Helsinki Marketing - A Transformation Process

Helsinki Marketing has given itself as a destination a new purpose, adding value to the citywide development, helping Helsinki to thrive and innovate.

The Helsinki Marketing team have been hard at work over the past years implementing a significant transformation process starting with the city brand, marketing strategy and overall focus of their city marketing

The Helsinki Marketing team have been hard at work over the past years implementing a significant transformation process starting with the city brand, marketing strategy and overall focus of their city marketing

The Helsinki Marketing team have been hard at work over the past years implementing a significant transformation process starting with the city brand, marketing strategy and overall focus of their city marketing. With competition growing among destinations, Helsinki as a city needed to set itself apart from the other Nordic capitals with a strategy which encompasses all aspects of the city's economy and focuses on strengthening the brand equity of its 'exports', which include talent, startups and of course tourism.

Their new strategy focuses on the impact that people can have on the whole society, especially those that live and work in Helsinki. Locals form a major part of their strategy, where they have crowdsourced ideas and tips working at different levels with citizens and the industry. The change in their 'tone of voice' has also been key to how they tell their story and show the uniqueness of Helsinki as 'a different kind' of Nordic capital. With such a wide and inclusive approach, the team from Helsinki Marketing shared with us some insights on their overall approach to create a compelling digital brand through the many different strands that reflect it but also how this fits in with the wider government strategy to democratise data and remain a world leader as an innovative place to live, visit and work.

Helsinki's approach is quite different from the one adopted by Copenhagen in their new strategy, looking at city marketing and strategy in a more holistic way, considering how the city needs to position, brand and develop itself to stay ahead of the competition and become the most attractive Nordic capital for people to live in, visit, work and do business.

We interviewed Tia Hallanoro, Vappu Mänty and Laura Aalto, respectively Marketing Communications Director, Marketing Director and CEO at Helsinki Marketing, to understand what this transformation meant for them and the organisation.

The Role of Helsinki Marketing

Helsinki Marketing is a marketing company owned by the City of Helsinki. The company’s former marketing name was Visit Helsinki before expanding its scope of operations and introducing Helsinki Marketing as the new name for the organisation in April 2017. Around 40 full-time employees work for Helsinki Marketing, turning over between 7-8 million Euros per annum. Wanting to stand out from the competition, Helsinki Marketing aims to show the city's excellence to the world. CEO Laura Aalto has been a key driver in transforming the organisation, enabling a shift from a tourism organisation to a city marketing organisation.

While this change might not seem significant, it reflects the city's ambition to stand out in the international competition. To make this a reality, Helsinki Marketing needed to reinvent and transform its strategy and the overall role the tourist board was playing by developing and introducing a new brand concept and marketing strategy. Looking at key trends, Helsinki Marketing aims to generate value for Helsinki, its stakeholders and communities. This reflects the new role that Helsinki Marketing is taking up, looking at city marketing in a more holistic way, ensuring it is positioning the city competitively to attract new business, investments, students and citizens contributing to the overall city development and growth.

Marketing & Communication Approach

Helsinki's new marketing and communication approach is based on the understanding that locals and visitors have the same needs and are interested in finding out how they can enrich their experience within the city. The foundation of Helsinki's marketing strategy is therefore built on local recommendations, showcasing an authentic representation of the locals and the city through their new website 'MyHelsinki'. Helsinki's transformation required the marketing and communications team to change their thinking from 'content orientated' towards an 'IT development unit', developing solutions in an agile way.

"We learned to be progressive as a team and will continue this in the future" - Tia Hallanoro, Marketing Communications Director

Helsinki Marketing adjusted their organisational structures and processes to enable teams to work in a more agile way. By organising a collaborative process and retrospective meetings, the DMO ensured their marketing and communications stay on track. This also helps the organisation to work on agile development, empowering everyone to adopt a startup mentality which means everyone has to be able to do everything.

The cornerstones of Helsinki's brand and marketing strategy are:

  • Strong local voice. Everything is based on locals' preferences and suggestions
  • 'Edginess' and fascinating contrasts. The destination adopted an 'edgy' way of communicating, similar to an underdog’s brand position.
  • Strong focus on storytelling. Especially present throughout the MyHelsinki website.
  • Make others tell your story. This translates into growing investment on PR and social media influencer work, such as the Helsinki Secret Residence and brands from Helsinki which are strongly committed to communicating Helsinki as part of their own marketing communications.
  • Ongoing Digital Development.

To support Helsinki Marketing in the process of curating local recommendations, the organisation had to build structures that enable them to aggregate local tips based on the current team resources. Helsinki Marketing's approach focuses on working with ten Helsinki curators that write regular content to be featured on MyHelsinki. Constant interaction with local communities is essential to ensure MyHelsinki's content is in line with what is happening and trending in Helsinki. With local recommendations being the backbone of their website, Helsinki Marketing aims to position Helsinki and its brand in a strong and unique way in the competitive market.

"As Visit Helsinki, people just thought this is not for me, this is only for tourists. Shifting this mindset for locals is what we are working on with partners." - Tia Hallanoro, Marketing Communications Director

Helsinki Marketing is continuously testing and iterating the website in an ongoing process aimed to always improve. Not 'being afraid' of the website evolving over time, applying service design and circular design in the way in which the website content and overall marketing and communications approach are transformed is another aspect that is quite interesting.


