In our latest podcast episode, Florian Marcus talks to communication expert Daniel Vaarik who served as the consultant for the famous Estonian e-Residency programme from its very inception. He was also hired to conceptualise Estonia’s messaging and namely also how we talk about e-governance.
Vaarik likens the e-Residency, one of the country´s branding tools, as an instrument of soft power. “You like this country so much that you become a resident, later you see how practical it is,” he comments.
He admits that back then, in 2014, he did not know how to solve the task at hand – how to conceptualise e-Estonia’s messaging. “I thought I would go to people worldwide who have some influence and have an in-depth interview. I will pose several hypotheses about Estonia to them and see how they react.
Interviewing the father of the internet
In total, Vaarik approached circa 35 people – there were movie directors, venture capitalists, thinkers, philosophers, etc. Name-dropping-wise – Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the internet, Ben Horowitz, a famous venture capitalist, the famous chess champion Garry Kasparov, etc.
“I just tried to probe them about Estonia. And that led to some research, but it convinced me that a small country could have some kind of fame impact and be a little bit of a pathfinder,” Vaarik remembers.
Where s*** happens first
One of the key messages was that Estonia is a place where stuff happens first when we talk about digital things. “And it was true at that time; you could see a long line of digital firsts,” says Vaarik and adds. “And actually, it was also said that Estonia is a place where shit happens first. But then, it was kind of challenging to use it everywhere in this formation. I think this came from a UK businessman we interviewed – Conrad Wolfram.”
A fairytale land with digital honey and chocolate rivers
Daniel Vaarik reveals that he also saw that Estonia is not the first in very many things during his research. “In the digital domain, it’s very natural, but every country has its strengths and weaknesses. And therefore, we see various kinds of dangers, but we tend to overthink this, become self-aware, and start over-branding it. We concluded that we’re the best in the world in everything digital, but that would be delusional if you look at it only that way. And so we came up with this negative concept, which is in our near but fairytale land with digital solutions that solve everything.”
If you want to hear more about what Daniel Vaarik had to say:
- about Estonia´s country branding;
- what did the father of the internet Tim Berners-Lee, propose for Estonia to have in place due to its high level of digitalisation;
- why other countries should learn from how Estonia has dealt with its ID-card cyber incidents;
- how Barack Obama said he should have asked Estonians how to do it when his healthcare.gov online project failed;
- …and much, much more…
🎧Available on Apple Podcast and Spotify:
communications manager for digital services at the e-estonia briefing centre