Estonia nation branding
For business and pleasure I visited Estonia and met Estonians through my work in marketing. The country and the people touched me deeply and have such a positive impact on me that I decided to actively contribute to inspire and ignite the discussion on nation branding of Estonia. To bring to the a wider audience the power and capabilities of this fantastic nation, the project started in 2014. Inspired by the tagline 'Simply the Est' created by Shardee Rebas, I created a concept for a coherent and open-source branding and marketing activation based on three letters: EST.
During the creation of the project I recognized many new opportunities.
It is easier from the outside looking in to see what’s possible and can be accomplished. Though it can be tricky, so to interpret cultural differences rightly I got professional assistance from Estonians. This is my proposition translated into a nation branding concept that defines a clear and unique brand identity. To raise awareness and to consistently communicate the vast achievements and potential of Estonia. 
Policy makers worldwide can learn a lot from Estonia, which is at the forefront of digital public services. That said, they have to know and be truly aware what Estonia is achieving to share the knowledge. Estonia has to tell and communicate its stories, results and performances. “Places are, indeed, products, whose identities and values must be designed and marketed.” Philip Kotler, the marketing guru wrote. And places compete for share of mind, share of income, share of talent and share of voice on a global level. Estonia can achieve even more by better focusing and above all communicating in a consistent and more bold manner. So my aim is to create an effective yet authentic brand identity that can mobilize a wide range of Estonian stakeholders. So the nation can communicate externally the unique and relevant Estonian assets.
How broad can the -est concept be used?
The most important aspect is the shareability and usability of the concept. I strived to make it applicable for all marketing and promotion opportunities. And every opportunity has been addressed with a design ranging from consistent website designs, social media campaign application, in outdoor media, in print magazines, at the airport, on trade fairs, in sports equipment. Combining unique Estonian cultural, societal and business qualities with a strong graphic look to create true communication power. So that people become interested in Estonia, that curiosity is raised, awareness increases and the image improves. Focus on what makes Estonia really uniquely and memorable. Be bold, brave and daring! Stand out Estonia and surprise the world. I created an integrated concept as an efficient and clever solution to do so. A visual way to wrap up the -est branding concept: 

What is the essence of the idea?
The essence of this positioning and branding concept is a simple, straightforward idea: let Estonia emphasize its unique character and achievements by being the fastest, the smartest, the greenest, the cosiest and even the weirdest. And also modest as well and an investment opportunity.
The ‘est’ is already in the name of the international country name Estonia and as well in the German name Estland and in French: Estonie. And ‘est’ is used as the abbreviation of Estonia for number plates, passports and as #est hashtag. A playful and logical next phase of Estonian nation branding, while safeguarding achieved results and enhancing prior branding and marketing investments. A simple solution with huge potential.
How was my design process?
Again based on the Eindhoven experience I did extensive research in the economic programs of Estonian government and out of these I deducted goals and objectives for the positioning. My aim was and is to create a cohesive nation branding and marketing, enticing and fitting all relevant Estonian stakeholders and domains. To aid the efforts and objectives to attract, support and retain talent, investors, businesses, students and favor the citizens of course. Promoting Estonia as an attractive place to work and live.
Design process: from research through design phase and realization of concept in final phase.
My aim is to create a cohesive nation branding and marketing, enticing and fitting all relevant Estonian stakeholders and domains. The -est concept supports the storytelling and communicating of its experiences. And yes, you need a challenger branding to fit the Estonian challenger mentality.  
Witty, positive and intriguing tone-of-voice combined with authentic images with a clear message. Playful colors in harmony with main picture. No more ice crystal patterns overlaying the images. The concept and adaptation of the theme is visualized to all relevant marketing and branding opportunities. The -est concept supports the storytelling and creation of unique experiences in optima forma. Key: marketing is more than logos and slogans, it is about campaigning and creating awareness in Estonia and create valuable engagement to activate your brand to the right target audiences and key markets. 
