Simon Anholt, the leading authority on managing national identity and reputation, takes on Sweden's branding dilemma and comes up with an easy solution.
Branding or no branding – that is the question. Nordstjernan has reported earlier about Sweden’s dilemma in finding ways to brand itself. Sweden has neither the Eiffel tower and wine of the French, nor the pizza and warm spirit of the Italians. So, what is to be done? The Dalahäst just doesn’t seem international or important enough, and can we really survive on the reputation of IKEA’s meatballs? Simon Anholt coined expressions like “nation brand” and “city brand” and place brand” over a decade ago - expressions that are used on a daily basis in today's society. Anholt is a British government advisor specializing in the field of nation branding. He has advised numerous governments and edits the journal “Place Branding and Public Dimplomacy”. Nordstjernan asked what Anholt thinks about Sweden as a brand, and what we should do about it. Surprisingly, Anholt doesn’t think Sweden needs to find ways to “brand itself” – he thinks Sweden by itself is fantastic.
The idea of Sweden
“Countries that nobody knows about and nobody cares about might need iconic buildings in order to register on the public consciousness,” he says, “but Sweden doesn't have this problem: the idea of 'Sweden' already exists as a positive construct in the global cultural commons and it's not necessary to invent it. And anyway, Sweden has plenty of famous landmarks: Abba, Volvo, Saab, Absolut, IKEA, Ericsson (incidentally, nobody knows that H&M is Swedish, except in Sweden's near neighborhood) - they may not be physical structures but they are certainly very prominent in the imaginary geography of the world, and most importantly, everybody knows where they come from.”
Why is it then, that Sweden has gained this favorable spot on the common mind of people? What have we done to deserve this? Anholt thinks a lot of it has to do with America:
“Part of the reason,” he continues, “is that Sweden is understood and liked as a concept within the American culture (mainly because of the large number of immigrants from Sweden in the 19th century), and that's always a helpful start, because the US is such a potent amplifier of national image - for good or for bad (look at what the US has done for the image of Mexico or Iran, if you want to see how bad it can be).
The other remarkable thing about Sweden's image is that it is so well balanced between the soft and the hard: it's perceived as being as efficient and competent as Germany but as attractive as Italy, which is an amazing achievement. Only the UK and US can pull off this particular trick more effectively.”
In an earlier interview, Anholt was suggesting Sweden is really an amalgam of Nordic. Is Sweden 'stealing' from its Nordic neighbors? - http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/nordic/2750/