Estonia Nation branding concept

For business and pleasure I visited Estonia and met Estonians through my work in marketing. My name is Peter Kentie and I am managing director of Eindhoven365 and responsible for the place branding and marketing of Eindhoven city and region in The Netherlands. A great job and on my Twitter profile it also reads: ‘I care for Estonia.’ 
I am a convinced and proud e-Resident and really thankful of Estonia. The country and the people touched me deeply and have such a positive impact on me that I decided to actively contribute to inspire and ignite the discussion on nation branding of Estonia:

During the creation of the project I recognized many new opportunities. 
It is easier from the outside looking in to see what’s possible and can be accomplished. Though it can be tricky, so to interpret cultural differences rightly I got professional assistance from Estonians. This is my proposition translated into a nation branding concept that defines a clear and unique brand identity. To raise awareness and to consistently communicate the vast achievements and potential of Estonia.

Policy makers worldwide can learn a lot from Estonia, which is at the forefront of digital public services. That said, they have to know and be truly aware what Estonia is achieving to share the knowledge. Estonia has to tell and communicate its stories, results and performances. “Places are, indeed, products, whose identities and values must be designed and marketed.” Philip Kotler, the marketing guru wrote. And places compete for share of mind, share of income, share of talent and share of voice on a global level. Estonia can achieve even more by better focusing and above all communicating in a consistent and more bold manner. So my aim is to create an effective yet authentic brand identity that can mobilize a wide range of Estonian stakeholders. So the nation can communicate externally the unique and relevant Estonian assets.

The most important aspect is the shareability and usability of the concept. I strived to make it applicable for all marketing and promotion opportunities. And every opportunity has been addressed with a design ranging from consistent website designs, social media campaign application, in outdoor media, in print magazines, at the airport, on trade fairs, in sports apparel. Combining unique Estonian cultural, societal and business qualities with a strong graphic look to create true communication power. 
So that people become interested in Estonia, that curiosity is raised, awareness increases and the image improves.

Focus on what makes Estonia really uniquely and memorable. Be bold, brave and daring! Stand out Estonia and surprise the world. I created an integrated concept as an efficient and clever solution to do so.

A visual way to wrap up the -est branding concept:

What is the essence of the idea?
The essence of this positioning and branding concept is a simple, straightforward idea: let Estonia emphasize its unique character and achievements by being the fastest, the smartest, the greenest, the cosiest and even the weirdest. And also modest as well and an investment opportunity.

The ‘est’ is already in the name of the international country name Estonia and as well in the German name Estland and in French: Estonie. And ‘est’ is used as the abbreviation of Estonia for number plates, passports and as #est hashtag. A playful and logical next phase of Estonian nation branding, while safeguarding achieved results and enhancing prior branding and marketing investments. A simple solution with huge potential.

My aim is to create a cohesive nation branding and marketing, enticing and fitting all relevant Estonian stakeholders and domains. The -est concept supports the storytelling and communicating of its experiences. And yes, you need a challenger branding to fit the Estonian challenger mentality.

Primary economic and societal goals

I started with an extensive research in the economic programs of Estonian government and out of these I deducted goals and objectives for the positioning. My aim is to create a cohesive nation branding and marketing, enticing and fitting all relevant Estonian stakeholders and domains. To aid the efforts and objectives to attract, support and retain talent, investors, businesses, students and favor the citizens of course. Promoting Estonia as an attractive place to live, work and play and to be meaningful to society. Out of these findings and studying the economic (long term) policies of Estonian government and institutions I derived these primary goals for the concept. The key objectives for the marketing concept:

  • Make Estonia a more attractive, a better place to live, work and visit
  • Encouraging entrepeneurship and attracting business with foreign direct investments to Estonia
  • Enticing governments to adopt Estonian data-driven ecosystem
  • Encourage recommendation (NPS) of Estonia and enhance self-esteem
  • Invite more tourists and increase spending per visit in Estonia
  • Communicate the greatness and culture that have come out of Estonia
  • Interest students to enjoy education facilities in Tallinn and Tartu
  • Generate impactful, consistent and ‘viral’ brand positioning of Estonia
  • Create flexibility to develop tailored strategies for relevant target groups
  • Capitalize on previous investments in branding, while :
  • Aligning all marketing/promotional activities of all stakeholders into one integrated concept.

