We’ve stopped what we are doing and creating your personalized BrandZ™ report, which will appear in your inbox soon.

Key Takeaways

1. Focus on family

As the first country to legalize gay marriage back in 2001, the Netherlands has long been at the vanguard of the changing definition of family. Taking changing family structures into account today isn’t only a matter of social policy, but also business sense: for instance, Dutch cooking ingredients brand Honig has adapted to variations in household structure by offering its meal kits in two- and eight-person size packages, in addition to the standard four. Another social trend with unmissable commercial implications is the rise of single-person households, which has quadrupled since 1971 and now stands at around 3 million. Far from living cloistered lives, single Dutch people are a visible, vital force in today’s society.

2. Cash-free is king

The Netherlands is one of the most cash-free countries in Europe, with cash transactions making up only 45 percent of retail purchases – a proportion that should only fall in coming years. This stands in stark contrast to the Netherlands’ neighbors in Germany, where cash still accounts for some 80 percent of retail transactions. According to the European Central Bank, Dutch people use contactless payments for one in ten retail transactions, the highest rate in Europe. Dutch banking brands are at the forefront of mobile payments technology in Europe; ABN AMRO has found success with its Tikkie app at home, while ING is a major investor in the Payconiq and Payvision platforms.

3. No-frills fanatics

Dutch shoppers love a budget bargain, but they don’t want to feel like they’re sacrificing quality: instead, they want to pay less and get more. One way to satisfy this brief is to emulate of retailers like HEMA and double down on intelligent, democratic design. Home goods store Action uses another successful strategy to stand out in the bargain space, constantly refreshing its product array of incredible deals so that each new visit feels different and exciting. Dutch grocer Jumbo, meanwhile, meanwhile, offers some of the lowest prices in the country, but always makes sure to to link these bargains to the brand’s quirky, principled, and distinctive “Seven Certainties” (one of which involves gifting free groceries to select lucky shoppers).  


4. Conscious eating is in

Modern Dutch society is one of the best places to be a healthy and ethical eater; according to Oxfam’s “Good Enough to Eat” report, it the best country for healthy eating, thanks to its low food prices and nutritional diversity. The next goal is to further increase plant consumption, especially in the protein space. In April 2018, the Dutch government’s Council for the Environment proposed targeting a national diet in which plants make up 60% of all protein consumption by 2030; official nutrition guidelines are similarly shifting toward plants. Retailers like Albert Heijn are investing in more vegan options for their takeaway and grocery offerings. Meanwhile, Dutch startup Mosa Meat leads the world in engineering lab-grown, “slaughter-free” meat products.

5. A return to active living

Although the Netherlands has long had a reputation for active and healthy living, the number of moderately and severely overweight people keeps rising. According to government statistics, 43 percent of the population today is overweight, and the population percentage of obese people has doubled since 1995. Brands that empower people to regain control of their health and exercise – without seeming like they want to profit off of people’s unhappiness – can win new fans and deepen existing relationships. And a brand doesn’t have to have an explicit “wellness” focus to play a role here; it’s enough to connect with themes of fun and action and movement, as well getting away from screens and spending time outdoors.

6. A diversifying society

While it’s still blessed with strong social bonds among citizens, the Netherlands is no longer as homogenous as it once was. In 1972, 9.5 percent of the Dutch population had one or more foreign parents; by 2016, government statistics show, that proportion had risen to one in five. Today there are people from 223 different countries living in the Netherlands, and while rising diversity can sometimes lead to social tensions, in many ways the country is doing better than most. The United Nation’s 2018 Global Happines Survey ranked the Netherlands 11th out of 117 countries surveyed for happiness of foreign-born people living in the country, placing it above peers like the UK (20th), Germany (28th), France (29th) and Italy (39th). The result of these population changes is greater diversity in spheres like cuisine, beauty, and entertainment – as well as a greater desire among many Dutch to seek out new tastes and experiences.

7. Golden years, golden opportunities

The Netherlands has an aging population: according to the most recent government statistics, the proportion of the Dutch population age 65 and up stood at 18.2 percent in 2016, up from 13.6 percent in 2000. But old age is hardly a time of dependence and diminshment for many Dutch people. Life expectancy continues to rise, and people are living independently for longer. People are seizing upon their later years as a time to try new hobbies, make new friends, and lead active and healthy lives. Nor does the perception that older people are technologically backwards hold water: in a recent government survey, 64 percent of Dutch respondents aged 65 to 74 said they had used social media in the prior three months, up from 24 percent five years before. As brands build out their ecommerce platforms and online campaigns, they would do well to keep mature audiences in mind, as they’re both financially flush and online savvy.

8. The spirit of travel is strong

Dutch holidaymakers are taking more and more trips abroad, with foreign holidays increasing by more than 50 percent in the past 25 years. Holidays by air have more than tripled over this same period. As the Dutch economy continues to perform, travel expenditures should only increase – with implications that extend far beyond the hospitality sphere. When people return from their trips, they’ll look to continue the spirit of newness, adventure, and freedom through their purchases at home, seeking out new products and experiences to satisfy their curiosity about the world.  

