Greetings. We've just left Stockholm and returned to the quiet of the west coast of Sweden for four more days of visiting family and friends along with a bit of hiking, kayaking, fishing and exploring. Not a bad way to finish the summer before heading back to business, school and the rest of our normal lives. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention the great beauty and energy of this country's capital–a remarkable collection of islands connected by bridges, public transportation, bike paths, truly monumental buildings, outdoor cafes and lots of culture. During a walk one evening we passed five stages hosting a wide range of performances that were part of the city's annual Kultur Festival, tents featuring the latest technology products and a big party for Stockholm's 2012 Fashion Week that filled the street along Kungstragarden with exceedingly stylish people. This is a city that delights in summer, loves to party and is somewhat pleased with itself.
Which brings me to a very interesting marketing campaign in which Stockholm has now declared itself "The Capital of Scandinavia." Not just the capital of Sweden, but the capital of a region that includes Denmark, Norway and Iceland. I'm not exactly sure who voted–beyond local officials and the marketing agency that created the campaign–but it does suggest the creativity and pitfalls of giving ourselves an upgrade, promotion or too big a pat on the back.
Possibly to attract more attention and more tourists. Possibly to feel even better about itself. Possibly to fire a new salvo in centuries of competition between these northern nations. Possibly to give more credit on the global stage to the capital of a country with 9.4 million people. A country that certainly has a lot of global impact already for its size–with powerful brands and parts of its culture having a big influence in a lot of places. And possibly just for fun.
Though you get the impression the powers that be are quite serious.
But "The Capital of Scandinavia" title, while clever, seems a bit self-serving to this observer who has had the good fortune to spend a lot of time in Sweden during the past 24 years. It's a country I love dearly but one that still seems to miss the point of what it means to attract more people as visitors and promoters. And when you add the fact that it's a very expensive place to visit, then you realize this strategy of becoming even more self-important could be lacking.
I suggested in a speech here last year that the key to Stockholm and Sweden's success as a destination was becoming the most inviting and welcoming place and for Stockholm to aspire to be "The Welcoming Capital of Scandinavia, Northern Europe or the World." A place where visitors would be welcomed with open arms and hearts…and as wonderfully important people in their own rights.
It's a tough but not impossible job for a country of mostly introverts. It's an even tougher job for a country that at times seems a bit too preoccupied with itself. There are a million reasons to go to France or Italy or England. And most people know about many of them. There are probably a million reasons, less well-known, to come to Sweden. But one of them will have to be because this is a place that delights in having visitors. Not a place that delights in itself and is willing to let visitors in on a bit of the action.
We win in business and in life when we make bold plans. And when those bold plans focus on our customers instead of us.