Michael Persson Gripkow of Visit Sweden on Country Brands and Destination Marketing in the Digital Era

Michael Persson GripkowGlobal Brand & Strategic Communications Officer of Visit Sweden, in this interview addresses the challenges of branding small nations like Sweden in big markets like China. He also discusses the importance of digitalization and social media as means of getting destination marketing messages to potential visitors. 

Our interview with Michael is part of a special series with country branding professionals facilitated by Bloom Consulting, specialized in country branding and in tracking the digital brand and online reputation of cities and nations.

Learn about:

  • The keys to branding small nations like Sweden in huge markets like China;
  • The effects of digitalization on destination marketing practices;
  • The difference between destination branding and nation branding;
  • How to use social media to get destination branding messages to potential visitors.

Michael, do you remember the first time you heard about destination and nation branding in Sweden, and your initial thoughts?

The first time was when I studied in France. My French friends talked about Sweden, Swedish nature and Swedish culture in a way that I had not seen from “inside” before. The social system, the vast landscapes and the openness of the people was frequently mentioned. This was very different from how they perceived their own country, France. I then understood that this was an asset for coming to Sweden and experience for themselves.

As Global Brand & Strategic Communications Officer at Visit Sweden, in your view, what does “Brand Sweden” stand for? And how has it changed during the last years?

The image of a nation brand changes very slowly. Sweden is seen as an innovative, open, careful and considerate brand. This is based on our social system and democracy, which is the foundation of the society. From this base creativity and innovation arise. This is a position we share with many of the Scandinavian countries, and it has been the impression of “Brand Sweden” for some decades.

This position is continuously enforced by brands like IKEA, Spotify, Skype, H&M and Volvo, who work internationally from the Swedish value position.

To your mind, how does destination branding differ from nation branding? To what extent does the tourism brand impact, for example, Sweden’s success as Country-of-Origin?

We can see many interesting and strong destination brands within Sweden: Stockholm, Swedish Lapland and West Sweden all have separate identities but build into the Swedish brand by communicating our most important assets as nation brand; Swedish Lifestyle and Nature. Therefore I do not see any conflict in destination branding as it builds the Swedish nation brand in the long run.

With Stockholm, we have an established long-term co-operation (Country & Capital), which secures that we create interest for both Stockholm and Sweden when positioning ourselves abroad.

In our interview with Annika Rembe of the Swedish Institute, she lamented that more and more audiences, especially in the growing Asian market, have no knowledge of small countries like Sweden. Which strategies does Visit Sweden use to increase country brand awareness, especially among young generations overseas?

Annika is right. So with limited resources, Visit Sweden has decided to focus on China in the Asian market. But of course, that is also a huge and diverse market. In order to reach out, we select target groups which are interested in what Sweden has to offer, and where we are competitive. We use only digital and social channels and are very focused on working with key influencers.

Securing adequate funding for place branding and marketing initiatives is one of the main challenges around the world. How do you measure success and demonstrate return on investment of your destination branding work through Visit Sweden?

Together with our partners, we set common plans and goals for each year. The goals include perception, interest for our destinations, sharing of content, and so on. It depends very much on how mature our destination brand is in the chosen market.

More and more potential visitors turn to online platforms and social media for information on destinations. How do you work with Facebook & co to ensure your message gets through to them?

We have social media profiles for all our prioritized markets and try through our channels to increase the number of contacts, and to bring out our messages to be shared with as many potential visitors as possible. The quality of this content is crucial for success. We make sure that our messages are part of our USPs – Lifestyle and Nature – in order to attract viewers and to be relevant to travel interests.

Recent elections in the USA, Germany and elsewhere have shown how important online platforms and communication channels such as WhatsApp have become regarding people’s knowledge about places. How important is Sweden’s “digital country brand” for your work?

Our digital and social presence is crucial for the growth of the Swedish tourism industry. This is where the majority of potential travelers to Sweden make their research and where they find inspiration for their decisions. We work together with our market representatives to set up KPI for our website, and our own channels to secure growth and improved perception of Sweden as a preferred destination.

To your mind, to what extent does Sweden’s “offline” reputation as destination and country match its online, digital counterpart? Or are the two the same thing?

Our aim is to build the same brand online as well as offline. Sweden’s brand values “Innovation, Openness, Consideration and Authenticity” shall build the base for all brand communication based on our progressive position.

Apart from digitalization, which other major trends are likely to influence the work of destination marketers in the years ahead?

The Sharing Economy is changing the way tourists live when they travel. To “live with the locals” is becoming even more popular with sites like AirBnB and Homeaway. This is changing the name of the game for hotel operators and their fellow competitors.

Shitstorms are influencing nation brands globally and also Sweden has had its crisis during 2017. Nation brand owners need a good organisation when dealing with these crises that appear more frequently now with the new media available.

Regional branding is becoming more important, and more professional networks are being built. It is important that these regional positions work hand in hand with the nation branding.

Thank you, Michael.

Connect with Michael Persson Gripkow on Linkedin.

Bloom consultingOur interview with Michael Persson Gripkow was facilitated by Bloom Consulting, whose Digital DemandD2© tool is designed to help cities and countries understand and manage their brand online. More about Bloom Consulting in our interview with José Torres.

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