These are rough visualizations of the -est concept for various target audiences and subjects that stand out like tourism, business, culture and nature. The campaign can be tailored to all target audiences and key markets. These designs are basic combinations of playful words and images: 
In todays noisy and congested world a brand must stand out and represent distinctive values and benefits. Simon Anholt once said nation branding is “the reduction of a nation’s complexities into single, bite-sized stereotypes.” In other words: a nation brand is the mix of core characteristics that make a country distinctive, memorable and competitive. And Estonia is so rich of unique authentic assets and contains many outstanding examples and great stories to tell the world. Social media favors shareable content.
Being the -est is authentic in tourism, culture, nature, society and technology.
The next phase is to visualize the concept and adapting the theme to all relevant marketing and branding opportunities. The -est concept supports the storytelling and creation of unique experiences in optima forma.
Key: marketing is more than logos and slogans, it is about campaigning and creating awareness in Estonia and create valuable engagement to activate your brand to the right target audiences and key markets. So I present you an integrated nation branding proposal: ‘Eesti brändikontseptsioon'. In real world usage it looks like this: 
Real world simulation of est campaign in Life in Estonia magazine.
Redesign of homepage
Mobile and social activation
One of the campaign ideas is a social media application to spot the est in daily life. As part of a word or in signing, in the street and online. It is really addictive to find them and creates pride seeing the est literally everywhere. Adding the acceptance and power of this simple yet effective and sympathetic concept. Social media is ideal to entice Estonian fans to participate, show their ‘est’ and share. The current social fan base is huge so use this! As an addition to ‘ShakeItToEstonia’ and ‘Epic Estonia’ campaigns, so create an Instagram — Estonian style — using the ‘est’ related images:
Estonian fans from around the world share their own images based on the word ‘est’ or the abbreviation ‘est’.
.est domain name extension
The monetization of the concept can be realized by the new domain name .est an effective method to spread the concept internationally is to introduce your own exclusive TLD, Top Level Domain. As an addition to the commonly used .ee country identifier. Companies like can assist in monetizing the .est domain names.

By exploiting the .est extension the branding concept goes global! Sites like: or surely have huge commercial potential for exploitation. So reselling the domain name creates an interesting business case. A great reference is Colombia with more than a million users of their .co domain extension. A fact is that Estonia has priority with ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee to file for ownership of the .est domain extension. And so generate the funding for the -est campaign. It is up to you Estonia to grab the opportunity.

The organization can support the commercialization of the .est domain name extension.
The concept is easily transferable into playful, attractive merchandising products and incentives with the charismatic ‘est’ brand(ing) and also has strong commercial appeal. Adding to your national pride & creating joy. Branded products makes Estonian fans your happiest brand ambassadors and promoters: at home and abroad, communicating and living your brand promises. And adding to the self-esteem of Estonians when people wear them and see them being worn.
Merchandising ideas. On the left a beanie, in the middle an existing design with added print and on the right Olympic dress kit of Estonia fitting the -est concept.
The possibilities in merchandising are endless, playful and enticing.
The e-Residency packaging in line with -est branding.
Branding events and outdoor media
Public space and out-of-home advertising are effective communication tools to enhance the core communication message of the -est concept. So a campaign as an extension of the ‘being the -est’ concept aimed at branding events and outdoor media. Following the customer journey of the tourist and business visitor with a consistent and personal message: be our guest.
Be our guest is a nice wordplay fitting the -est campaign neatly and ideal for outdoor signing and promotional messaging. Focussing on the customer journey, starting on the Nordica airplanes, visible at Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport, via bus and train to outdoor advertising in city centers. All branded with the consistent message: ‘be my guest’. As well as a design proposal of the Estonia booth for key tourism trade fairs like ITB in Berlin and / or ITM in London. Presenting Estonia proudly to the international tourism community and business world. The ‘be my guest’ theme is applicable as a communication carrier for an Estonian loyalty card. Nation wide usable for tourist and business market. 

A warm welcome to your guests at Tallinn Airport.
The right name for your loyalty card: 'be our guest'.
Branding for tourism on train from Airport to Tallinn.
