Interview with Olle Zetterberg on Stockholm Business Region Marketing and Branding

Olle Zetterberg, CEO of the Stockholm Business Region, in this interview tells us about the region’s place branding and marketing work, aimed at attracting talent and investors. He also discusses broader trends and tendencies in the industry and shares useful insights gained throughout his long career in public service.

Learn about:

  • Challenges Olle Zetterberg has faced as CEO of the Stockholm Business Region;
  • The characteristics of Stockholm as business region;
  • The biggest pitfalls in marketing a city or region;
  • Key trends likely to influence the work of city marketing and branding this year;
  • How Stockholm region involved businesses in its branding strategy;
  • How Stockholm’s urban sustainability achievements are giving it competitive advantage as place to live, visit and work in.

Olle, earlier in your career you worked as Director of Social Welfare in Stockholm and as the city’s refugee coordinator. To what extent would you say has your previous work experience influenced your view of the city, and your approach to developing and promoting Stockholm as business region?

I learned a lot about the whole organism of a city administration, and how all parts contribute to the development of the city and the region.

Building a brand is much more than just some fluffy marketing talks. It is about schools, snow removal, daycare centers, running museums and a couple of hundred more tasks. All these things boil down to the essence that constitutes a city.

As CEO of the Stockholm Business Region, which is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in relation to the development of the regional Stockholm brand?

At first it was hard to get the Stockholmers aboard the idea of us as the Capital of Scandinavia. Cities located in the outskirts of the region some time did not feel like Stockholmers.

What characterizes Stockholm as business region? Why should investors, businesses and talented individuals feel attracted?

First, it is a region with a steady growth in the economy for the last 25 years, and with a very secure legal and political environment. At the same time, it’s a region with very strong innovation capacity. And for people who want to live here it is one of the best places when it comes to work-life balance.

From your experience, what are the biggest pitfalls in marketing a city region, with the purpose of attracting investors and talented individuals?

The biggest pitfall is to market something that is not true, and if it is just a slogan.

Which trends do you consider the most important this year, in terms of their power to influence place branding and marketing practice, especially regarding European cities?

One strong trend is that more cities are focusing on talent attraction, instead of looking for companies.

I heard my colleagues in Hamburg say over a decade ago that they were looking for the smart people, knowing that the money would follow. A statement that was ahead of time then.

Which is the secret for creating and maintaining a genuine, unique brand for a place which benefits residents, businesses and visitors?

There is no secret if you look upon your brand as something that will make residents proud, visitors interested and investors to start calculating in their excel sheets.

Which strategies did you use to involve businesses and entrepreneurs of the Stockholm region, to get their contributions and ideas?

We have done a lot of things, but just to mention one: together with the other cities with are part of the region, we work very hard to improve the business climate in and around Stockholm.

We have also been working very closely with the start-up community, to help them with contacts and to promote the start-up scene internationally.

As a speaker at the upcoming Liverpool Place Branding event this June, which aspects of your work with the Stockholm Business Region will you share with the audience?

I’ll focus on how to bring the stakeholders together (which is not easy!), and how to be consistent in the brand and your communication.

The theme of the event is Place Branding? It’s not about the logo. Why is it so difficult for city and destination marketers to let go of outdated marketing practices and instead focus their resources on creating and maintaining great experiences and brand platforms?

I think people are getting tired of catchy slogans and boring taglines. We are very much building the Stockholm Brand with our core values. We know from surveys that those are very distinct regarding topics such as gender equality and immigration.

Reflecting on your long career at the service of making the city of Stockholm known for its potential as destination for talent and business – is there anything you’d do different, given the chance to go back in time?

Many things could have been done better, but I think that most of our work has been successful.

We do have a lot of problems in our region, such as a severe shortage of housing, many new immigrants who are not in work, bad connectivity to the rest of the world at our international airport – just to mention a few.

Cities such as Stockholm or Barcelona, but also countries like New Zealand, have successfully established their brands and are now entering a new arena with regards to their branding and marketing. In your view, which should be the priorities in this second phase? And how to resist pressure from politicians or other brand stakeholders to switch to a new brand or logotype?

If you have been successful – the pressure from politicians to change the direction is not very strong. I think our second phase of brand building now is to show that (regardless of the weather – it is snowing now on March 19!) Stockholm is THE place for people who like our values, such as being an open, egalitarian society.

Stockholm has shown strong leadership in urban sustainability, which earned it a favorable reputation internationally. Does commitment to sustainable development make attracting investment and talent easier, in your experience?

Definitely. More and more big companies are looking for sustainable solutions and want to be a part of sustainable development. People who want to visit or move to a city obviously like to breathe clean air, and thus investigate our lifestyle.

You are retiring soon. What do you see as the priorities for your successor?

To keep up our good work and to be much more tech savvy than me. Social media, algorithms, AI, big data are buzzwords, but the person taking over from me will need to handle them much better than I ever have done.

Thank you, Olle.

Connect with Olle Zetterberg on LinkedIn.


This interview forms part of a special series with distinguished speakers of the Liverpool Place Branding event in England, May 31 – June 1, 2018.


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