Coastal village meets metropolis at Stagis’ city branding conference


You might wonder what Singapore has in common with Klitmøller, a coastal village of 800-and-a-few inhabitants in Northern Denmark.

The answer is not only that both of them were mentioned as good examples during last week’s conference on municipal branding, Kommunebranding13, organized by Stagis A/S.

Pekka Timonen, Wally Olins, Sebastian Zenker and Nikolaj Stagis (from left to right) discuss city branding and identity during Stagis’ conference.

What I found really striking is that both have risen to fame because the minds behind had a clear sense of direction. Which again is exactly why they were featured during the conference, aimed at inspiring the Danish municipalities present at the conference in developing and strengthening their brand.

A number of Danish and international experts presented their ideas on place branding, including the “world’s leading practitioner of branding and identity” (according to the Financial Times), Wally Olins. Other international speakers included assistant professor Sebastian Zenker at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University, Pekka Timonen, chairman of Design Capital Helsinki, and David Zahle, head architect at BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group).

David Zahle, head architect at BIG, focused on how architecture can help giving added value to municipal projects.

A “commercial imperative”

Quite a few Danish municipalities are facing the challenge of attracting citizens and companies in order to increase economic growth rates, especially in rural areas. So far from being the icing on the cake, branding has become a “commercial imperative,” according to Wally Olins.

During his presentation, the 83-year old branding expert, who has worked with companies and places like Volkswagen, Portugal and the City of London, focused on how to create a different city brand. On a virtual journey around the world he showed how places like Singapore, Vienna or London have a strong brand that is recognized by everybody. Cities that are famous for their personality and their history, but also because they have managed to further develop an existing brand.

While the gap between an international metropolis and a Danish municipality can seem immense, the essence of the matter is the same: identity.  At the end of the day, said Wally Olins, the key to success lies in being different and being yourself. He therefore encouraged all the municipalities present to ask themselves some very fundamental questions. Who am I? What do I do? What is my personality? What do I want to be known for?

In other words, in order to create a strong brand you need a clear vision of what direction you want to take – which, according to Wally Olins, is exactly why a state like Singapore has managed to become one the world’s financial centers. Strikingly enough, this same sense of direction seems to be the reason behind the success of the village of Klitmøller.

Here a group of local, passionate windsurfers have managed to create Northern Europe’s surfers’ paradise, also known as Cold Hawaii. What started out as a protest action against a planned windmill park in the surfing ground called Middles has now not only risen to fame as a part of the PWA World Windsurfing Tour, but also become one of the factors that boost regional tourism. In my opinion, these examples show how a vision, carried out with determination, can actually change things to the better for many people around you.

Robert Sand (left) and Rasmus Johnsen (right) have managed to bring the PWA World Windsurfing Tour to Cold Hawaii.

“If you want to be everything, you become nothing”

Creating a clear brand by looking inwards first is also how we work at Stagis. Through his experience in working with municipalities and companies, Stagis’ CEO and founder Nikolaj Stagis has developed a clear philosophy on how an organization can achieve success by focusing on its authentic identity.

His first message of the day was: “if you want to be everything, you become nothing” – a message that is crucial in a time where most municipalities brand themselves on generic and interchangeable values.

Instead, municipalities and companies should rather show the courage to choose their specific strengths that only this particular organization holds. This strength can be found in the historic and cultural heritage, in the values and actions and in the ability to express this authenticity. These three dimensions – the historical, the reflexive and the expressive – are a strong method to help identifying the uniqueness of a company.

Thanks to everyone involved

This year’s Kommunebranding13 conference was the first of its kind, but with half of the Danish municipalities present we are proud to say it has already been a success. Without all the passionate speakers, participants and staff all this would not have been possible, so last but not least we would like to thank everyone involved in making the conference something that is definitely worth repeating next year!