Be my guest ambassadors for tourism.
Example of Estonia booth for tourism trade fair.
Estonia upcoming celebrations
Estonians celebrate 100 years ‘being the est’ in 2018 with EV 100. A festival theme is a great match: a centennial logo enhances the -est campaign narrative and the ‘centennial’ activities is ideal to focus on nation branding push forward. 
The logical word to use is of course: 100festival for celebration of EV100.
International attention
Sure a nation brand is less what you say and more the collective experiences of everyone using it. But you have to raise your voice Estonia to be noticed! Your digital advancements combined with authentic culture creates a wonderful mix. Future forward and a meaningful past in harmony. With upcoming EU chairmanship in 2017 and EV 100 in 2018, Estonia can set ambitious goals and be relevant and impactful to the world. So start and act now. Be inclusive, engage your communities. Activate the people, be the brand together, therefore: ‘we are the est’ as symbolic public activity.
For all your tourists, business partners, Estonian fans anywhere and citizens alike.
The potential of this integrated concept is in the cross-overs:
- Turning tourists into immigrants, contributing to economy
- Turning students into knowledge workers and top talent
- Turning e-residents into foreign investors and startups/scale ups.

One solution addressing all stakeholders. An integrated concept, social at core and with lots of activation power. One solution addressing all stakeholders. An integrated concept, social at core and with lots of activation power. To underline this, look how the concept can be adapted to the annual Entrepreneurship business competition issued by Enterprise Estonia and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The competition identifies the greatest and most ambitious companies in five areas. Winners will be announced at a festive gala. My suggestion for the title of the Estonian Entrepreneurship award would be:
be our greatest company.
Redesign of presentation of upcoming Entrepreneurship event.
EU presidency 2017 proposal
In a cooperation with Eindhoven designers Scherpontwerp and Estonians Konstantin Asmanov and design agency Velvet we entered the EU presidency 2017 design competition with the EST concept. 
The main inspiration for the concept is the importance of the European Union for Estonia as well as the value for the EU to get to know the new Estonia.
The word ‘EUROPA’ is the starting foundation for the Presidency of Estonia in 2017. As the EU is facing dramatic challenges these days such as BREXIT, Refugee crisis and national security. The Presidency of Estonia can rethink the organization and finding new ways to grow democracy:
What is EUROPE for you? ‘EST2017’ represents the new modern Estonia in the year 2017. 
Not only nurturing a flourishing startup scene and new forms of digital citizenship, it can be the new ground of building an agile and unified Europe. 
The idea is to show What Estonia Can Do for EUROPE, not just What Estonia Can Do.

So the EST concept unites two beginnings: Europe and Estonia, which together brings the distinguishable EE vertically. This Presidency will be documented as the new historic landmark in the history of Europe:
A new Europe is ESTablished in 2017. Estonia marks a new beginning:
The concept was sadly not chosen in the mindboggling procurement process where EU Presidency design winner is combined with 100 years Estonia identity. The winning EU design will be published later.
Who am I doing this?
In Eindhoven we have achieved a good international reputation for our city and region by executing an effective strategy and working closely together with major stakeholders. Last year our marketing foundation Eindhoven365 was awarded Best Client in the prestigious Dutch Design Awards competition for our innovative place branding approach and results.
Apart from my work as marketer and brand manager for Eindhoven region I have a strong interest and caring for Estonia. I became a proud e-Resident and thankful of Estonia for the inspiration it has given me in my work for Eindhoven. I think there are interesting similarities between our city and your country as being smaller communities that are having quite a positive impact on global society. The difference is that in Eindhoven we invested in our branding and marketing to improve our reputation and visibility. It resulted in a measurable increase in global awareness and recognition. Yes we have been modest too in Eindhoven, too long. Although we have a world-class story to tell. As our locals say: ‘We cheer with our hands in our pockets.” Eindhoven is a high tech hardware capital and a top design hotspot. So in our city we started a project to tell the world that we really matter to society and add value. To raise awareness for our achievements and to attract top talent, knowledge workers, create business and foreign direct investments. Now Eindhoven is internationally known as a smart innovative city and society.
