Importance of country branding: Spotlight on Estonia
Kirjoittanut: Tuuli-Emily Liivat - tiimistä SYNTRE.
Last year, Estonia was given the title of the fastest-growing nation brand in the world 2021. The brand saw an increase of 38% in value, which was due to its world-class digital infrastructure, especially useful during the pandemic (Brand Finance, 2021).
Similarly to companies and brands, nation brands aim to unify and boost the nation’s presence and strengths on a global arena. How can nation brands benefit companies and why is this relevant?
This essay aims to introduce the concept of location branding, distinguish its benefits and reasons for fluctuations. The essay shines a spotlight on Estonia where the writer is from to explore its success story.
What is Nation and Place Branding?
A brand of a country is seemingly a topic that many of us do not indulge in but somehow are all connected to. The brand of a country can influence different perceptions and attitudes that may affect foreign trade, cultural export and tourism. As an example, Finland is a popular destination during Christmas for our Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, clean nature and the wonderful Aurora Borealis. On a smaller scale, we may have stereotypes on the people from different countries that stem from the nation’s brand and even affect the products we buy.
Nation branding is thus how a country of place positions and promoted itself as a place for people to visit, invest in and build a good reputation for their quality of goods and services as well as talent. Location branding encompasses nation, region and city branding and marketing, through which both local and global businesses strive to create visual, emotional, and perceptual connections with locations in order to market their products and services. (Soni 2019)
Economically, a well branded and marketed country can flourish easily.
Some of the factors influencing this can be how transparent the country is, how easy it is to do business there and how much the country’s economy is growing (Reibstein and Bedi 2018).
From a political perspective, the nation’s brand can be divided into soft power and hard power. Hard power refers to a country’s economic and military ability to buy and coerce while soft power is to attract with cultural and ideological appeal (Nye 1990).
“Brands are ubiquitous, but the largest brands in the world are countries. Reibstein and Bedi, 2018. “
The nation brand communicated to consumers, investors and workers in tourism primarily consists of promoting the nation’s soft power: values, history, geographical advantages and success stories on various fields such as education, technology or companies.
A key role in forming a nation brand is inevitably played by successful corporate brands. Corporate and nation brands coexist together in a symbiosis with both benefitting from each other to strengthen their reputation. A great example given by Brand Finance is the airlines industry: national carrier airlines have successfully acted as nation brand representatives on a global scale as well as strengthened their origin countries’ values, culture and images. The visibility provided by airlines drives interest in tourism as well as offers an experience of the nation on board before the tourists or prospective investors have entered the country.
It is important to note that in the context of nation branding, the brand is constantly in a fluid state and can be strengthened more. As Simon Anholt expresses, since most of a country’s juridical bodies, agencies, ministries and companies work in isolation, they send out conflicting and even contradictory messages about the country. As a result, no consistent picture of the country emerges, and its overall reputation stands still or moves backwards (Anholt 2007).
Hence, Anholt coined a term called Competitive Identity that best describes nation brands to this day and their fluidity for nearly two decades. Since there are so many complex aspects forming a nation’s brand, the term competitive identity is used to describe the synthesis of brand management with public diplomacy, trade, investment, tourism and export promotion (Anholt 2007). In co-ordinating mutual messages and sharing similar visuals, the brand becomes more cohesive and acts as a united front to shine and attract all aforementioned fields.
To further accentuate branding and enable recognition, countries have developed toolboxes and focused on various aspects such as developing slogans, brand visuals, colours and typography to form a cohesive brand across platforms. As an example, Estonia’s brand has a specific typography called Aino with the brand’s primary colour being Estonian Blue (hex-code #000F0) while Finland’s typography is FINLANDICA with the colour palette being white (hex-code #FFFFFF) and blue (hex-code #002EA2).
Some countries have focused on branding to the point where free resources have been shared with the public to help control and distribute the brand further. Some examples include Türkiye, a country who recently made a statement asking to refrain from being globally called Turkey or Brand Australia providing free assets such as video materials and graphics.
A common thread with the examples above and any other brand nation website you may come across is that they have clear messages and values they wish to communicate forward, which have inspired slogans, colour palettes, graphical elements and much more. They have been carefully thought through for an important reason: while these may go unrecognized by an individual consumer, the symbols work as a gateway to “embrace values and actions/behaviors that shape the perceptions of international stakeholders and how they engage with the country. Accordingly, a graphical sign or emblem can serve as a positive lever to boost tourism, exports, investments, and attract skilled labor.” (Murphy, 2022)
Factors affecting the nation’s brand.
While the brand of a nation can bring in a lot of positive traffic, it can also fluctuate due to factors beyond the control of any marketer or brand strategist. As mentioned above, Anholt’s Competitive identity acts as an umbrella including factors such as public diplomacy, trade, investment, tourism and export promotion as currents influencing nation brand.
An example of public diplomacy and politics could be from the United States,
Additionally, the connection of nation brand and the symbiosis of nation’s corporate brands plays a role. An example from 2015 when a German car manufacturer brand Volkswagen was given a notice of violation for the United States Clean Air Act, Germany suffered from reputation decrease and its economy took a serious hit.