So I created an extensive and coherent next level branding and marketing including all domains of Estonian society. From tourism to business, from talent attraction to foreign direct investment. From social to merchandising, and including EV 100 year celebrations in 2018.

The essence is to focus on uniquely Estonian assets. So tell & share your authentic and meaningful stories.

Be distinctive, memorable and competitive

In todays noisy and congested world a brand must stand out and represent distinctive values and benefits. Simon Anholt once said nation branding is “the reduction of a nation’s complexities into single, bite-sized stereotypes.” In other words: a nation brand is the mix of core characteristics that make a country distinctive, memorable and competitive. And Estonia is so rich of unique authentic assets and contains many outstanding examples and great stories to tell the world. Social media favors shareable content.

These are rough visualizations of the -est concept for various target audiences and subjects that stand out like tourism, business, culture and nature. The campaign can be tailored to all target audiences and key markets. These designs are combinations of playful words and images:

The next phase is to visualize the concept and adapting the theme to all relevant marketing and branding opportunities. The -est concept supports the storytelling and creation of unique experiences in optima forma.

Key: marketing is more than logos and slogans, it is about campaigning and creating awareness in Estonia and create valuable engagement to activate your brand to the right target audiences and key markets. So I present you an integrated nation branding proposal: ‘Eesti brändikontseptsioon’.

In real world usage it looks like this:

Real world simulation of est campaign in Life in Estonia magazine.

Estonia as a role model

Estonia really needs to strategically brand and communicate its great achievements. Policy makers worldwide can learn a lot from Estonia and that supports programs as e-Residency and therefore Estonian economy and future. That said, Estonia is communicating its achievements. With top tech startup ecosystem, a highly communicative president and the nation is at the forefront of online public services. The proof is there.

Estonia is an European example for digital public serivces.

Estonia has invested in its future transforming the country and is performing globally on a high level in specific areas. But it’s struggling to find a coherent nation branding and marketing strategy. Estonia is improving steadily in creating global awareness. Yet the image in international media has to better fit its ambitions as this example of Business Insider Finance shows.

At the SoMeTo14 digital tourism conference in Rovaniemi, Finland I came in contact with the digital marketing representative from EAS/Enterprise Estonia. I learned that we ‘advanced thinking’ Dutch people have found our match with Estonia. Even stand in the shadow of such an advanced and future oriented society like Estonia. And through her I realized that all my perceptions of Estonia were totally outdated. When I dug in deeper I was even more stunned of the breadth of innovation and rich authentic culture. Learning about Estonia and its society from a distance was my next step. Using all kinds of Eesti media and through social interaction.

Ai… Eesti is being translated as Africa or Ireland by Google Translate.

Yes the Estonian language is quite difficult and Google Translate sadly fails to make readable sentences of Estonian writing. Even worse the name of the country is translated erroneously into Ireland or Africa… Not a positive situation and it should be addressed by the Estonian authorities with Google. The translated sentences are mostly riddles too. Luckily most Estonian national newspapers and publications have an English section and Estonianworld.com is also a trustworthy source.

You are Just Estonishing!

A brand is your image. The essence is creating awareness and enhancing the image of Estonia. The current logo of Estonia with EST in bold fits my concept nicely and good public money was spent on it. It stands out in print so keep using it. Though I did make a more fitting pay-off instead of ‘positively surprising’ which is too generic; it can be applied to any country.

So I present: ‘Just Estonishing’ as an alternative. Just is unique and ‘Estonishing’ is a new word, created just for you. Remember: a brand positioning is what you do to the prospect, a great lesson from marketing expert Al Ries. He favors a simple, single concept that is certain to get more important as the years roll by. The Phønix ‘place branding manifesto’ of Martin Boisen is very applicable: “Actions and experiences speak louder than logos.”

What about the redesign of the ‘Welcome to Estonia’ logo?
Smart destinations and businesses have always known that brands reside in their consumer’s minds. And yet brands must stand out and represent distinctive values and benefits. I understand the Misoneesti route that EAS has chosen. But that doesn’t work well; An open design process can easily turn into an unwanted beauty contest, so wise to move away from this. It is about effectiveness of your brand positioning. Keep using the existing logo.

