Nordic Place Branding Conference, Copenhagen March 2018: Highlights

Annica Jansson shares this summary of the Nordic Place Branding conference, which took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, March 2018. The one day event covered topics such as talent attraction strategies, brand management and new destination marketing ideas.

210 representatives from various Nordic cities, regions, countries and businesses met in Copenhagen on 7 March to network, learn from and get inspired by best practice examples from the wide world of place branding. This year’s theme – Places of Tomorrow – was presented by Future Place Leadership with Pärtel-Peeter Pere as moderator.

Copenhagen welcomed the conference delegates with fresh snow, something rather rare in this southernmost of the Nordic capitals.

Greater Copenhagen region branding and talent attraction strategies

Communication Director Louise Juhl of Copenhagen Capacity was the first of an impressive list of speakers. Louise introduced the audience to the Greater Copenhagen brand, which covers Copenhagen and its surrounding area in Denmark, and across the bridge the Swedish region of Skåne (Scania) including the city of Malmö.

Louise talked us through how Greater Copenhagen is now building a business hub through digital marketing with the aim to attract new businesses and talent. The approach combines investment in a technical platform, aptly named The Machine, with the city’s recognized soft values (think everything from Danish hygge, generous work-life balance, to Copenhagen being the bike friendliest city in the world).

Through a process involving interviews and analyses, content is created around softer values that is carefully targeted according to what each user finds relevant. And they are seeing results. A joint talent attraction campaign with companies in the gaming and financial tech industry are showing good ROI based on the measurable channels, and they are already seeing companies choosing to locate to the Greater Copenhagen region as a result of the campaign.


From Copenhagen we were quickly changing focus to the vast wilderness of Greenland. Lykke Geisler Yakaboylu of Visit Greenland shared with us how they use values and stakeholders to create a brand for Greenland.

Lykke told us how for years the organization had used the help of Denmark-based agencies when working with branding and marketing. However, it took the fresh eyes of a visiting American intern to realize it was time to take a new approach.

Instead of marketing Greenland as a destination where the sun shines, that is easy to get around and that has an abundance of cute puppies, the intern asked why Greenland isn’t promoted as the challenging adventure destination it actually is. As a result, they have moved away from the expected to a more comprehensive, complex, and also modern image of this vast island, using the values Pioneering People & Powerful Nature.

Visit Greenland now calls on people to “be a pioneer”, an invitation that speaks directly to adventure travellers. With their new brand approach and being a small team, they have focused on sharing as much content as possible for stakeholders in the industry to use thus spreading the message much wider.

Here a digital toolbox has been essential, where images and video materials have proven to be the key conveyors for the message of a place where nature, not humans, are in charge.

In the panel discussion following the presentations, a conclusion everyone agreed on was that technology plays an important role in that it is there to tell the story and help reach the audience, but that it is with storytelling and finding a compelling story one needs to start – and not with a specific technology.

Another deduction, based on the Greenland case, was the importance of involving external people when working with a place brand.

Innovating talent attraction

After a coffee break it was time for Nikolaj Lubanski, Director of Talent Attraction for Copenhagen Capacity to talk about Innovating Talent Attraction. Lubanski highlighted how building and maintaining successful talent attraction and retention ecosystems is a joint effort, and that, in order to manage talent attraction, one needs to have the basics in place regarding the whole cycle: talent attraction – talent reception – talent integration – talent reputation.

He also stressed that it is important not to promise too much: “if we are overselling, they will leave disappointed. Therefore it is important once we have succeeded in getting the new talent to move here to also support them once they are here, so called after care”.

Copenhagen Capacity’s strategy has been to set an annual plan where they combine their own talent recruitment events with external digital events. They also use a Greater Copenhagen career portal where, as talent is needed from all over the world, they make sure that jobs advertised don’t require knowledge in Danish.

Another part of their talent attraction strategy is to incorporate more AI, making processes automated and efficient, resulting in a larger outreach.


Rethinking the place experience with digital partnerships was presented by Martin Güll, Chief Digital officer at the city of Helsingborg alongside Sofia Mollstedt, Business Developer at ustwo, the city’s partner in developing a digital tourist guide in order to reinvent the city’s tourist experience. They talked us through how the city has moved away from traditional tourist information centers and instead offers the likes of free wifi and mobile stations.