Why start a nation branding project?
Can you see the parallel: Eindhoven and Estonia are kind of similar in their mentality and development. Both having faced tough times and recuperated from that and now facing forward and in the process challenging conventional thinking. So that has to be shared. Estonia really needs to strategically brand and communicate its great achievements. Policy makers worldwide can learn a lot from Estonia and that supports programs as e-Residency and therefore Estonian economy and future.
That said, Estonia is communicating its achievements. With top tech startup ecosystem, a highly communicative president and the nation is at the forefront of online public services. The proof is there. The country has to tell and communicate its stories, results and performances coherently and . And above all it has to make itself known. I see Estonia missing apparent opportunities and above all not really focusing. Being an observer from a distance and commenting is easy, I know. So I decided to contribute and use my experience as brand builder and marketer to create a branding and marketing concept based on a smart, simple yet catchy idea based on the shortened name -est for Estonia.
What’s for inspiration?
In my opinion Estonia has huge potential as a nation and is performing globally on a high level in specific areas. But it’s struggling to find a coherent nation branding and marketing strategy. At the SoMeTo14 digital tourism conference in Rovaniemi, Finland I came in contact with the awesome digital marketing representative from EAS / Enterprise Estonia, who inspired me immensely. I learned that we ‘advanced thinking’ Dutch people have found our match with Estonia, an advanced and future oriented society. And that all my images and perceptions were outdated. When I dug in deeper I was even more stunned of the breadth of innovation and rich deeply authentic culture. Learning about Estonia and its society from a distance was my next step. Using Eesti media and through social interaction.
Yes the Estonian language is quite difficult and Google Translate sadly fails to make readable sentences of Estonian writing. Not a positive situation and it should be addressed by the Estonian authorities with Google. The translated sentences are mostly riddles too. Most Estonian national newspapers and publications have an English section and is also a trustworthy source.
To understand the mentality even better, I did a lot of research to capture and understand the essence of Estonia, that is from a distance. Out of these findings and studying the economic (long term) policies of Estonian government and institutions I derived these primary goals for the concept:
The key objectives for the marketing concept:
- Make Estonia a more attractive, a better place to live, work and visit
- Encouraging entrepeneurship and attracting business with foreign direct investments 
- Enticing governments to adopt Estonian data-driven ecosystem
- Encourage recommendation (NPS) of Estonia and enhance self-esteem
- Invite more tourists and increase spending per visit in Estonia
- Communicate the greatness and culture that have come out of Estonia
- Interest students to enjoy education facilities in Tallinn and Tartu
- Generate impactful, consistent and ‘viral’ brand positioning of Estonia
- Create flexibility to develop tailored strategies for relevant target groups
- Capitalize on previous investments in branding, while :
- Aligning all marketing/promotional activities of all stakeholders into one integrated concept.
Why create a nation branding campaign?
Caring is one thing, contributing is another and that’s what I intend to do. So I decided to use my experience in branding and advertising for Estonia based on learnings out of the Eindhoven brand process. I created an extensive and coherent next level branding and marketing including all domains of Estonian society. From tourism to business, from talent attraction to foreign direct investment. From social to merchandising.
The concept is -est and you can find the concept at
The essence is to focus on uniquely Estonian assets:
- Global impactful startups GrabCad, Transferwise, Pipedrive, Lingvist, Fortumo, Starship and of course Skype.
- Unique musical styles: mass choirs to Winny Puhh, Paiste, TMW
- Celebrating world heroes from Estonia like Arvo Pärt and Jaan Tallinn
- Digital government: e-Residency, cyber safety, CaaS (Country as a Service)
- Wonderful nature, culture, cuisine, history, cleanest air, wildlife & lovely people.
So tell & share your authentic and meaningful stories.  
What about the Estonian logo?
Brand Estonia, first and foremost, has to be a brand that Estonians take as theirs and feel connected to, it has to work inside out. 