Above all, the nations logo is not the key issue; the awareness is. An effective and coherent branding and activation campaign will support Estonia’s ambitions and potential. Push and pull. This is the ‘push’ part of the nation branding. That is what I focussed on. Estonia has to address its global visibility and future oriented image in a multichannel approach to fit its potential and government ambitions.

Consistent modern web presence

Consistency of the brand and campaign is of great importance. In my design concept I strived to provide a fitting solution for all stakeholders. And being consistent in the process as well. It is great that all Estonian government agencies have web pages, but they differ in branding, tone-of-voice and navigation. And some are inconsistent or non-supportive with their visual message like researchinestonia.eu and the e-residency website. The redesigned Visitestonia.com aims at the tourism market with a distinct style.

The forward thinking country should have advanced designed websites. High tech and high touch combined. Responsive, adaptive and visually appealing. And in harmony with the ‘est’ campaign, surprising and making the online visitor curious. Using clear and imaginative visuals, inspiring quotes from visitors and promoting commercial package trips, fitting incentives, pushing your nation’s events and promotional activities.

Redesign of homepage visitestonia.com
Redesign of homepage workinestonia.com
Redesign of homepage investinestonia.com
Redesign of subpage investinestonia.com and workinestonia.com below:

An advanced concept like e-Residency asks for a cool and innovative online and mobile presence. So I redesigned all key Estonian websites in line with the -est idea to create a unified visual web presence with a consistent navigation bar for all (inter)related websites:

.est domain name extension

The monetization of the concept can be realized by the new domain name .est an effective method to spread the concept internationally is to introduce your own exclusive TLD, Top Level Domain. As an addition to the commonly used .ee country identifier. Companies like name.com can assist in monetizing the .est domain names.

The name.com organization can support the commercialization of the .est domain name extension.

By exploiting the .est extension the branding concept goes global! Sites like: www.cool.est or www.smart.est surely have huge commercial potential for exploitation. So reselling the domain name creates an interesting business case. A great reference is Colombia with more than a million users of their .co domain extension. A fact is that Estonia has priority with ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee to file for ownership of the .est domain extension. And so generate the funding for the -est campaign. 
It is up to you Estonia to grab the opportunity.

What about the language?

Estonia has one of the highest levels of English proficiency in Europe. That is one of the reasons the -est concept is in English and it’s the international lingua franca in business and tourism. And especially in social media. The succesful Tallink & EAS tourism experiences campaign aimed at Sweden was titled Epic Estonia. And that worked out really well with the English name. Had the campaign been named ‘Just Estonishing’ it would have worked as well for the Swedes. And would have fitted perfectly.

The international usability of the -est concept is underlined by the fact that many more languages feature or use the three letters ‘est’ like French (C’est formidable), Italian (sud est) and even in Latin(Est! Est!! Est!!! the famous story from Montefiascone). Also interesting words like ‘guest’, ‘modest’, ‘protest’ and ‘invest’ create opportunities to enhance the idea to strengthen the Estonian image and position your country as a welcoming and future business oriented start-up destination. Please note, the -est concept is not about bragging, not claiming ‘to be the best’. Simply: ‘being the est’. As a mentality, a state of mind. In life. In ambition. In the world. For all to see and experience. And a bit self-mockery is just fine. The Estonian language as world’s #5 most complicated brings balance. Though you can learn the Estonian language in a charming way, at least to say ‘hello’. Tere!

Mobile and social activation

One of the campaign ideas is a social media application to spot the est in daily life. As part of a word or in signing, in the street and online. It is really addictive to find them and creates pride seeing the est literally everywhere. Adding the acceptance and power of this simple yet effective and sympathetic concept. Social media is ideal to entice Estonian fans to participate, show their ‘est’ and share. The current social fan base is huge so use this! As an addition to ‘ShakeItToEstonia’ and ‘Epic Estonia’ campaigns, so create an Instagram — Estonian style — using the ‘est’ related images:

Estonian fans from around the world share their own images based on the word ‘est’ or the abbreviation ‘est’.

Nowadays the context of the brand is important and the manifestation of the brand in all the relevant channels. That is quite a task and should be addressed thoughtfully and supported at the highest level. To be effective trusted insight into the customer journey of the Estonian stakeholders is vital. That is an essential step to facilitate a useful conversation with existing and potential consumers.

