How Estonia Won the Nation Branding Game

How Estonia won the Nation Branding game

The nation branding concept is one of the most powerful tools countries have in their possession in order to emerge from the shadows and go straight into the spotlight of what is dubbed as “the global scene.” In fact, it is a rather odd thing that nation branding is still only used by a few nations. Of course, many countries are competing with certain products and are famous for certain things but, when it comes to nation branding as a whole, there are a lot of things that are yet to be done.

However, there are cases of how nation branding has helped certain countries rise and become examples of successful brand campaigning. In this article, we are going to talk about one of these countries.

A very small nation on the Baltic Sea that used valuable resources in order to create an identity that is widely known. Although almost imperceptible on the global map of countries, this small nation brought up many new and exciting novelties, whether performed touristically or inwards or, through promotion (outwards).

The country of Estonia, or as they call themselves Eesti, is a country of 1.3 million with a surely interesting story.

Overall, understanding the assignment in the segment of nation branding is one of the main factors for success, and the Estonians did just that. In order to promote themselves, they needed a clear national image, and this image could only be made through insightful content, the one that creates value. A content that will push the boundaries of promotion even further than expected.

A Brief History of Estonia

Estonia is a northern European country that consists of a mainland and more than 2200 islands and islets in the Baltic Sea. The current territory was the place of inhabitants since 9,000 BC. This small Baltic pearl became an independent country in the year 1918 for the first time. Yes, there is another independence (sort of) coming.

Since 1918, the country had its ups and downs, which came in the form of constant occupation and fights for freedom and independence. In fact, Estonia was invaded twice by the Soviet Union and once by Nazi Germany. However, their sheer hope for independence was always shown through their resistant spirit.

A brief history of Estonia

Fast forward to the year 1991, on August 20th Estonia finally restored its independence, and already in 1992, the country has urgently started undertaking some radical reforms in the segment of the economy. In fact, since then the nation of Estonia became one of the reform leaders in the free world and managed to become one of the best nations in the world (no hesitation while saying this bold statement). This is a pure example of how a country became successful in such a short span of time. But in order to explain why the country successfully managed to become one of the world’s best players in nation branding, we have to head back at the beginning of the 21st century.

Brand Estonia: The Beginnings of Nation Branding

The story of Estonia begins with an interestingly relatable activity to our case: a win. As we all know, Estonia took the winning prize in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2001, when Tanel Padar, Dave Benton, and 2XL rocked the world with their catchy bop “Everybody.” This win will actually be the start of a new era for this small country in the north and will open the door to one of the most successful nation branding campaigns in the known history of the world. In fact, Estonia grabbed the victory and pushed so hard afterward to become the society it is today.

After winning the Eurovision, Estonia understood that it needs to act fast and not let this small win fade. The people understood what marketing a country can do to the nation and all the benefits that come with it as well.

Brand Estonia: The Beginnings of Nation Branding

The first thing Estonia did was understand the value of consolidation and doing things together. So, all it needed was a unified approach to all things national and practice this approach outwards.

It all started with unifying the public and private sectors, especially in certain areas such as tourism, education, investments, and export. The nation has realized one thing: the most important thing is to have a clear joint vision for the country and from there agree upon one message everyone should convey. This was done through a concept named Brand Estonia.

Brand Estonia has started as a simple tool for making a change in the country’s landscape. The Brand Estonia philosophy gave birth to the first platform for marketing called “Positively Transforming.”

Positively Transforming

In March 2003, the crowd at the Tourest tourism trade fair that took place in Tallinn was a witness of the first pieces of the Brand Estonia marketing campaign. Namely, at this fair, the audience could witness a giant hexagon sign that said: “Welcome to Estonia”. This logo was actually one of the first attempts of Brand Estonia to send a powerful message where Estonia will be presented as a strong brand worldwide. In addition, leaflets that were handed over to the crowd at the fair contained the slogan “Positively Transforming.”

With this campaign, Estonia wanted to place itself as a fresh society of people, who wanted to leave behind the Soviet era and start anew. The nation desperately needed a disconnection from the “not so great” past that country was put through and show the world that they are serious players in the global statehood game.

The new post-Soviet country waved a flag that represents freedom and a strong desire for change.  In the next seven years, Estonia would do just that. The basic formula that the Estonian society had used for all their marketing activities is as follows:

Content > Message > Design

This means that the first thing that all ambassadors and everyone involved in marketing the country, should initially focus on is the content. The content is everything that can and will be marketed or promoted. Or simply said, everything that Estonia as a country has to offer.

The message is the main tool for reaching out to audiences and attracting their attention in order to take interest in what the country provides as a product, service, or any other form of domestic output.

Ultimately, the design is the visual experience that only adds to this simple formula for marketing success.

