate the unique values and the position that sets Sweden apart in the world, it will surely benefit both the image of Sweden in general and any brand associated with Sweden.

Article first published here, written by Joakim Norén, Brand Development Manager, Swedish Institute