The basis for the decision was to hear the users out and to understand what motivates them, and to try and be where people are. Also, the recommendation was to always think partnerships; between departments, business owners, other municipalities, inhabitants, vendors.


Moving on to Estonia, it was time for Kaspar Korjus, e-residency Managing Director at Enterprise Estonia to share his experience on the topic of e-Residency: digital disruption and country branding.  Estonia is the first country to offer eResidency, a government-issued digital ID available to anyone in the world. He predicted that nations will become independent from their own physical land, citizens, services, revenue and start serving humans like never before.

According to Korjus there are 10 phases of technology adoption for nations to stay relevant, which include switching to digital and moving to the cloud, as a way to make administration more efficient and seamless.

Among the lessons shared on why Estonia has succeeded was the importance of selling products, not a brand, and defining and tracking your sales funnel through clear KPIs which allow financial measurements.

Also, using a common brand toolbox, involving everyone and establishing a change management strategy.

Hallifornia, Træna Island and Kotka

The third module of the conference focused on success stories from smaller destinations. Erik Ruth from Nordic Surfers Sweden told us about Place branding through sustainable cultural events. He highlighted how the small Swedish coastal town of Varberg, a popular surf destination in the region of Halland, now brands itself as Hallifornia.

Ruth told us how their aim is to change things, to really become Hallifornia, not just to brand it as such, and to really build on the assets of the place. For this to happen, they have created a series of events dominated by a free three day festival attracting over 40 000 visitors, the target group being young adults attracted by the surf lifestyle and the vibes that come with it.

In his experience, the key to success in place branding are activities that involve participation.

Next person on stage was Moa Björnsson, Head of Development Træna Island & Artica Svalbard on the topic How tiny places far away can be in the lead of innovative thinking and doing.

Representing a remote island of only 456 people, she took us on the inspiring journey that Træna embarked on after she came to the island with the mission to create long-term opportunities and thus creating a sustainable and vibrant place for years to come.

The first thing that put Træna on the map, nationally as well as internationally was the Træna Festival. But what about the other 360 days, says Björnsson, who has since helped ignite an abundance of ideas that have made this tiny island community a renowned best practice place branding example. So what have they been?

She explained how attracting people was one of the first strategies. As a newcomer she saw potential in empty communal houses, resulting in a project called Artists in Residence, offering visiting artists free housing under the device “test the island, bring whatever, contribute”.

Other results from the creative spark brought into the community by the young Swede has been an award winning seaweed company, new meeting places being built (for instance the island’s first communal sauna with access straight into the cold Arctic waters), a result of visiting architects wanting to take care of an old house. Another project focuses on creative “urban” lighting. Træna now even has its own pride parade, and in the pipeline is a collaboration with New York City.

Jouni Eho, Business Service Director in Kotka, a small Finnish coastal city, followed presenting Reimaging a city as the curriculum for the learning environment of the 21st century.

Eho’s message was about three things:

1) The power of a big idea, the courage to experiment and personal fulfillment:

In 2014, their idea was to have an Entrepreneur ship with the aim to spark entrepreneurial initiatives (think Helsinki’s festival Slush on a big cruise boat). The more affordable result ended up being a start-up festival in the Maritime Museum. The Global Startup Challenge had 656 startups from 70 countries, with Google as the main sponsor of the event. In addition, they launched an Ambassador program with 70 international ambassadors successfully completed the program.

2) Courage to experiment:

More and more, higher education institutions are considered to be outdated, resulting in emerging, disruptive approaches: ”What If we took learning away from the classrooms and directly to companies, and equipped students with the problem solving skills required in the 21st century labour markets?”

This resulted in “21UNI”, the 21st century university, where the key idea was to have the city as a curriculum. It included a 2-week Disruption camp with participants from all over the world. Also, as a result an old paper mill is now a Google data center.

3) Personal fulfillment:

Eho shared three takeaways. First, leadership is about inspiration, both the ability to be inspired and the ability to inspire. Secondly, you need to make your place the stage and master all the roles. Thirdly, make it personal, making change matter to you and also taking care to balance confidence and humility.

