Interview with Helena Nordström on Place Branding in Sweden and Characteristics of Successful Place Brands

Helena Nordström, place branding blogger and consultant in Sweden, in this interviews shares her thoughts on the characteristics of successful place brands and the role of technology.

Learn about:

  • What inspired Helena Nordström to focus her Swedish consulting business on place branding;
  • Key ingredients for building a successful place brand;
  • The role of technology in place branding;
  • Her favorite place branding project so far.

Helena, with your background in graphic design and media production, what brought you to place branding and what is it that inspires you to work in this field?

When I was studying at university, I actually wanted to become an Art Director. After an exchange semester in the UK within graphic design, I though realized that I am more suitable for a more general role within branding.

In 2003, I made my master thesis about the branding of Sweden. I went to New York City and interviewed people working with the image of Sweden – and I was hooked!

Since then I have, for example, worked as the Marketing Manager of Destination Jönköping. In 2011 I founded the blog www.placebrander.se and in 2013 I made a company out of it. Today I run Placebrander together with my business partner Anna Österlund.

I find place branding challenging and a field hard to master. Actually, I don’t think I ever will be fully trained. And I love the fact that I am continuously learning together with my clients.

It is often believed that people from the design and communication department conceive place branding as a question of logos and taglines. Is this still the case, in your experience? And how can we change this misconception?

I come across this misconception more often among politicians and people without any knowledge at all within branding. The only way to change this is to spread knowledge about place branding.

Even when you have been preaching the real meaning of place branding a thousand times at your place and think, “now people should know what this is all about”, don’t stop. Continue to spread the word on what place branding is all about. This is one of the key factors for success!

From your experience, how would you define a well-functioning place brand?

  • You can’t make a place brand up. Your target group will discover this eventually.
  • Your place brand is based on your people; their love for and stories about your place, and their ability to fill the place brand with content.
  • Building a place brand is a long-term effort which needs leadership. Whether it is the Destination Marketing Organization or a private person with a driving spirit, you need a good leader.
  • Place brands are based on development and content, rather than glossy marketing campaigns.

What are the principles that you believe are fundamental for successful place branding and what are the most common mistakes?

At my office I have a quote by Herb Kelleher saying: “We have a strategic plan, it is called doing things”. Successful places have a great focus on doing things and have a desire for experimentation. I have seen too many places doing great strategies that are never really launched. I prefer working with places where I can be a part of the doing phase, as well as the strategic phase.

Do you think technology has a role in place branding?

Absolutely. Place branding can be very powerful using new technology. For example, I was part of the team establishing East Sweden Hack. It was a way for the region of East Sweden to invite young talents to use open data, apps and the web to develop and promote the region.

Another example is Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – a perfect way to strengthen the experience of a place.

Could you share with us some of your favorite projects that have enriched your experience as a place branding expert?

When I was the Marketing Manager of Destination Jönköping, we made a campaign called “We miss you”. I was the leader of a project with 40 employers in Jönköping, hunting talents in the big cities of Sweden.

Together with our ad-agency we made this campaign where we asked the citizens of Jönköping who they miss and want to come to Jönköping. We got around 300 names and started a very individual work where we contacted these people in different ways.

We wrote messages on bill-boards outside their homes, sent messages on radio, YouTube and sent everyone a Jönköping Box with a letter from their friend.

The Grand Finale was to fill an airplane with missed people from Stockholm, and fly them to Jönköping for a day, together with the employers. One year after the campaign, 22% of the missed ones had decided to move or had already moved to Jönköping, which is quite a good hit rate when it comes to place branding.

How important is theory for you? Could you recommend some readings that have inspired you lately?

I am very inspired by Trendwatching Premium Service and TED Talks. I also recently read a Swedish book called “Hunting for emotion – the art of creating meaningful experiences”. Actually, I find the best inspiration from other fields than place branding – it enriches my work at Placebrander.

Thank you Helena.

Connect with Helena Nordström on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.


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