Video and filmed experiences are efficient instruments and fitting the modern target groups needs and desires. Involve them and entice them with fitting contests and challenges. Estonia is leading in social media activation with Snapchat. So social media should play a prominent role in the -est concept addressing the Generation Y / Millennial and fast growing Generation Z markets by creating shareable and instagenic content to win these valuable markets and their users over.

Merchandising suggestions

The concept is easily transferable into playful, attractive merchandising products and incentives with the charismatic ‘est’ brand(ing) and also has strong commercial appeal. Adding to your national pride & creating joy.

Merchandising ideas. On the left a beanie, in the middle an existing design with added print and on the right the new Olympic dress kit of Estonia fitting the -est concept.
The possibilities in merchandising are endless, playful and enticing:
The e-Residency packaging in line with -est branding.

Branded products makes Estonian fans your happiest brand ambassadors and promoters: at home and abroad, communicating and living your brand promises. And adding to the self-esteem of Estonians when people wear them and see them being worn.

Outdoor media campaign: be our guest

Public space and out-of-home advertising are effective communication tools to enhance the core communication message of the -est concept. So a campaign as an extension of the ‘being the -est’ concept aimed at branding events and outdoor media. Following the customer journey of the tourist and business visitor with a consistent and personal message: be our guest.

Focussing on the customer journey, starting on the Nordica airplanes, visible at Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport, via bus and train to outdoor advertising in city centers. All branded with the consistent message: ‘be my guest’.

Be our guest to welcome passengers on the Nordica airplanes.
A warm welcome to your guests at Tallinn Airport.

The ‘be my guest’ theme is applicable as a communication carrier for an Estonian loyalty card. Nation wide usable for tourist and business market.

The right name for your loyalty card: ‘be our guest’.
As signage in outdoor media.
As signage on the traditional trams supported by outdoor advertising.

Proud promoter teams can be labelled ‘be our guest’ to aid tourism and give the Estonian tourism ambitions a personality.

Be my guest ambassadors for tourism.

Be our guest is a nice wordplay fitting the -est campaign neatly and ideal for outdoor signing and promotional messaging. With a nice button as well.

Design proposal of Estonia booth for tourism trade fairs like ITB and ITM.

For the tourism market Estonia should present itself with a fitting booth at the key tourism trade fairs like ITB in Berlin and / or ITM in London. Herewith a proposal for Estonia proudly showcasing its potential to the international tourism community and business world.

Estonia upcoming celebrations

Estonians will celebrate 100 years ‘being the est’ in 2018 with EV 100. Another campaign example is the 100 festival theme. The logo enhances the -est narrative and the ‘centennial’ activities are ideal to focus on a push forward for the nation branding. So 100festival.com as central website.

Sure a nation brand is less what you say and more the collective experiences of everyone using it. But you have to raise your voice Estonia to be noticed! Your digital advancements combined with authentic culture creates a wonderful mix. Future forward and a meaningful past in harmony. With upcoming EU chairmanship and EV 100 in 2018, Estonia can set ambitious goals and be relevant and impactful to the world. So start and act now. Be inclusive, engage your communities. Activate the people, be the brand together, therefore: ‘we are the est’ as symbolic public activity.

We are the est > EV 100 event in style.

For all your tourists, business partners, Estonian fans anywhere and citizens alike. The potential of this integrated concept is in the cross-overs:

  • Turning tourists into immigrants, contributing to economy
  • Turning students into knowledge workers and top talent
  • Turning e-residents into foreign investors and startups/scale ups.
Redesign of presentation of upcoming Entrepreneurship gala.

One solution addressing all stakeholders. An integrated concept, social at core and with lots of activation power. To underline this, look how the concept can be adapted to the annual Entrepreneurship business competition issued by Enterprise Estonia and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The competition identifies the best and most innovative companies of Estonia in five areas. Winners will be announced on October 13 festive gala in Tallinn. My suggestion for the title of the Estonian Entrepreneurship award: be our greatest company.