The panel discussion following those presentations concluded that, although it is often a challenge being a small place, it also provides for better agility, and it’s therefore easier to make things happen.

Answering the question “Do you have a vision?”, Moa Björnsson said that she hopes that in Træna visitors will not be seen as tourists, but instead, depending on how long they intend to stay, they should either be called locals, part time locals or short time locals, a statement that got spontaneous applause from the audience.

Barcelona Global

In the fifth and last module for the day we got to hear about three places and their branding processes. First was Mateu Hernández, Director at Barcelona Global talking about Engaging business, civic, cultural and scientific leaders on a common strategy to promote the city.

Barcelona Global was created eight years ago with the motto “Make it happen”. And this is really what this organization is all about. Being a private association with no public funding, its 800 committed members work to create and fund activities showing that Barcelona is not only a postcard destination, but also a city of business. Initiatives include:

  • Ambassador Network: Worldwide network of committed Barcelona ambassadors who help with the right connections in various situations and places. Contract based, which creates commitment and makes them feel important.
  • Barcelona Obertura: Initiative aiming to promote Barcelona’s rich variety of music internationally.
  • Emparejados: using the network to attract and find jobs for the accompanying partner/spouse.
  • Barcelona Engineering Science & Technology: used to strengthen educational programs where they have a need to get better.
  • Lobbying: Regarding, for instance, taxation and procedures.
  • Welcome ceremony for new talent/professionals – includes cocktail with the mayor.

Hernández concluded: “Power is nothing without organisation. Don’t ask what the city can do for you, but what you can do for the city”.


From Barcelona to Singapore, Claire Tan, Director National Marketing Office for the Ministry of Communications and Information shared her experience of Destination marketing and nation branding – the Singapore story.

A new destination brand was just launched in 2017: “Singapore Passion made possible”. It seeks to establish Singapore as a place where passion is made possible by bringing together people.

Why the need to rebrand? Tan explained that competition is growing as visitors and investors are seeking more quality and depth; authenticity. Businesses are seeking innovation and value creation. She revealed that the whole inspiration for the rebranding strategy came from the GREAT Britain campaign.

Perception challenges: what is Singapore’s software? People. What drives people? Passion. What fuels passion? Possibilities. And so a brand that stands for an attitude belief was created.

Tan means that destination marketing and nation branding make an opportunity for government agencies to project a consistent image of Singapore internationally.

Her recipe for promoting brand adoption is to 1) obtain mandate, 2) create brand awareness, and 3) create brand assets.

The Nordics

The last presentation of the conference took us back to the Nordics, with Tobias Grut, Brand Manager for the Nordic Council of Ministers talking about Rethinking the concept of place branding.

The challenge when branding the Nordics is how to create a place brand without compromising the national place branding. The Nordics consist of 8 brand members (including the semi autonomous regions of Åland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland), comprising 27 million people sharing common values.

Grut, when given a stategy to execute, instead went back to the drawing table and came up with an approach different from the traditional use of majestic landscapes, happy people and other established Nordic associations.

The result was Nordic Perspective, which can be identified as a set of values that make up the core for the brand. Grut’s idea was a change of mindset, to show the Nordics in the world, as opposed to to the world, resulting in a conceptual idea called Traces of North. Under this name, Nordic values, ideas and approaches that have spread internationally are shown.

As an example, the Finnish baby boxes, a concept that has been copied in Japan is highlighted as “a trace of Nordic compassion in Japan”. The plan now is to inspire as many as possible to adopt this very specific way of branding the Nordics. For this, success stories are the true essence and a digital platform including a tool box has been created.

The strategy also includes activating the brand by co-funding projects with relevance and potential that tell a great Nordic story based on the values.

Overall, there were a lot of learnings and ideas which participants took with them from Copenhagen. However, the presentation that created the largest buzz was the inspiring story of how tiny Træna hasn’t contended in being a distant, unknown rural island, but how, through lots of creativity and high ambitions, they have created opportunities to build on.

Annica Jansson is a tourism marketing professional with over 20 years of experience working with destinations on both a national and regional/city level, including marketing strategy and destination branding. Annica has an MBA from the University of Wyoming, USA and is currently dividing her time between Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Connect with Annica Jansson on LinkedIn.

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