Helsinki´s Competitive Advantage – A Cultural Blend of East and West

What pools resources and differentiates Helsinki from other scandinavian capitals?

Michael Porter investigated this issue on a general basis in his book: “The Competitive Advantage of Nations”, 1998. He identified government actions as one of the essential determinants for a nation to become a competitive player on a global court. It is all about who is better or somehow different in a way it makes him or it unique and remarkable. Don´t be ordinary!

What is the first that comes to your mind when you think about Helsinki?

Sauna, drunken Finns, Santa Clause, Reindeers, Beer, Icehockey or language skills, Education, Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Haut Cuisine?

No easy question – Helsinki’s urban culture is influenced by eastern and western countries, mostly by Russia and Sweden. Therefore its slogan: The city is cultural blended from East and West

It´s a great slogan! It outlines Helsinki´s position as a global hub for doing business in one sentence. According to a survey executed by Irene Biedman-Martinez & the Helsinki Tourism and Convention Bureau on “Helsinki´s Brand Image Acknowledgment in Foreign Media”, Helsinki is mostly famous for being the capital of Finland, its design district & architecture. However, things like its Baltic Sea location, Finnish food, education, the language skills of the citizens & Helsinki´s entrepreneurship, still remain barely unconsidered.  Concluding, a lack of proper brand communication reduces Helsinki to only a few brand equities to differentiate from its competitors.

Thus, there is still a difference between the real Helsinki and what is provided to its potential stakeholders. It offers a lot more than Sauna, Forest & drunken Finns. Helsinki is an awesome city and I talked to many people who came from metropolis cities like Rome, Madrid or Barcelona to Helsinki to live, work or study here. My impression is:

They love Helsinki – They love it, because of its uniqueness and variety. They love it, because of its attributes of a metropolis while being relaxed at the same time,  also tidy and secure.

As Scandinavian countries are perceived as quite similar among other European countries or America, Helsinki´s competitive advantage lies in its brand equites. Those empower Helsinki to show up extraordinarily. Thus, it is not only a city with nice buildings and an interesting history. It is a great marketplace with lots of resources in the labour sector and great potential among investment possibilities.

I asked the Helsinki Tourism and Convention Bureau:

Who is involved shaping the brand “Helsinki”?

How is Helsinki as a brand communicated?

  • Media, People, Government, Organisations

Evaluate current situation:

  • What are Helsinki’s assets & how are they perceived?

Culture in Branding

  • Do you consider Culture for Helsinkis Branding?
  • What is the result of the branding process?
  • Are there differences in the desired and the actual perception?

“Helsinki is just about to start a branding and marketing strategy work that concerns the  whole city and many players and sectors.

So far the international marketing and branding has been planned and implemented in a fragmented way.  Meaning that for example tourism, investments, talent attraction have all marketed with their own brands and an overall “umbrella” brand of Helsinki brand has not been very clear.  This year City of Helsinki is starting a project where we look into the real strengths of the city, define its position and core-ideas versus the competitors  and finally determine the brand-assets of the city.

So far a lot of great and efficient marketing of the city has been done by many sectors and bodies such as Visit Helsinki, University of Helsinki, inward Investment organizations, congress and events organizations, private companies. They all   market and attract their target groups to Helsinki. However the city itself has not yet branded  Helsinki like many of other cities in the world have already done. The work is just about to start.  And as an outcome of this project we will also see marketing tools that can be used by many stakeholders externally

The branding project of Helsinki will very strongly include the participation of the local people and local institutions. This way the brand will be real and based on the true views and facts about Helsinki.”

by Outi Leppälä, Marketing Director, City of Helsinki

In this context:

Helsinki´s competitive advantage – delayed success or forseeable failure?!


Book: The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Michael E. Porter, 1998

Article: Cities Under Competition: The Role of City Image(s) in Brand Building for Investment Inflow by Ramakrishna Nallathiga

Thesis: MEDIA AND BRANDS, A study of Helsinki’s Brand Image Acknowledgement in Foreign Media, Irene Biedma-Martinez, Laurea University of Applied Sciences

Interview: Outi Leppälä, Marketing Director, City of Helsinki

This entry was posted in Branding in social media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Helsinki´s Competitive Advantage – A Cultural Blend of East and West

  1. Olivia Chudik says:

    It is great that you thought about taking a town as an example of Branding, this is one of the many things we don’t usually think about. You highlighted pretty well the strategy of Helsinki to be different, attractive, and unique. It has its key activities and specialities, as you explaines, but it also has many other things that are to discover when coming to visiting that city. The way they communicate is also well thought, and videos are a great tool to sparkle someone’s interest and put them in the position of a potential tourist. Great topic!

  2. Helsinki, what a good name for a city! When I talked about it in my home country, most of people don’t even know where is it. I learnt a lot about this city the last couple months and I can say that this city is so interesting. “Where east meets west”, I totally agree with the fact that Helsinki has such this particular aspect. It’s easy to recognize some Russian influences here but some Swedish as well. When I saw your videos, it made me realize that I love this country and especially this city. I met many Finnish people and I have been surprised that they are not really proud about their country. I think everyone should be proud of his country. It’s true that Finnish people are shy and most of the time introvert but they really should talk more about the Finland’s beauty. Helsinki is different I truly think that this city has so many skills especially for companies. Thank you for this article, it’s very relevant and interesting!

  3. lucianijdam2015 says:

    Great idea to analyse Helsinki’s city branding! I believe that it is very important for a city to promote itself nowadays. By doing this the city is able to attract tourists and nowadays tourism can be a great source of income. I think the way you present Helsinki in your blog is very good! Helsinki is such an unique city, definitely not just a common European city. Especially when watching the video I really realized myself what a beautiful city Helsinki actually is. However, I think not a lot of people know this. For example when I told people I was going to Helsinki, nobody I knew had ever been here before. This is such a pity because, as you describe in your blog, the city has so much to offer.

  4. eveliinaf says:

    Wow, I have lived my whole life in Helsinki and I didn’t even know about the slogan, haha there is always something new to learn! But it is so nice to read those beautiful words about Finland and Helsinki, in post and also in comments 🙂
    I was studying abroad last semester and suprised that other europeans I met, didn’t know anything about Finland, everyone just knew that here is cold and expensive. Some didn’t even know that Finland is part of Europe and that we also have summer here..

    But about the branding issue, I think the reason why Helsinki haven’t really brand itself is because tourism hasn’t been big thing here and other thing is that Finland is a big country, so it would be a problem if every finn wants to move and live in Helsinki. I think now government (or who ever) has realized that “hey, maybe we can try get tourists here and try to earn some money” and thats why branding has started that late. We have just live here up north, between huge and powerful Russia and beautiful Sweden, so we have thought that our capital is not that awesome as those big cities with well-known sights all over the Europe. Maybe foreigns should do the branding for Helsinki, not finns. I think foreigns see the beauty of the city while we see just our home, normal Finland.

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