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‘Jantelagen’ holds Swedish brands back

Swedish brand managers could boost sales by being more proud of the company’s Swedishness.

Related news:
Sweden climbs in economic freedom ranking
Sweden among world's best in logistics
Safe to do business with Swedes
Sweden among most competitive nations 

Home furniture giant Ikea writes on its web that Swedish culture is “one of simplicity, equality and openness to thoughtful influences”; powerful vocabulary that the company uses in every corner of its marketing.

Sweden is in the top league in a long row of international rankings, such as for quality of life, democracy, competitive economy, creativity and innovations. With a highly skilled labor force the country is also seen as front-runner in a number of growing industries, such as green technology, life science and information technology. So it would seem natural for a Swedish company to bang the drum and let its customers and clients know that they stem from this successful culture. 

Still, most Swedish companies waste the opportunity to use the power of Swedishness in their creation of brand perception, Jack Yan, a New Zeeland-based brand expert and author of Nation Branding, said in an interview.

During a so called unplugged seminar in Stockholm Tuesday – in which power point slides are strictly forbidden –  he is to explain how Swedish companies could take better advantage of their national inheritance in order to intensify brand identity and boost sales.

“A lot of people in Sweden don’t know how strong the nation’s brand is. Instead they turn it down”, Jack Yan told The Swedish Wire.

He believes that the lack of proud in the Swedish brand has to do with “the Jante Law” (Jantelagen), a typical Scandinavian pattern of group behaviour that negatively portrays and criticizes success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate.

Instead of being proud of their national legacy, brand managers tend to profile the company as something neutral and international, which Jack Yan finds rather sad. 

“It shouldn’t be neutralized to such extensions that no one knows the brands origin”, he said. 

As a marketeer you don’t have to use stereotypes to take advantage of the county's brand assets, he explained. You don’t even have to be obvious and say the company is from Sweden. Sometimes it’s better just to hint.

He used carmaker Volvo as an example. Although they don’t say in their ads that it’s Swedish, it uses typical values and ingredients that could be traced back to Sweden.

“If you look at the ads they are always designed in a very structured and logical way which comes through in Swedish designing. They talk about innovation and technology but also safety”.

He also hailed appliance maker Electrolux for using Swedishness in its brand building in a sublime, yet powerful way, such as green innovation and energy-saving.

Another example was high-lighted last month. People across the world were furious when General Motors announced that it was winding down the Swedish auto brand Saab.

"The press often describes Saab owners as passionate and devoted to the marque. The press ain't seen nothing yet!", a Saab enthusiast wrote on the new website I won't buy from GM, created by the guys behind the fan site Saab United.

For many Swedes the massive global support for the tiny Swedish brand came as a surprise.

“Sometimes it takes a bunch of foreigners to do a rally in order to wake people up here”, Jack Yan said.

Not surprisingly, Jack Yan thinks that both General Motors and Ford failed to understand and appreciate the strength of Swedishness in the auto brands. That’s why they failed and now are forced to sell the carmakers.

Since years back Jack Yan has a special fascination about Sweden and Swedish brands. For almost a decade he's been covering the changes in Swedish brand perception.

“How come a country with only 9 million people got on the world map so everybody knows about this country?” he asks rhetorically, explaining that parts of the answer are to be found in social responsibility and a high level of innovation.

“Volvo was famous for social responsibility long before people started using phrases like ‘social responsibility’. They’ve been doing that for the last 60 years”.

During the time he’s been covering Swedish brands the perception of the country hasn’t changed particularly. But the way Swedes sees and value Swedish ideals, such as social responsibility and environmental awareness, have improved considerably. 

Last Updated (Tuesday, 26 January 2010 07:06)


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