June 1998

Global strategies challenge national labelling

A shift from ‘production-driven’ approach to ‘market-driven’ thinking sets rules for international business communication. Global brand identities dominate while national symbols are confined to sparking emotions in popular entertainment and sports. This change has deep implications for cultural interaction as well. Some of them have been discussed recently in meetings organised by the Finnish Institute.

Thirty years ago, in October 1968, Londoners had a chance to visit a floating Finland fair on the Thames. In order to serve Finnish exports,global.jpg (21820 bytes) Finnfocus fair was mounted on board M/S Finnpartner. Throughout the 70s and 80s it was fashionable to add a Finn prefix to Finnish products – based on the patriotic belief that blue and white colours plus Finn-something would pave the way to international markets.

This decade has been characterised by a true globalisation of the marketplace. Today global brands mean more than Coca Cola or McDonalds. Even niche brands with small local market shares can have a global reach and approach in their business. Global brands, whether companies or their products, compete with local brands and vice versa. Today each local brand, Finnish or British, has to face strong global players in their own home markets.

It seems that more and more globally oriented companies avoid national references in their external communication. National symbols may not give extra value to the communication; they may even be harmful for a company. If British Airways prefers BA, or British Telecom BT, or when Telecom Finland becomes Sonera, Union Bank of Finland becomes Merita, or Postipankki chooses Leonia as its new name, we can assume that today’s international businesses operate in an environment where national references are considered liabilities.

On the home front national symbols have a different role. A combination of the national anthem and blue-and-white flag raises spirits in sports competition, but much as we would like, it does not make sense to apply these elements to fields where you need to take your international customer or target market into account. Whether we talk about commercial or non-commercial cultural interaction, it has become quite clear that on most sectors a market-driven strategy is replacing the traditional production-driven way of thinking. Instead of asking "What can we produce?" or "What are we good at?" we ask ourselves "How can we satisfy our customers' needs?"

The Finnish home front always expects heroic international "wins" from Finnish culture. Very much in the spirit of international sports competitions, where Finns are allowed to get patriotically emotional just like we would after beating Sweden in an ice hockey match. At the same time, the leading individuals in the fields of culture, arts and science have reached the same conclusion as leading businesses have: apply a market-driven strategy where national identity issues do not play any central role.

See also:

From flags to logos by Jali Wahlsten (June 1998)

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