EU presidency 2017 proposal

In a cooperation with Eindhoven designers Scherpontwerp and Estonian Konstantin Asmanov and design agency Velvet we entered the EU presidency 2017 design competition with the EST concept
The main inspiration for the concept is the importance of the European Union for Estonia as well as the value for the EU to get to know the new Estonia. The word ‘EUROPA’ is the starting foundation for the Presidency of Estonia in 2017. As the EU is facing dramatic challenges these days such as BREXIT, Refugee crisis and national security. The Presidency of Estonia can rethink the organization and finding new ways to grow democracy:

What is EUROPE for you? ‘EST2017’ represents the new modern Estonia in the year 2017. Not only nurturing a flourishing startup scene and new forms of digital citizenship, it can be the new ground of building an agile and unified Europe. The idea is to show What Estonia Can Do for EUROPE, not just What Estonia Can Do.

So the EST concept unites two beginnings: Europe and Estonia, which together brings the distinguishable EE vertically. This Presidency will be documented as the new historic landmark in the history of Europe: 
A new Europe is ESTablished in 2017. Estonia marks a new beginning for Europe. A strong narrative in our honEST opinion ;-)

The concept was sadly not chosen in the mindboggling procurement process where EU Presidency design winner is combined with 100 years Estonia identity. The winning EU design will be published later.

Don’t cheer with your hands in your pockets

Apart from my work as marketer and brand manager for Eindhoven region I have a strong interest and caring for Estonia. On my Twitter it says: ‘I left my heart in Estonia.’ I am a proud e-Resident and thankful of Estonia for the inspiration it has given me in my work for Eindhoven. I think there are interesting similarities between our city and your country as being smaller communities that are having quite a positive impact on global society. The difference is that in Eindhoven we invested in our branding and marketing to improve our reputation and visibility. It resulted in a measurable increase in global awareness and recognition. Yes we have been modest too in Eindhoven, too long. Although we have a world-class story to tell.

As our locals say: ‘We cheer with our hands in our pockets.” Eindhoven is a high tech hardware capital and a top design hotspot. So in our city we started a project to tell the world that we really matter to society and add value. To raise awareness for our achievements and to attract top talent, knowledge workers, create business and foreign direct investments. Now Eindhoven is internationally known as a smart, innovative city and society.
 
Why start a nation branding project?
Can you see the parallel? Eindhoven and Estonia are kind of similar in their mentality and development. Both having faced tough times and recuperated from that and now facing forward and in the process challenging conventional thinking. So that has to be shared. Estonia really needs to strategically brand and communicate its great achievements. Policy makers worldwide can learn a lot from Estonia and that supports programs as e-Residency and therefore Estonian economy and future.

That said, Estonia is communicating its achievements. With top tech startup ecosystem, a highly communicative president and the nation is at the forefront of online public services. The proof is there. The country has to tell and communicate its stories, results and performances coherently and . And above all it has to make itself known. I see Estonia missing apparent opportunities and above all not really focusing. Being an observer from a distance and commenting is easy, I know. So I decided to contribute and use my experience as brand builder and marketer to create a branding and marketing concept based on a smart, simple yet catchy idea based on the shortened name -est for Estonia. 
 
Is it applicable to all stakeholders?
The e-residency program is a great accelerator for Estonia and connects neatly with the –est concept. The country as an incubator for pioneering ideas about digital citizenship, security, virtual business and education as Venturebeat.com wrote. A country as a Service (CaaS), a brilliant idea!

My resources and inspiration

During the one and half year of development I also did an analysis of the current Estonian brand image and the activities of the key stakeholders. A lot is written and published online. Sources like the Estonian news of Postimees, ERR, Aripaev, Estonianworld, Best Marketing and Justin Petrone’s blog and books helped me to understand. During the creation process I got to meet many more Estonians with whom I shared the development of the -est concept like Rene Tõnnisson from IBS and Siim Espenberg from Tartu city, Silver Tambur from Estonianworld London, Kristjan Lepik and Sten Tamkivi of Teleport, Tajo Oja of Fraktal, Dan Mikkin of Brand Manual, Hando Sinisalu of Best Marketing.

And I owe thanks to Pärtel-Peeter Pere of Tendensor who aided the concept with the suggestion to use the concept for a safe driving campaign. So to use -est also for public messaging and awareness programs.