Smart destinations and businesses have always known that brands reside in their consumer’s minds. And yet brands must stand out and represent distinctive values and benefits. The nations logo is not the key issue; the awareness is and the lack of impact in relevant international media.
An effective and coherent branding and activation campaign will support Estonia’s ambitions and potential. Push and pull. This is the ‘push’ part of the nation branding. That is what I focussed on. Estonia has to address its global visibility and future oriented image in a multichannel approach to fit its potential and government ambitions. 
Slogan: Just Estonishing
A brand is your image. The essence is creating awareness and enhancing the image of Estonia. The current logo of Estonia with EST in bold fits my concept nicely and good public money was spent on it. It stands out in print so keep using it. Though I did make a more fitting pay-off instead of ‘positively surprising’ which is too generic; it can be applied to any country. 
Therefore I came up with ‘Just Estonishing’. Just is unique and ‘Estonishing’ is a new word, created just for you. Remember: a brand positioning is what you do to the prospect, a great lesson from marketing expert Al Ries. He favors a simple, single concept that is certain to get more important as the years roll by. 
Why is the concept in English?
Estonia has one of the highest English proficiency in Europe. That is one of the reasons and of course it’s the international lingua franca in business and tourism. And especially in social media. The EAS tourism experiences campaign aimed at Sweden was titled Epic Estonia. And that worked out really well with the English name. Had it been named ‘Just Estonishing’ it would have probably worked well too for the Swedes.
And the usability of the -est concept is enhanced because many more languages feature or use the three letters ‘est’ like French (C’est formidable), Italian (sud est) and even in Latin (Est! Est!! Est!!! the famous story from Montefiascone).
Also interesting words like ‘guest’, ‘modest’, ‘protest’ and ‘invest’ create opportunities to enhance the idea to strengthen the Estonian image and position your country as a welcoming and future business oriented start-up destination. Please note; the -est concept is not about bragging, not claiming ‘to be the best’. As a mentality, a state of mind. In life. In ambition. In the world. For all to see and experience. And a bit self-mockery is just fine. The Estonian language as world’s #5 most complicated brings things in balance. Though you can learn the Estonian language in a charming way, at least to say ‘hello’: Tere!
Is it applicable to all stakeholders?
The e-residency program is a great accelerator for Estonia and connects neatly with the –est concept. The country as an incubator for pioneering ideas about digital citizenship, security, virtual business and education as wrote. A country as a Service (CaaS), just a brilliant idea!
You need a challenger branding to fit your nation’s challenger mentality. Estonia is really getting out in front. The -est concept supports the ambitions and is inspiring enough to all Estonian stakeholders to adopt the concept.
So you can speak and communicate with an unanimous and coherent voice. One brand concept to fit all tasks that initiates partnerships and cooperation between Estonian stakeholders. From industry to tourism, from culture to student and foreign direct investment attraction. I even thought about the monetization of the concept creating a new domain name .est and potential revenues through merchandising. Social media plays a key role in the -est concept addressing the millennial market and by creating shareable and instagenic content to win these valuable markets.  
What were the key resources?
During the two year development I also did an analysis of the current Estonian brand image and the activities of the key stakeholders. A lot is written and published online. Sources like the Estonian news of Postimees, ERR, Aripaev, Estonianworld, Best Marketing and Justin Petrone’s blog and books helped me to understand. And EAS brought vital inspiration thanks to their digital marketeer explaining me the Estonian cultural peculiarities and differences to a Dutchmen so I wouldn’t misinterpret or misjudge. During the creation process I got to meet many more Estonians with whom I shared the development of the -est concept like Rene Tõnnisson from IBS and Siim Espenberg from Tartu city, Silver Tambur from Estonianworld London, Kristjan Lepik and Sten Tamkivi of Teleport, Tajo Oja of Fraktal, Dan Mikkin of Brand Manual, Hando Sinisalu of Best Marketing and I owe thanks to Pärtel-Peeter Pere of Tendensor who aided the concept with the suggestion to use the concept for a safe driving campaign.
