New ways of thinking and “doing” place branding are emerging, and the Nordics are again at the forefront. But what distinguishes “Nordic” place branding from other approaches? Which new strategies and priorities are Nordic place brand researchers proposing?
TPBO spoke with Cecilia Cassinger, Andrea Lucarelli and Szilvia Gyimóthy, editors of the new book, “The Nordic Wave in Place Branding: Poetics, Practices, Politics” (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019).
What is the Nordic wave in place branding?
Cecilia: We wanted to unpack the Nordic brand narrative in a way that would be of value for practitioners of place branding. In the book, we deal with the poetics of the region, practices of placemaking, and the political consequences of Nordic place branding. Nordic countries often score exceptionally high in place brand rankings and are considered successful examples of branding. We wanted to show the success, but also what lies behind it, and the less successful examples.
Andrea: It is a metaphor we use to describe and conceptualize current and past research in place branding in the Nordic Region, and research about the Nordics as region, idea and brand in itself. I think the metaphor encapsulates very well the impact such research has on place branding internationally. The Nordic wave is not like a tsunami, which might be devastating, but more like a refreshing and nutrient-rich, sometimes icy wave.
Szilvia: The wave is an allegory for an emerging movement sweeping across place branding practices and place branding research which – both in scale, shape and content – is distinct from the previous schools (or waves) of place branding.
What characterises place branding in the Nordic region?
C: The Nordic region is peculiar in its endeavour to construct itself both as an attractive market to invest in and a moral example for others to follow when it comes to, for instance, human rights issues. However, as the authors in the book demonstrate, the Nordic region struggles with human rights issues in conflicts around indigenous representation and land areas in, for example, Sapmi and Greenland.
S: Obviously, Nordic place branding is embedded in the cultural history and political structures of Nordic societies, characterised by communitarian and egalitarian ambitions, as well as pragmatic or unorthodox solutions to solve conflicts emerging from societal divide and the marginalisation of places, people or beliefs.
A: Ah, I should say read the book! Joke aside, the last chapter of the book tries to capture the characteristic of Nordic place branding, though without essentializing it. We argue that it is an engaged, yet critical, way of doing branding, which is connected to the large welfare and state-based interventions in Nordic societies. For me the main feature is the link between public sectors and researchers.
How does the Nordic approach differ from other approaches to place branding?
C: In its ambition to be inclusive, Nordic place branding practices deal with yet unexplored critical issues in place branding academic research, such as feminist struggles, post-colonial manifestations, and marginalised narratives of place.
S: It is more community and stakeholder-focused than the managerial school: place branding is by the people and for the people, rather than for an exclusive set of businesses from the Nordic region. It is also far more participatory and action-oriented than the critical school: as researchers, we are engaged with place branding practitioners to find solutions together. Borrowing Donna Haraway’s words – we are “staying with the trouble”, rather than criticising it from our academic shelters.
A: Contextually, the Nordic approach is different, given the high level of embeddedness in Nordic welfare societies. To me, what is peculiar is on the one hand the openness in data for researchers, which enables in-depth examinations of specific place branding activities, and on the other the innovativeness of different practices that can be observed, which often creates best practices around the world.
What do you see in the future of Nordic place branding? Can we expect a second Nordic wave?
C: I hope that the next wave will address some of the challenges that we have identified in the book. One of these challenges is about allowing for multiple ways of narrating the Nordic brand. The Nordic is frequently used as a resource to make political points. Allowing for multiple versions of the brand, making it more complex, could be a way to counter a polarised view of the Nordic in international politics.
A: Being myself passionate about sailing and having practiced surfing for a while, I know that the next wave can arrive based on contextual factors, such as wind, rhythm and tide. Thus, at any time! I guess the next wave to have impact on place branding will arrive in the coming years, along with our special issue on the Nordic approach to place branding in the Journal of Place Management and Development. Stay tuned!
S: I believe that the Nordic wave will set off many smaller waves in other contexts, which may eventually sweep across the globe, reverberate and unite with other waves and perhaps will return even more powerfully. Remember, place branding, like water, is organic and always in motion, so look out for new waves, as Andrea says.
More about The Nordic Wave in Place Branding here.
More recommended books on place branding here.
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