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Estonia seeks a strong country brand

Enterprise Estonia (EAS), the government agency responsible for promoting foreign investments and tourism in Estonia, as well as looking generally after the country's image abroad, has initiated a search for a distinctive brand by which Estonia could be well known for around the world.

Estonia is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2018 and is also hosting the EU presidency in the same year. Various institutions and entrepreneurs complain that Estonia's image in the world is not strong enough. Last week, EAS organized a briefing in Tallinn's creative Telliskivi hub, where it presented results of various studies that are looking to find out just how powerful is Estonia's image abroad and what can be done to improve it.

Estonia's brand

International brand strategy and design consultancy firm FutureBrand, part of the US advertising firm McCann-Erickson, has for years studied countries as brands, publishing the results in its Country Brand Index.

The study examines and ranks performance of countries and assesses opportunities, insights and findings related to country branding. The FutureBrand 2012-13 Global Quantitative Survey evaluated 118 countries, Estonia among them, across a variety of brand strength measures. Country brand ratings and rankings are based on a global sample of 3,600 savvy international business and leisure travelers - people who are somewhat or extremely interested in traveling and have taken two or more international trips for business or personal reasons in the past two years.

The 2012-13 sample composed of respondents from 18 countries: the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, the UAE, India, South Africa, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Australia.

Estonia's current position is not something to boast about, but the good news is that the country has has risen 10 places to #56 in the overall index from 2011 to 2012, which is the 4th largest increase amongst all 118 countries evaluated. However, Estonia continues to under-perform in the Global Country Brand Index's Hierarchical Decision Model (HDM) measures.

The HDM model takes into account:

1) Awareness – do key audiences know that the country exists
2) Familiarity – how well do people know the country and its offerings
3) Associations – what qualities come to mind when people think of the country
4) Preference – how highly do people esteem the country
5) Consideration – is the country considered for a visit
6) Decision/Visitation – to what extent do people follow through and visit the country or establish a commercial relationship
7) Advocacy – do visitors recommend the country to family, friends and colleagues

Estonia's weakest measure is awareness, with a ranking of 106, and strongest is advocacy, at 83. In other words, people who are familiar with Estonia rate the country well, but there is much work to be done to make the country better known and improve its image.

Tourism associations

FutureBrand said in its report that Estonia’s overall tourism ranking has risen considerably year on year; 66th in 2010, 58th in 2011 to 34th in 2012, indicating that Estonia is an emerging tourist destination.

Somewhat surprisingly, Estonia performs very well when it comes to food, achieving its best rank in the index at 14, out of 118 countries evaluated. At EAS's briefing in Tallinn, participants concluded that perhaps this is one area on which the country's tourism chiefs should place more emphasis.

Estonia also scores well in “value for money” rankings, at 25. Attractions and resort lodging options achieved moderate performances, while beaches, nightlife and shopping all continued to underperform in comparision to the global average.

In heritage and culture field, it is doing relatively well in arts – ranking 36, but not so well in natural beauty, at 66, albeit the country's position has improved significantly from 92 just two years earlier. Relatively weak position in natural beauty ranking is in sharp contrast with what Estonians often themselves perceive as their greatest asset – and what foreign visitors actually think. However, to calm things, EAS pointed out that a large number of visitors never venture out of Tallinn and simply never see Estonia outside its capital – and therefore its nature. “Perhaps we have to start organizing short trips to Viru Bog for thousands of cruise ship tourists who visit Tallinn every day,” the Nation Brand and Marketing Director Paul-Kristjan Lilje said, half jokingly.

Most articles about Estonia are published in... Russia

EAS also took a closer look at the international press coverage of Estonia. From 2010-2014, the largest number of articles about Estonia was published by the Russian media, just over 1,500. Many had a political context, however, diminishing the business or tourism value. Finnish media followed closely, with over 1,400 articles. Third was German press with almost 400 articles. The German coverage of Estonia is either neutral or rather positive.

However, almost two-thirds of all articles about Estonia that appeared in foreign press during that period concerned politics, followed by economy and business (13 percent), culture (11 percent), and ICT (5 percent). The relatively low percentage of articles relating to ICT and tourism (3 percent), again effectively show a wide gap between what Estonians themselves regard as globally important for the country, and what others are actually interested in.

Search for a new "Brand Estonia"

In a different study, conducted in October 2014, EAS questioned almost 500 top managers and CEOs of Estonian enterprises and asked how many of them have used either “Made in Estonia” or “Welcome to Estonia” brand when selling their products or services in foreign markets. The results are not exactly cheerful, to put it mildly – only 4 percent have used these brands in the past and just 2 percent still do. At the same time, 50 percent of entrepreneurs say that using a common Estonian brand would be helpful, prompting automatically a question about the adequacy of current brand development of Estonia.

Lilje concluded that Estonia's official slogans and logos used until now clearly don't work very well and the search is on for something new. He didn't rule out a possibility that “Welcome to Estonia,” the country's official logo which was created over a decade ago, would be scrapped altogether, but it would happen gradually.

Lilje said that the first task in the process of finding a compelling international brand for Estonia is to evaluate the results from recent brand studies, followed by a wide-reaching discussion and agreement in the Estonian society on identifying the country's strenghts and selling points. EAS is also organizing multiple working groups and panels that will comprise of experts from different fields, most crucially Estonians who have international experience either in business or the arts. Their task is to help shape a new captivating brand for Estonia.

At present, Estonia's Scandinavian neighbors Finland, Sweden and Norway are all considered “top country brands” (in the world's top 10) by FutureBrand. Will we see Estonia in the top 20 one day?

Editor: S. Tambur

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