Another factor to consider is politics. The decisions made by the elected leaders influence the way a country works and also the nation brand. Guiding questions to consider here are what is the country doing to improve life quality of its citizens and how do countries contribute to welfare of humanity beyond borders?
Conflicts and wars largely affect the country’s brand. As an example, in 2022, Russia’s nation brand value took a hit of 150 billion US dollars due to its invasion of Ukraine and also largely affected the country’s commercial brands. While Ukraine has also experienced a drop in its brand value by an estimation of 22 billion US dollars, the brand strength and support from allies has increased significantly.
Importance of a cohesive brand.
As mentioned above, successfully branding and marketing a place can be positively influence a nation’s prospects in garnering global interest on tourism and acquiring new partners in foreign trade and export to companies within the nation.
Some countries and places are undoubtedly more advanced and ahead with branding than others with experience to share, which is why it is very beneficial to have initiatives such as the City Nation Place to have a platform where marketers can learn from. Since 2015, a global forum by the name of City Nation Place unites marketing boards and representatives to support global co-operation and encourage sustainable tourism as well as economic development through sharing advice and experiences on branding and marketing cities, places and nations around the world.
What should countries emphasize to strengthen nation branding?
According to Brand Finance’s Nation Brand Impact Framework, there are 4 key areas for nations to influence:
Local investors should be encouraged to act domestically rather than international or overseas investing and nation brand should promote local commerce, talent and characteristics to attract foreign investments and business relocation. A great example of this is the news of Netflix opening an internal games studio in Helsinki with excitement of being housed in a country with “some of the best game talent in the world.” -Amir Rahimi.
The citizens of a country should be encouraged to work and study locally as opposed to obtaining education overseas while nation brand should promote and attract workers and foreign students to start lives in their nation to contribute to the local economy.
- Goods and services.
The consumption of local products should be encouraged and promoted locally and internationally to reduce imports and support local economy.
Domestic tourism should be encouraged and local attractions promoted to international tourists.
Spotlight on Estonia.
What prompted the nation brand success?
Estonia is historically known as a country in the Soviet Union. After gaining its re-independence, Estonia shone on the world scene for its peaceful revolution, celebration of song and dance festivals. When the country began rebuilding itself, Estonia took a head-on approach to focusing on digitalisation and is now among the world’s leaders in IT and startup scene.
Over the years, Enterprise Estonia has largely positively affected the nation brand creation, development and growth. A key to this in addition to marketing the country has been the providing of free tools such as core messages, typography, free professional photos, iconography, presentation templates et cetera. This allows people to freely use and represent the brand and forward a strong, cohesive brand appearance to international guests and entities.
The nation featured three core messages digital society, clean environment and independent minds to attract international audiences. This was done with a great success: as reported by Bloom Consulting in 2020, the years 2015-2018 saw an 83% growth in people searching for Estonia.. A monumental change for Estonia’s brand identity was the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, where the country decided to add a fourth core message – democratic values – to its nation brand to ensure safety and alignment with global values to investors and tourists.
Strategically proactive nation brand management is a powerful way to create a mindset and a fluid identity that brings value to both countries as well as the brands and companies within the country.
Regardless of individual, company or global level, we all reflect the values, society and the nation that we live in.
In the event that you wish to learn more of Finland’s Brand, feel free to explore this website: Toolbox Finland.
Case Study. Hwajung, K. The Importance of Nation Brand. November 2012. https://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/pdf/case-studies/Hwajung_Kim_The_Importance_of_Nation_Brand.pdf
Nye, Joseph S. (1990). The Changing Nature of World Power, Political Science Quarterly, Academy of Political Science. Vol. 105, No.2.
Anholt, S. 2007. Competitive Identity: A New Model for the Brand Management of Nation, Cities and Regions. https://www.developmenteducationreview.com/issue/issue-4/competitive-identity-new-model-brand-management-nations-cities-and-regions
Article. Soni, S. 2019. Nation Branding: How to Build an Effective Location Brand Identity. https://brandfinance.com/insights/nation-branding
Article. Murphy, P. T. Nation branding: beyond a cosmetic symbol. World Intellectual Property Magazine, September 2022. https://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2022/03/article_0008.html
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Website. Santa Claus Village. https://santaclausvillage.info/
Article. Building Our Internal Games Studios. Netflix. https://about.netflix.com/en/news/building-our-internal-games-studios
Article. Reuters, 2017. Emissions scandal is a risk to German economy: ministry https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-economy/emissions-scandal-is-a-risk-to-german-economy-ministry-idUSKCN1B00U5
Article. Alimaskoski, D. How Estonia Won the Nation Branding Game. March 2022. https://www.synamimedia.com/branding-tips/how-estonia-won-the-nation-branding-game/
Article. Lee, A. How Estonia Adjusted its National Branding Strategy in Response to the war in Ukraine. October 2022. https://digiday.com/marketing/how-estonia-adjusted-its-national-branding-strategy-in-response-to-the-war-in-ukraine/
Article. Bloom Consulting. Two Countries that Prove Nation Branding Works. January 2020. https://www.bloom-consulting.com/journal/two-countries-that-prove-nation-branding-works/