I was fortunate to meet‎ e-Residency program director Kaspar Korjus at an EBAN conference in Eindhoven and he liked the concept and really supported me. EAS / ‎Enterprise Estonia gave me the opportunity end of 2015 to present my ideas to the branding team and tourism teams. I really appreciated the warm reception and their reaction was great and stimulating for me to proceed in further developing the concept fitting their ambition. Resulting in this open publication. I truly hope it can be seen as an addition to the branding and marketing activities of EAS (now EAS / Kredex).
All designs and concept creation is done by myself, text and images and I have guarded the concept at the Benelux Patent office*. In the process I did consult a string of critical and knowledgeable people a.o.: Robert Govers of, Frank Cuypers of DestinationThink, Willem Kars, Dingeman Kuilman, Marc Koppen en Alphons Janssen van ScherpOntwerp, Maarten Schutjes van Dino Design and Thijs de Neeve, representative of Enterprise Estonia In The Netherlands. All their ideas, suggestions and comments I have taken into account and implemented in the concept.
How should the brand be managed?
Experiences and learnings from Eindhoven and relevant cases show that a brand has to be guarded and curated by a dedicated and authoritative team. So whoever owns the brand of Estonia has to initiate a brand policy to facilitate and monitor its future developments. And be a true custodian of the brand, staying strong and focussed on the result bringing in consumer understanding and expertise.
Nowadays the context of the brand is important and the manifestation of the brand in all the relevant channels. That is quite a task and should be addressed thoughtfully and supported at the highest level. To be effective trusted insight into the customer journey of the Estonian stakeholders is vital. That is an essential step to facilitate a useful conversation with existing and potential consumers.
What’s in it for me? 
So many aspects. At first the fun in creating; be it in words or images. I am trained as a designer and marketer. That is what I do best. I put a lot of time and effort in the idea. And the fact that the concept was enthusiastic received by Estonian stakeholders who asked me to to share it publicly makes me really proud. And through the project I learned how Estonia can contribute to Eindhoven and The Netherlands enhancing our digital agenda. In Eindhoven we started a marketing cooperation with Teleport to help us promote our city globally at high tech knowledge workers. So look at it as me giving back Dutch design and branding knowledge in return.
Why go public?
Yes I realize it is a weird situation. I understand the reservations and I respect that too. It is odd; a Dutchman living more than two thousand kilometres away creates a nation branding concept without a commission or even a briefing. I know it is hard to explain the work and dedication; I got inspired by Estonia and Estonians. But hey, if you want to be positively surprising this can happen! Nowadays Estonia is teaching the digital world a lesson and contributes with its startup mentality to policy makers globally.
Perceive my work then as a kind of compensation, proud of your country as a digital compatriot.
And why not start a new great project again in another Estonian / Dutch cooperation? Did you know that when Estonia won the Eurovision songfestival in 2001 it was successful teamwork between Estonian singer Tanel Padar and Dave Benton with 2XL. Dave is an Aruban born singer, which us part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands.
Jokes aside, creating and building a nation brand and implementing should be about great teamwork. And my goal is to make it really happen and that the -est concept is picked up and embraced by the Eesti decision makers. My role is therefor to light the spark in an unconventional way with the creation of the -est concept.
What is next?
For me the concept is ready. I think it can be of value to Estonia. creating and building a nation brand and implementing should be about great teamwork. And my goal is to make it really happen and that the -est concept is picked up and embraced by the Eesti decision makers. I think can be of value to Estonia. Your branding must stand out and represent distinctive values and benefits. The -est concept has captured this creatively and in a persuasive way. With the aim to add to the public discussion of positioning and branding Estonia. And of course I would love to discuss my -est concept with the Estonian policy makers, to make it come alive — literally.
You can mail me with reactions, suggestions, comments and rants to: preferably in English ;-) 

- PDF of presentation based on original Powerpoint concept.
- My online portfolio of previous creative work



* This –est concept is created in fall of 2014 and is time stamped by Benelux i-DEPOT which formally records the existence of ideas, concepts, designs prototypes and the like.

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