“Finland needs to do some serious and effective marketing–To overcome the “best kept secret” syndrome, Finland needs to realize that the concept of “if you make it, they will come” is only found in movies. The benefits of Finland need to be actively marketed. That means they need to be highlighted in headlines, and not buried in the body text of communications. Finns need to overcome their shyness, and not be afraid to tell others how Finland can help them. The Finnish government and its better known companies need to lead the charge to communicate the great things that have come out of Finland.”

— Dr. Ira Kalb, The Business Insider, 6th Feb 2014.

What do you think? Are Finns too shy?

Well a couple of days ago I was given this assignment to do in the marketing class, and I felt that this was a good topic to discuss. Given the rise of China and the relative decline of the European region, to continue the provision of even higher value to end-users, for instance, requires challenging comfort zones.

So I was thinking –how do you get Finland to RAR-RAR itself up, given a culture that does not like exaggeration? So I came up with two strategies. LOL. The first strategy relates strongly to developing soft power and the second relates to widening the scope of the target audience.

#1. Have a Uniquely Helsinki Physical…Something.

Having an ambassador or a food that stakeholders at all levels could relate to would help the city in refining and redefining its higher-value proposition, since it is easier for people to relate to an ambassador or a mascot instead of a place.

a. Helsinki, Personified–Have an Ambassador or a Mascot.

Having an ambassador is not something new to Finnish cities, but it is certainly a notion that currently has tremendous untapped potential. An ambassador is a huge part of narrative strategy, and people love stories. For instance, despite undergoing fiscal austerity last December, the FInnish government granted 300,000 euros to the City of Rovaniemi and Santa Claus Licensing Corporation to promote Finnish Santa Claus, in China. The idea was to encourage more Chinese tourists to visit the sparsely populated Rovaniemi throughout the year instead of just in December and January.

Indeed, tourism there plays a huge part in generating tax revenue for the city and profits for the merchants based in lapland. I opine that Santa-as-a-ambassador could even be inspirational for the residents of Rovaniemi–even when he did not have typical animals as a means of transportation, he made do with the red-nosed reindeer Rudolph and persevered through the harsh winter with it. This–I posit–can be used to encourage positive “Finnish” values such as “sisu” and “innovation”, which would then lead to residents of Rovaniemi being proud of being part of the city. Evidently there is so much more economic benefits that could be reaped off a city mascot, and Helsinki should definitely consider creating one. Even if Helsinki does not create one, it should work with Rovaniemi to strengthen their Santa Claus mascot so that tourists will visit Helsinki after visiting Rovaniemi, especially if there are no connecting flights from the Rovaniemi airport.

Outside Finland, the idea of a mascot of is definitely not new, and East-Asian countries houses excellent examples of cities who use mascots/popular singers or actresses as ambassadors. In Japan, for instance, there is a mascot for every city. In Korea, government officials have ridden on the global K-pop wave– The extremely popular girl group Girls’ Generation is the official ambassador for the CIty of Seoul, Korea and the pretty and widely popular Winter Sonta Actress Choi Ji Won is the honorary ambassador for the City of Busan. Taipei has popular singers Jolin Tsai and  Jay Chou as their city ambassadors too.Why not make the extremely dashing Kimi Raikkonen/Elastinen/Michael Monroe, or the extremely charismatic Paula Koivuniemi as ambassadors for Helsinki City? They could appear on television, billboards and even on radio stations as official ambassadors.

Even in Singapore, there exists two extremely popular tourists spots with enormous statues of an arbitrary-created Singaporean mascot–the Merlion–that has been marketed as uniquely Singaporean in all tourism communication materials. The Merlion is a mascot that is entirely created by the tourism board of SIngapore, with no historical backing whatsoever.

Having a uniquely Helsinki ambassador would consolidate the branding of Helsinki city through tertiary communications. If there is a mascot to be made up, an international contest could be held over facebook to encourage communities interested in the development of Helsinki to vote for their favorite mascot. Stubbs (2012) has elaborated on the marketing communications of Stockholm as a nearby-city for instance as extremely participatory since they make use of social media marketing quite a lot. Helsinki can watch and learn, too, and include citizens in the process of city branding, hence fulfilling the higher value propositions.

b. Food, The Global Language– Have a Representative Food!

