THE USEFULNESS OR USELESSNESS OF COUNTRY BRANDING

I have been living now for well over 10 years in Estonia and I thought that nothing would surprise me anymore. Until very recently, when I witnessed the birth of the Brand ESTONIA! The brand was introduced very awkwardly to the large public and therefore the focus was quickly on the slow moving glacier boulders that you find, “I must say very scarcely”, laying around here and there. Besides the main question that came to my mind, “Do you really want to compare yourself to a very slow moving boulder?” I was wondering does this really can change perception of Estonia in the long term?

In general the idea behind the branding is not bad and you create a toolbox for marketing professionals to promote the country in a consistent way. It leaves to be seen if company executives are actually taking up the task of promoting the country or that they will leave it to the government to do this. My guess is rather the second.

The execution of the concept is however a hit and miss. To me as marketing professional it does not in any way visualize the Estonia that I know and how it is perceived abroad by the people that actually do business with Estonian companies. The visuals used do not do justice to the achievements made in the past twenty years, it does not show the huge changes this country has made from a post soviet society into one of the worlds most IT driven societies, where you can set up a company almost by clicking on 1 button, it does not do justice to its heritage and its culture of home grown high quality food products, and it does not do justice to its many young entrepreneurial spirits. (Yes Estonia produces very many good start-ups with sometimes-crazy ideas, but it is the entrepreneurial spirit of young people just coming out of university that amazes many!)

When returning to the concept visualizations. The imaging is gray, dark and faceless and moving ever away from the reader. I wonder what message they wanted to convey with this? The use of boulders is nice but the perception of a boulders or a glacial boulder is slow, heavy, lonely, immovable and not flexible, on the move, entrepreneurial.

To end my criticism for the execution of the concept, I come back to the question does it really make any sense to do this country Branding? A short research on the Internet finds that most countries in Western Europe actually do not bother too much. The main focus is on helping companies to open doors through information, export supports, contacts, etc. The international entrepreneurs promoting fiercely their own companies have built the image people have from these countries up over 50-60 years. Made in Germany for quality, Made in Italy for Fashion, etc. These branding efforts have not been fiercely coordinated by agencies or governments but by industries with a certain focus a vision.

What is therefore the role of politics in “branding a country”? Politics should focus on making business as easy as possible, support export, support education and create a sustainable internal market, and most of all, avoid overly burdening taxation regulations. When you find your “thing” than of course you should shout this to the world but if there is nothing really special yet why bother. In my opinion it is not the role of the government to think out a brand toolbox for entrepreneurs to help opening doors abroad or create awareness about Estonia. In any company I worked, the main effort was to promote the company brand, it did not matter where I was from, only my action as a representative of the company counted. Marketing professionals will not use Brand Estonia as part of their communications and if they do they should re-evaluate their focus. May be better is to think about: what do you want to sell, what can you do for your client to help him sell more?

In all fairness to the effort of Brand Estonia, I must say it is nice but country brands are formed by long term “real communications” done by the main international business industry that you have. With real communications I mean actions to exceed client’s expectations, help others to succeed, be trustworthy, honest, etc. When your key international elite has a clear focus and they are proud of their heritage than even when using “we are international vs. we are Estonian” will create a positive perception of working with Estonian/Estonian companies and Estonia as a whole. Invite your clients to your offices and production facilities and lead them around in the old town of Tallinn. This is the best you can do for your country!

For Estonia this main focus should be to become the world’s most digitalized country. Due to its size it can be a testing ground and an example for others. Its IT companies should focus on reinforcing this message by delivering world-class products. Politics should focus on advertising this message and open doors for local companies. For those who say and what about other industries? Other industries that would like to stand besides this, should focus on communicating their vision that sets them apart from the rest, it is not the government that should tell you how to sell and open doors, specially not by starting to promote your country before you asked your client what can I do to help you sell more!

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