Therefore, engaging every aspect of Estonian society, the country managed to go through a seamless transition phase with the help of innovation, development, and open-mindedness.

Positively Surprising

Soon after the first wave of transformation was coming to an end, Estonia decided to proceed further. It was a fact that the “Positively Transforming” has successfully managed to place the country higher up on the world scene by making a change from within. With this, the Baltic country unequivocally said that it is ready to make a positive change and soon after made this promise a reality. From a post-Soviet country, Estonia transformed into an independent entity and succeeded in its efforts to make a groundbreaking incision to the wires that once connected it to the infamous Soviets.

But now, the era of transformation has already ended, and society was ready to go further. Once again, Estonian experts from various areas formed working groups in which many international consultants took part. Based on the work of these groups, and by using their data, the Brand Estonia trademark came up with another platform that succeeded the Positively Transforming brand. The new campaign was named Positively Surprising. The name was derived from the seamless results that Estonia saw while running the previous platform, which positively surprised the world, but also the Estonians within.

Positively Surprising was actually an essential part of the newly conceived Introduce Estonia philosophy which quite naturally emerged from Brand Estonia.

Thus, if the Positively Transforming set the foundation for the nation branding in the form of Brand Estonia, Positively Surprising was used to modernize the systems this foundation was set upon, but also it was used to further elaborate them.

Nation Branding Ambassadors

When speaking of the image Estonia wanted to portray, it will be a blatant lie to say that a special body was in charge of conveying these messages of promotion. Of course, that special body existed and still exists in the form of Enterprise Estonia, but the main channel for conveying the message are the public entities, private businesses, and individuals, basically, the people that live in Estonia.

However, what Enterprise Estonia did so that it can help these parties in presenting the story is providing them with a crafted toolbox that defines the framework of the nation branding concept. This body gathered the best features of the country and created a source of information specifically intended to be used as the common message by everyone who wanted to represent it. Their idea was a single and unique message that will be delivered by each and every nation ambassador. In regard to this, the specialized toolbox was created, and this database contained crucial information about the country.

Of course, this does not mean that all of this was forced by Enterprise Estonia or that it was some sort of state propaganda forced upon everyone. Quite the contrary, the body only provided the necessary tools to anyone who wanted to represent the country while communicating with foreign organizations and entities. Therefore, people were free to practice representation in a manner that suits them best and were not in any way coerced or forced to do anything out of their practices and beliefs.

The Message Board

Fast forward to today, Estonia never quite seized to execute these branding strategies but worked very hard to improve them through the years. Brand Estonia is still the main culprit for the success of this small nation in every field the country had emerged in. The toolbox of stuff is still constantly updated to fit the narrative of the nation.

In essence, through the years, Estonia has managed to group the messaging segment and came up with three core messages: digital society, clean environment, and independent minds.

Digital Society

Probably one of the most famous segments of Estonia’s nation branding campaign is the digital society. The Estonian society is the first in the world to adopt the system of functioning as a digital service.

Digital Society

Almost every segment of society and living in this country is digitalized, which gives citizens an opportunity to enjoy various services in a more efficient way. One of the benefits is the e-residency, the system for online voting, the online filing for taxes, etc.

Additionally, Estonia is the leader in entrepreneurship on the European continent. In fact, the e-residency segment allows people from foreign countries that want to start and run businesses in Estonia to easily become e-residents.

Clean environment

The low population density and the untouched nature are one of the main characteristics of this Baltic nation. Estonia is proud of its natural resources and in fact, even more proud that it takes good care of them.

Clean Environment

To be precise, 51% of the area is forestland, 22% of the farms are organic ones, and wildlife preserves account for 23% of the country. So, it is quite natural to use all of this as a message for nation branding.

Independent minds

One of the country’s greatest assets that serve as a bridge to the world is its people. People, known and unknown, have all used their knowledge and understanding to create a diverse society with a great vision in front of it. Finally, with the help of these brilliant minds, a lot of the segments that fall under the nation branding platform were developed. E-Estonia, the e-residency, the Invest Estonia, as well as segments like research, tourism, technology, transportation, are now all part of the umbrella called Brand Estonia.

All things considered

The game of nation branding is one of the most complex things in the world of marketing and promotion. In fact, one can never know the boundaries of each move in this aspect, as to where you are drawing the line. However, some players are not at all bothered to hear all the rules before entering the arena and want to go by their own rulebook.

What Estonia did in this segment is somehow unbelievable and, in the end, admirable. This small Baltic nation did not have the time to go at a slow pace in order not to make mistakes. Estonia and its people knew very well that having a quick strategy for promotion will open many doors for them. So, they took a small win and turned it into a radical transformation that ultimately created a strong mini nation that everyone admires. And this is the only way a country can win the game of nation branding.

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