Written by Olle Zetterberg
on November 11, 2021

Place branding is a topic that spans many areas: from brand identity to marketing and advertising to international image. It’s about more than just travel and tourism—and encompasses taking an active approach to developing a region to its full potential for all stakeholders.

Here, we present an article from Olle Zetterberg, current advisor and former CEO of Stockholm Business Region, who ushered in the existing branding for Stockholm – the Capital of Scandinavia.

5 minutes with Olle Zetterberg on place branding

Listen to this brief interview between Julian Stubbs, founder of UP There, Everywhere and Olle Zetterberg.

HubSpot Video


Zetterberg offers: “Ten things I have learned about place branding.”


1. Places are brands too

When it comes to place branding, the first question often asked is: why does the city need to strengthen its brand? Everything may be going well, and internal stakeholders may resist the idea of investing in additional place branding efforts. It often takes some kind of crisis to spark an interest in developing the brand. Complacency and lack of hunger to become more successful are not good fuel for participating in global competition, and in order to stay ahead of the curve and stand out, your place needs a strong and clear brand.

2. Find your DNA

Every country, city or region has some kind of DNA consisting of history, geopolitics, culture, influence from its immigrant population, climate etc. It is therefore important to identify what this unique mix of traditions and values stand for, and then describe this in a fairly simple way. These cannot be too universal but should clarify what sets you apart. For example, virtually all Swedish cities market themselves as being close to nature (which is not so surprising in a country that is largely completely unpopulated) something that in no way distinguishes these cities.

3. Be honest

Always be honest, and never take shortcuts to the truth. Build place branding on solid and verifiable facts. Be careful when referring to your own investigations and surveys. Instead, use information from known reputable external sources. The world is full of various ranking lists that have been added in different ways. Some are very credible while others, in some cases, are based on places buying into the ranking list through ad purchases. Your brand needs to be built on trust and this can only be done through transparency and honesty.

4. Don’t compare yourself

There is a lot of place branding and marketing of places that define themselves in comparison to others. This is the wrong method and only leads to your place being perceived as desperate and envious, or too confident and smug. Be open and collaborate with your potential competitors instead. Growth and development is never a zero-sum game where some places grow at the expense of others.

5. Use your position

Place branding very often consists of taking a position both figuratively and literally. The geographical position can, no matter where you are on the globe, be used in a constructive way by highlighting the strengths of the surrounding towns. Positioning can also be about highlighting positions in culture, business, research, etc.

6. Do your homework

Place branding is not a quick fix but requires solid work to go through the local strengths and weaknesses. Try to compile all relevant facts based on the material available. Also test different ideas with well-chosen target groups. Feel free to use the staff of the foreign missions to investigate how you are perceived. Your country's operations abroad are a second source of information on how your country and city are perceived in the world. If there are national organizations that work with nation branding, you must of course cooperate with them. In the case of Sweden, the total resources for foreign exposure are very scarce, which is why cooperation is necessary.

7. Know your target group

It doesn’t matter if you want to attract business, tourists or talented people, because at the end of the day people are just people but they do have different functions. I remember when President Obama visited Stockholm some years ago, in what you can call a business trip, he said when entering Air Force One to go back: “This was so nice that I think Michelle and I will bring the children and be back one day.” This illustrates that tourist and business attractions must be linked together (even though Obama has not been back yet.) The world consists of many different people, countries and companies, which is why it is necessary to identify your target on global stage.

8. Set goals

It is important that you have measurable goals to work toward. It’s also important, of course, to have a vision about where you want to be in the future, but setting measurable goals is how you see that what you are doing is moving you in the right direction. The immediate goals should be quantifiable and based on some type of third-party authentication. I have seen too many cities that have completely homemade evaluation systems that are then trumpeted out as truths without much credibility. The measurable immediate goals are also usually of great interest to the financiers of your business.

9. Bring the stakeholders together

To be successful in your work with place branding, you must gather all relevant stakeholders to build your brand. It is important to build a long-term strategy for what communication with the outside world looks like. The joint story should be able to be embraced by all important stakeholders. The strategy must be embraced by key partners and survive political shifts in the regional assemblies.

10. Keep it simple: the 3-things-rule

My last very important advice to you is that people never remember more than three things so do not overload your information with a lot of facts that nobody will remember. This whole article is a big contradiction to what I finally want to say but nevertheless if you will remember anything of what you just read, I hope it will be this: 3 is a magic number!

For more on place branding, read our Place Branding Q&A here.

Visit UP FOR REAL, our place branding specialty area here.

Want more?

Listen to a podcast with Olle Zetterberg speaking about the Branding of Stockholm.

Listen to podcast

Book chapter

Read more about the branding of Stockholm and other places.
Get a free chapter of the book: Wish You Were Here.

Free Chapter Wish you were here

Have a thought? Leave a comment

Subscribe to our blog