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Drive to turn markets on to the glossy Finnish

BY ANY reckoning, Finland suffers from an identity crisis. Research in Britain on behalf of the Finland Trade Centre showed 59 per cent of respondents were unable to identify any Finnish products (apart from Santa Claus). And 13 per cent could cite only forestry.

What makes the result significant is that Finland has more than pounds 2.5bn of trade with the UK each year.

By comparison with its Scandinavian neighbours, Finland was seen as cold, bleak and depressing, with an economy based almost entirely on small, traditional cottage industries.

Sweden, on the other hand, was seen as hi-tech, stylish, sophisticated and design-led.

None of those surveyed realised that top-of-the-range Saab cabriolets are manufactured in Finland, not Sweden; or that the Nokia Group, which is, among other things, the world's second largest mobile telephone manufacturer, is Finnish and not Japanese.

Other brands unrecognised included Finlandia, the world's No 2 duty-free vodka, and Fiskars, the world's largest maker of scissors, with about 20 per cent of the UK market.

The facts are that Finland enjoys the second-highest standard of living in Europe and is home to some of the most advanced technology available. For example, Finlux, the award-winning consumer electronics company, put the world's first Nicam stereo television into serial production in 1988. And the products of Abloy Security, ranging from padlocks to state-of-the-art computerised access systems, are sold in more than 60 countries.

Forestry is still a key source of income. Finnboard is the world's biggest exporter of folding boxboard.

The lack of awareness about Finland's success is especially dangerous at a time when the collapse of the Soviet Union has deprived it of a principal trading partner. It hopes to put the situation right with the launch of 'Exclusively Finland', a brand-led marketing campaign which is the brainchild of Magnus Johanson, trade commissioner to the UK.

'The results of the survey came as no surprise. After all, most of our consumer products have only been marketed in Europe over the last 10 to 15 years,' he said. 'But the trading scene has changed so dramatically now that we have to raise our profile to compete.'

So how do you go about marketing a nation? The strategy he has chosen is to push the products, rather than Finland itself. 'In a pan-European marketing environment, the country of origin is not that important, as long as consumers recognise the brands.

'The 'Made in Finland' tag is more relevant when we're talking to distributors, because it's important they realise that these products come from a country with high technical skills and sophisticated plant.'

The Finns are enthusiastic about EC membership, which is hardly surprising since exports have dropped by 25 per cent since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Consequently, Finland is enduring its first recession since the Second World War.

'It is the biggest problem we have ever had. Some industries, such as footwear and textiles, have been virtually destroyed,' said Perrti Salonainen, the foreign trade minister. 'To stay outside Europe would be unthinkable.'

In trying to rebuild the economy, the challenge for Finnish companies is the need to adjust to what Mr Salonainen calls 'the four freedoms' - the unrestricted movement of goods, capital, services and people.

(Photograph omitted)