From an organisational point of view, Helsinki Marketing has also introduced new tools such as Slack to ensure the teams are part of an ongoing conversation. Using the Kanban methodology, Helsinki Marketing checks in on progress made at the end of every week, ensuring the team works towards achieving its goals. For Helsinki Marketing, the change in the workflow was necessary to transform not only their strategic role, marketing and brand focus but also the way in which the organisation delivers on the ambitious goals set with their 2020 vision.

Brand, Technology, Entrepreneurship

Helsinki Marketing works closely with brands and partners to ensure that the city is attracting talent and fitting businesses that are leading the way in their industry. One example of a brand that Helsinki Marketing collaborate closely with is Slush, the biggest global tech event, gathering 17,000 people in the city. Slush as an event has global recognition, bringing together investors, startups, businesses and great speakers. This collaboration is particularly interesting as it is a common mindset in both organisations wanting to bring people together to solve common problems through technology. This applies not just to the tourism sector but is something that Helsinki Marketing is actively driving in view of making everyday life better for everyone in the city.

"The idea is to celebrate entrepreneurship, creating a technology experience that people can feel around the city" - Vappu Mänty, Marketing Director

From a strategic B2B perspective, Helsinki Marketing's brand aims to build a smart city through technology. The organisation follows a purpose-driven, problem-solving approach when tackling the biggest challenges for Helsinki. What is interesting for a tourism organisation is the link between the destination brand, and its goal to actively foster entrepreneurship supported through technology. Helsinki has always had a close connection with technology through the influence of Nokia and is now actively positioning the city as a great seeding ground for innovation and making things happen.

"We have always been purpose and solution-driven people wanting to find practical solutions for our problems." - Vappu Mänty, Marketing Director

Helsinki's goal to be a smart and functional city also meant a transformation in thinking differently about attracting business to the city. Helsinki Marketing does play a significant role in this, communicating how the city stands out for co-creation, user-inspired design and the use of open data. It is important for the tourist board to bridge the communication gap in explaining clearly why the city is a great place to work, live and do business in. Infrastructure, city development and growth opportunities are all equally important pillars for city marketing to build on. However, Helsinki Marketing is still working on the positioning of the city as the 'Nordic's best-kept secret' when it comes to being a capital with a tech, innovation and development twist.

Strategy & Transformation

Helsinki's appointed CEO Laura Aalto is the key driver of the city's transformation, previously heading up the organisation's development. What started with a new brand, name change and commitment to work on an ongoing digital transformation, Helsinki Marketing are now eager to question the status quo. Bringing experiences from various industries, Helsinki Marketing wants to continue cross-sector collaboration to ensure the city is interacting with other industries on an ongoing basis. This collaboration and open-mindedness towards what is happening in other industries will help the city to keep innovating and think outside the box. For Helsinki Marketing as an organisation, it was also important to ensure that everyone adopts a future-orientated mindset.

Helsinki as a city has a long history of introducing open data to enable more transparency and collaboration to drive innovation in the city and beyond. While the city had previously operated in a fragmented way when it comes to overall operations and marketing, by unifying intents and approaches the city has now managed to become more competitive and attractive. Helsinki had various brands in the past but is now streamlining one brand and story to unify its communication, marketing and branding efforts. Instead of developing platforms and solutions in silos, Helsinki Marketing has made a big shift to work in a user-orientated way. The same applies to its open data and collaboration approach, encouraging participation by various partners, businesses, industries and sectors, realising that working together means a positive impact and a step towards its end goal.

"Helsinki's transformation is also visible in the city development. Helsinki Marketing as a DMO is doing things differently now" - Laura Aalto, CEO

Helsinki's new brand manual reflects a new mindset that everyone in the organisation is adopting. This will support the DMO in growing the city sustainably, ensuring that the role that the tourist board itself plays in this process is adding value and in line with the overall direction that the city is taking.

helsinki brand

Thinking big and doing things in an unconventional way for a destination is certainly paying off for Helsinki Marketing and the city's overall positioning and attractiveness. While Helsinki as a city was lagging behind when it came to tourism growth, development and overall competitiveness, it is now clearly on track and has seen good results in terms of increasing business in the city and boosting tourist arrivals. Of course, numbers are not everything when it comes to measuring success, but definitely help demonstrate that Helsinki's proactive way in transforming the entire city in a unified way is working.

"We must stand out as a city - this was an important mindset to start Helsinki's digital transformation" - Laura Aalto, CEO


Helsinki Marketing has done an excellent job in transforming the city when it comes to its brand, marketing and digital strategy. By redefining the role of the DMO, they can now operate with a clearly defined purpose. This will help them not only to innovate but also boost the overall city development and growth. Helsinki as a city has managed to set itself apart from other Nordic Capitals with a strategy that is unified, people-oriented, and positions the city as a 'different' place to visit.

Helsinki Marketing has given itself as a destination a new purpose, adding value to the citywide development, helping Helsinki to thrive, innovate and compete globally.

Key Takeaways

Published on:
November 2020
About the contributor

Become a certified Sustainability Advocate

Created for destinations around the world, this programme will provide the insight to help you become a sustainability leader within your organisation.

Join the next cohort

Become a Certified Design Thinker

Designed to teach you how to master must-have tools and acquire essential skills to succeed in managing your destination or organisation, be ready to challenge all of your assumptions.

Join the next cohort

Become a Certified AI Leader

Designed to teach you how to master must-have tools and acquire essential skills to succeed in managing your destination or organisation, be ready to challenge all of your assumptions.

Join the next cohort