City Branding in Nordics:a framework of success factors


This framework is based on the analysis (2003) about inward investment marketing and city branding programs of the Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen metropolitan regions and Chicago (USA). In Finland the cities of Espoo, Salo and Sastamala and the network of 50 regional towns have carried out a city brand-road-map process (2008-2012) using this framework and having the author as an outside advisor.

Stockholm and Copenhagen had organised their city marketing according to the quite similar constructs. In Stockholm, there were two responsible organisations: Business Arena Stockholm (B.A.S.), as the official foreign inward investment agency for the Stockholm Region, and the Economic Development Agency of the City of Stockholm (S.N.K.). Copenhagen Capacity (CopCap) is the official foreign inward investment agency of the Greater Copenhagen Region. In Helsinki Greater Helsinki Promotion (GHP) coordinates the regional marketing (after Helsinki Region Marketing Ltd HRM). The organisations of place marketing are in the Chicago Region complex, and there was not a single organisation responsible for regional marketing. World Business Chicago (WBC) as a public-private (non-profit) partnership had actively sought this status, with aggressive promotion for the region. CopCap, B.A.S. and GHP (HRM) are organised in a form of a private firm.



The study can be found online here!


The framework has three “dimensions” of success factors. The elements in the inner part (planning group, vision and strategic analysis, place identity and place image, public-private partnerships and leadership) represent the core building stones in place marketing practices. The elements on the sides of the “prism”, (political unity, global marketplace, local development and process coincidences), meet the challenges in the network and in the macroenvironment where the place marketing practices are performed. The new “how and ability” factors – strategic exploitation, organising capacity, presence of substance, measurement and follow up – bring additional strain to the challenges of place marketing. All these “how and ability” factors need to be present when practicing place marketing. In fact, all the success factors of the framework are connected and interacting with each other supporting the process of successful place marketing practices.

There must be enough organising capacity for the management of the strategic part of the process, as well as for the operational implementation of the programmes. Organising capacity comprises the capabilities of the management and the resources of the place suggesting that political unity is also needed to achieve the necessary organising capacity for the place.


Presence of substance is also linked to the organising capacity. Presence of substance is the “state of affairs” that has been reached by means of, for instance, organising capacity and the process of the systematic strategic analysis. Strategic exploitation of individual core issues in place marketing is essential. Without strategic thinking, the operative actions bring success only by accident – or good luck. Also, both the strategic work and the implementation on the operative levels are needed for success. The strategic work is the only demanding part of the place marketing challenge. Without measurement and follow-up, no place marketing programme is executed in an ideal way. “You get what you measure” is also true in place marketing and branding.

Central in place branding is building the identity for the place, which is the active part of management in the process. Strategic alliances with other locations can decisively increase the joint-value of all the partners, who all could be in a win-win-situation. Professionalism comes along with the work, as a positive “process coincidence”, and an active effort is always better than putting one’s future in the hands of the keen place competition.


A city brand process is worked out in five phases. First, the place branding project needs to get organised. Then the planning group starts the research phase, when a SWOT-analysis is made in order to know how the place is perceived by the target groups. Based on these study results in the strategic phase, conclusions will be made, and the place identity built. After the strategic work, the implementation and action phase starts. This phase can typically last 5-10 years, and the follow-up and feed-back reporting steers the process simultaneously.

The phases and the process include:

1. Organising Phase: Managing Group/Action Group- Coordination, Financing, Overall-strategies, Public-Private Partnerships

2. Research Phase: Strategic Analysis (SWOT): Homework of the place. Qualitative and Quantitative Studies.

3. Strategic Phase: Forming the Identity- Conclusions from the Research Findings: Target Markets. Core Idea. Value Promises. Forming the Strategic Plan: Constructure of the Offering.Segmenting. Positioning (Place Soul). Visualisation, Graphics, Slogans.

4. Implementation and Action: Phase Activity Programs. Time Tables.  Budgets. Responsibilites.  Coordination.

5. Follow-up, feed-back, reporting.

The organising phase takes 1- 4 months, the research stage 3-5 months, the strategy phase 3-5 months, altogether about 7 – 13 months before starting the long implementation stage combined with systematic simultaneous reporting and follow-up.   In the cities normally three  half-day workshops with the stakeholders were organised:  a kick-off seminar in the beginning of the process and before the research stage, a research work-shop when the study results were available and analysed in the middle of the branding process, and the closing seminar to publish the results. The residents and own people are “ambassadors” of the brand of the location, when they honestly accept the chosen identity elements and marketing message.

Place Brand Road MapContent

This new technique to create a brand road-map “in a nut-shell” was developed during the pilot cases with Finnish cities. The target is to present the brand strategy practically, with a power-point slide presentation. With some 20 slides it is possible to illustrate the most important brand issues in a convincing way. The titles and contents of this road-map presentation are the following:

What place? (Marketing language based definition)

Mission and vision


Strategy supporting Peaks

Picture –vision 2020

Target groups

Umbrella-key messages

Story Implementation, follow-up, measurement

Enclosure materials (supporting the core presentation)

The brand road map can be used also distributed in paper copies and placed on the site web-pages of the city. The planning group coordinates the designing of the road-map during the sessions of the branding process. The picture-vision has proved to be very useful. The group prepares 9 pictures to illustrate how the place looks today, and another set of pictures illustrating the ideal identity of the place in 2020.  Also, short marketing oriented texts “open up” the meaning of each picture.

Written by Seppo K. Rainisto,

Top image credit : Photobank gallery

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