The World: Insider's View - Sweden

Advertisers need to embrace the diversity of the Nordic nations if they're to engage their sophisticated consumers, Bjorn Larsson argues.

The media likes to view the Nordics as a single region, with a common culture and shared interests. There are, of course, commonalities. If you travel in the Nordic countries, you will recognise a striking similarity in the supply of consumer products, media, retailers and global fashion brands. Our tastes are obviously similar. The market is full of early adopters of global trends, which explains why many fashion brands do test marketing in Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen. And as a foreigner, do not try to learn the language: everyone here wants to practice their English on you.

I believe this openness to new global influences is rooted deep in the DNA of Nordic citizens. Our brands have built a true global presence owing to their small home markets; they have mirrored our great-great-grandfathers, the Vikings, strategy and conquered new land instead. And today, rather than going for Ireland or Turkey as the Vikings did, you could easily end up finding Scania in Argentina, Tetra-Pak in Ecuador, Sony Ericsson in London, Bang & Olufsen in Singapore, Electrolux in New York, Volvo & Saab in South Africa or, perhaps, Carlsberg in Amsterdam. And if you don't, then there is every chance your grandfather did, or your children will.

So, we seem to have a common Nordic market (where, supposedly, polar bears can still be found walking the high streets, as a colleague once asked me). But is there such a thing as a Nordic consumer?

Here is the acid test: put a Nordic group in a room and hold the discussions in the local version of the Swedish language. After the meeting you will likely discover that the Norwegian is in agreement with the Swede, who perfectly understands the Finn but who did not understand a word the Dane said. Although the Norwegian understood the Dane, who also understood the Swede, the Swede misinterpreted most of what the Dane asked for.

Viewing the Nordics as one region could be your brand's downfall, and a one-size-fits-all approach to advertising is most certainly not the best approach.

To synthesise four so distinct cultures as the manufacturing Swedes, the oil-driven Norwegians, the technology-obsessed Finns and the trading Danes is not as easy as it may seem. While there are clearly similarities, you will be missing a trick if your brand does not take local idiosyncrasies into account. The formula for Nordic reach is as different for each of the four countries as it is in most other non-homogenous regions: global products combined with a very distinct local twist on the message is essential in order for your company to reach the Nordic consumer.

- Bjorn Larsson is the chairman of Lowe's Nordic cluster and the chief executive of Lighthouse Lowe Brindfors in Stockholm.

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