Branding Samsø – Does it Matter?

How much does branding matter in attracting new residents to an island like Samsø?

Well, in my own personal experience the answer is: It matters!

Admittedly, when I learned about the job as a PR and communication manager at Samsø Tourist and Business Center I was initially a bit reluctant about making the move from the big city to a small rural community. But the fact that Samsø has successfully been branding itself as a renewable energy island and received an impressively  exposure – even internationally – definitely influenced my decision to apply for the job.

The image of Samsø as a progressive and visionary community in contrast to the typical negative conception of rural communities being dark spots on the map frozen in time was crucial in convincing me to make the move.

Based on this however subjective experience my conclusion is that branding alone might not be the answer to revitalizing rural communities by attracting new residents, but it must be a vital part of the strategy.

Rural challenges of attracting new residents

While the storm out side is almost tearing my little house apart – and believe me there’s a good reason why Samsø is big on wind energy – I am wondering about the challenges of attracting more residents to Samsø.

Samsø definitely has a lot to offer: Sense of community, nature, cozy little villages, a perfect environment for children, friendly people, fresh products and cheap houses – you can by a family house for half the prize of a similar house in the big city areas!

But of course the lack of job opportunities is the prime obstacle in attracting new residents or prevent them from leaving again. Like in any other rural district the question of how to create and sustain jobs as well as creating an attractive environment for new businesses to establish themselves is crucial. In addition being an island and surrounded by water Samsø has specific infrastructural disadvantages.

A a new observer in this field I am still only trying to watch and learn and obviously I don’t have qualified answers on how to deal with those challenges yet.

Samsø – a playground for entrepreneurs

In my short time staying at Samsø I have already met some amazing personalities. People who have dared to pursue their dreams and break out of the humdrum of their past life by starting over on this small island.

Lazy, backwards and complaining…
Recently I stumbled over yet another debate on what to do about the outflow of residents from the rural areas, the downsizing of businesses and the rise of ghost towns as a consequence of this. The image of residents living in rural areas as depicted by some of the debaters was extremely negative: Lazy and backwards-thinking people who do nothing but complain and expects to passively receive support from the rest of society.

People with guts, courage and passion
Actually I couldn’t help smiling when confronted with this ignorance. They seem to have got it all wrong. On the contrary I find that people living in a place like Samsø have a rare kind of guts, courage and passion that makes them stick to what they believe in: That Samsø is a fantastic place to live, that the benefits of Samsø exceed its shortcomings and that the vitality and future of Samsø is worth fighting for.

Dogme style business
It is no surprise that one finds many people with a great deal of entrepreneurship and innovative spirit on an island like Samsø. The shortage of jobs forces, in a somewhat positive sense, people to invent their own jobs and start up micro businesses. Of course the structural and demographic realities of being on an island are major challenges. But on the other hand I imagine that exactly those challenge and the limitations connected with them can be turned into a creative force for thinking out of the box – almost like what the Dogme concept did for Danish film makers.

A greenhouse for growing business ideas
To put it short: As a newcomer the entrepreneurial spirit and the number of people with creative ideas and a strong determination strikes me. It fosters a unique and inspiring greenhouse for growing business ideas. Consequently, this is a valuable asset to Samsø which should be actively used as an important ‘reason to go’ in the efforts to attract new residents to Samsø.