If the idea of a mascot sounds too cheesy, then it might be good to consider promoting food. The City of Helsinki can consider for instance holding collaborations with big brands such as Fazer, Artria, HK. Considering the fact that Fazer is not averse to bold experiments when it comes to the flavours of the chocolate –as seen from its latest innovation the Fazer Chilli Chocolates– it could collaborate with the CIty of Helsinki to come up with, for instance, a “Fazer ♥ Helsinki” sub-brand of chocolates.

After producing these chocolates, they can distribute this edition of chocolates to be sold on Finnair international and domestic flights, to all supermarkets, and also in schools.

c. Promote Finnish Humour Through Popular Culture Related to Helsinki.

Despite being a foreigner who has been in Helsinki for barely two months, even I have come across two extremely interesting popular pieces related to Helsinki–One, Pasilia, the Finnish animated sitcom which airs at night on the television channel Yle, and “Tervetuloa Helsinki”, the song written by DJ RZY. This shows that people who speak FInnish do relate to the concept of Helsinki on a regular basis through popular culture. There is even a fanpage for the song–Karrelle Palanut Enkeli–sung by Andi Suonsilmä, a fictional character who appeared only once on Pasilia. The Finnish Humour in my opinion is uniquely dry.

However, even though these popular media revolve around the topic Helsinki, the former is a social satire, and the latter has Elastinen rapping “Terveluloo Helsinkiin. Sporakiskot kolisee, porttikongit solisee, nii!”  This sense of dry humour is charming only to people who can understand FInnish relatively well, and if no translations are provided, a non-Finnish speaker would just stay indifferent about these two amazing media works.

 As seen from the above examples, there is a gap between Finnish speakers and non-FInnish speakers. The implications to the CIty of Helsinki is the follow– even though there is a tremendous potential of converting indifferent tourists and business owners via popular media and hence gaining significant soft power, it is not done, because language prevents non-FInnish speakers from appreciating the wicked sense of dry humour of the Finns. Marketing a city based on humour is definitely not new– Have we not heard of the “British humour” made viral via popular culture?

Bridging the gap in language is precisely where the City of Helsinki can value-add potential tourists, new residents and business people. It can task its publicity department to, for instance, work with Yle to make available English subtitles for all episodes of Pasila online, and fund the process. The Pasilia with subtitles can also be broadcasted at MAISTRATTI offices to foreigners and staffs alike, so that through a light-hearted animated sitcom they can identify with and visualise themselves as part of a resident of Helsinki.  Also, currently on the official City of Helsinki website, there is a announcement that Pasila is going to be the “second centre in Helsinki”. Why not broadcast this through the Pasila sitcom then? This allows Value Proposition

All in all, Since Suggestion #1. targets greatly the secondary and tertiary communication, more of online social media channels and the media should be utilised. Two interesting case studies to be considered would be the successful “quality hunter” programme by FInnair, and the Nordic Bloggers’ Experience held in conjunction with the Matka Travel Convention.

#2. Be International: Reach Out to Asia!

 Helsinki aspires to be “international”, but current promotional efforts are not fully targeted at East-Asia or Southeast Asia which is growing rapidly. Instead, they are targetted more at European nations and Russia.

 I suggest two things: First, increase the budget meant for tourism targeted at Asia. Two, increase the budget meant to position Finland as an international convention in Europe, a bridge between the East and the West. A case in point again the recent “Nordic Bloggers’ Experience”– Why limit the Blogging Contest to Helsinki’s competing cities? It should be opened worldwide, so that foreigners in Asia can visit Helsinki and say a lot of good things about it. This then becomes tertiary communication and will consolidate Helsinki as a premium hub.

Furthermore, since the service sector employs 88 percent of the workforce in Helsinki, which is above the European metropolitan average, enlarging the tourism market would lead to more jobs for all and ultimately deliver a higher standard of living to all residents in Helsinki.

What do you think? Are my ideas too radical? 😀