I was fortunate to meet‎ e-Residency program director Kaspar Korjus at an EBAN conference in Eindhoven and he liked the concept and really supported me. EAS / ‎Enterprise Estonia gave me the opportunity end of 2015 to present my ideas to the branding and tourism teams. I really appreciated the warm reception and their reaction was great and stimulating for me to proceed in further developing the concept fitting their task. Resulting in this open publication. I truly hope it can be seen as an addition to the branding and marketing activities of EAS.

All designs and concept creation is done by myself, text and images and I have guarded the concept at the Benelux Patent office*. In the process I did consult a string of critical and knowledgeable people a.o.: Robert Govers of Placebranding.org, Frank Cuypers of DestinationThink, Willem Kars, Dingeman Kuilman, Marc Koppen andAlphons Janssen of ScherpOntwerp, Maarten Schutjes of Dino Design and Thijs de Neeve, representative of Enterprise Estonia In The Netherlands. All their ideas, suggestions and comments I have taken into account and implemented in the concept.

Be a true brand custodian

Experiences and learnings from Eindhoven and relevant cases show that a brand has to be guarded and curated by a dedicated and authoritative team. So whoever owns the brand of Estonia has to initiate a brand management policy to facilitate and monitor its future developments. And be a true custodian of the brand, staying strong and focussed on the result bringing in consumer understanding and expertise.

Sure a nation brand is less what you say and more the collective experiences of everyone using it. But you have to raise your voice Estonia to be noticed! Your digital advancements combined with authentic culture creates a wonderful mix. Future forward and a meaningful past in harmony. With upcoming EU chairmanship and EV 100 in 2018 Estonia can set ambitious goals and be relevant and impactful to the world. Be inclusive, engage your communities. Activate the people, be the brand together.

A contribution from an Estonian fan and thankful e-Resident abroad.

What’s in it for me? 
So many aspects. At first the fun in creating; be it in words or images. I am trained as a designer and marketer. That is what I do best. I put a lot of time and effort in the idea. And the fact that the concept was enthusiastic received by Estonian stakeholders who asked me to to share it publicly makes me really proud. And through the project I learned how Estonia can contribute to Eindhoven and The Netherlands enhancing our digital agenda. In Eindhoven we started a marketing cooperation with Teleport to help us promote our city globally at high tech knowledge workers. So look at it as me giving back Dutch design and branding knowledge in return.
 
Why go public?
Yes I realize it is a weird situation. I understand the reservations and I respect that too. It is odd; a Dutchman living more than two thousand kilometres away creates a nation branding concept without a commission or even a briefing. I know it is hard to explain the work and dedication; I got inspired by Estonia and Estonians. But hey, if you want to be positively surprising this can happen! Nowadays Estonia is teaching the digital world a lesson and contributes with its startup mentality to policy makers globally. 
Perceive my work then as a kind of compensation, proud of your country as a digital compatriot.

And why not start a new project in another Estonian / Dutch cooperation? Did you know that when Estonia won the Eurovision songfestival in 2001 it was successful teamwork between Estonian singer Tanel Padar and Dave Benton with 2XL. Dave is an Aruban born singer, which us part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. So international co-creation has potential.

Jokes aside, creating and building a nation brand and implementing should be about great teamwork. And my goal is to make it really happen and that the -est concept is picked up and embraced by the Eesti decision makers. 
My role is therefore to light the spark in an unconventional way with the creation of the -est concept.

For me the concept is ready. I think it can be of value to Estonia. creating and building a nation brand and implementing should be about great teamwork. And my goal is to make it really happen and that the -est concept is picked up and embraced by the Eesti decision makers. I think can be of value to Estonia. Your branding must stand out and represent distinctive values and benefits. The -est concept has captured this creatively and in a persuasive way. With the aim to add to the public discussion of positioning and branding Estonia. And of course I would love to discuss my justestonishing.com -est concept with the Estonian policy makers, to make it come alive — literally.

Though my ultimate goal and dream is to meet the president and prime minister of Estonia at the Estonian friends event. And I succeeded in that.

You can mail me with reactions, suggestions, comments and rants to: peter@eindhoven365.nl preferably in English ;-)

Resources:

Reactions

Work in progress

* This –est concept is created in fall of 2014 and is time stamped 
by Benelux
i-DEPOT which formally records the existence of ideas, 
concepts, designs prototypes and the like.