9. Walking the talk on altruism

There’s more pressure than ever on brands to contribute to the greater good, from sourcing organic food and textiles to reducing waste to improving labor conditions. In the Netherlands, this trend is rooted in a sense of genuine progressivism – people are proud that their country is seen as a leader in human rights, gender equality, and environmental protection. What’s more, people are committed to living out these principles in their daily lives. According to government statistics, half of the Dutch population aged 15 or older engages in volunteer work, offering plenty of opportunity for brands to work with ordinary people in making society a better place for all.

10. Renewed energy in the home

After a post-recession slump, the Dutch housing market is picking up, with high demand and at increasing number of home sales. At the same time, however, a tight supply of new homes is pushing up prices in both the ownership and rental spheres, causing pain for many. In the face of this crunch, brands can help people find new ways to balance comfort and independence with lower living costs (for example, finding ways to improve communal living and roommate arrangements, or supporting multigenerational households). For the concept of “home” retains a strong pull for Dutch people; for all there is talk of “Fear of Missing Out,” there are also new “Joys of Staying In,” as ecommerce, delivery platforms, telecommuting and streaming entertainment make it more possible than ever to conduct one’s life from the comfort of their couch.

11. Go deep with green

For many reasons – ranging from a longstanding love of biking to an intimate interest in rising sea levels – the Netherlands has long been a country invested in building a greener future. Environmentalism is a part of most people’s everyday lives, and people are comfortable with energy-saving lights and wind turbines. Notably, though, Dutch brands’ commitment to serving a higher environmental purpose extends beyond what’s visible to the eye.  In the banking sector, for instance, brands like SNS, ABN AMRO, and Rabobank have begun to define and implement “sustainable finance” guidelines, while Triodos and ASN are world leaders in the “green investing” field.  Shell, meanwhile, set up a New Energies business in 2016, and has led most of its industry in publicly discussing plans for a lower-carbon future.

12. Take care of people

In BAV Consulting’s annual Best Countries survey, the Netherlands is recognized as a leader in human rights and gender equality – a global reputation that’s enhanced by the international courts of the Hague, as well as the Dutch state’s pioneering commitments to LGBT rights. As a result, Dutch companies have extra credibility in pursuing certain types of brand purpose – those, for instance, that involve helping people to reach their full potential, or to overcome injustice. Recent examples include ASN Bank’s recent plan to encourage the garment companies it invests in to pay all workers a living wage, as well as the campaign by Tony’s Chocolonely to stamp out slavery in the cocoa industry. More generally, there is room for brands to tell stories about how they are supporting and empowering their own workforces (especially women employees) as part of efforts to create a more equitable Dutch society.

13.  Engage with the neighborhood

Although they don’t always get enough of it, community bonding is important to many Dutch people – which is partly why coffee brand Douwe Egberts has been able to grow its “Neighbor’s Day” celebration into a major national happening since 2006. Some 85 percent of Dutch people surveyed in government data report being satisfied by their neighborhoods. Levels of social trust (that is, how much people trust their neighbors) are fairly high, and people generally look out for each other: a recent study by an American magazine found that people in Amsterdam returned lost wallets to their owners 75 percent of the time, a higher rate than in most other global cities surveyed. That said, government surveys find that people with less education also have less social trust, and there is plenty of room for companies to incorporate neighborliness and community-building into their brands’ purpose.

14. Bring heritage forward

The challenge of how to craft modern, forward-looking identities for heritage brands – a topic that’s relevant to many storied Dutch companies – has been especially well-met in recent years by the Netherlands’ leading beer labels. Last year Heineken drew on its brand themes of energy and fun to introduce a non-alcoholic beer for the first time in its history. Its sister brand Amstel has similarly introduced radler and non-alcoholic varieties, and recently based its bottle redesign around a purpose-driven theme from Amstel’s 19th century origins – how the beer was founded by two friends and is “brewed in friendship.” Hertog Jan puts a forward-looking spin on its century-plus history of craft by introducing innovative, limited-edition “Grand Prestige” varieties each year. Bavaria, meanwhile, recently launched its first non-alcoholic beer nearly 300 years into its own brand history, and did so with a humorous ad starring Diego Maradona.

15.  Address the whole country

Although the Netherlands has a dense population, no one municipality in the country has a citizenry of over 1 million. Unlike in many European countries, there is no single “business capital,” population center, or cultural lodestar in the Netherlands. What this means is that brands cannot, for instance, capture an “urban audience” by only targeting some archetypal Amsterdam hipster. Instead, brands would do well to ensure that their planning encompasses the scope of what it means to live in the Netherlands today – from Eindhoven to Groningen, and not overlooking the country’s many small towns and rural areas.

16.  Navigate generational divides 

There are significant differences in advertising consumption preferences between so-called “younger” generations that brands should not gloss over. As previously mentioned, Kantar Millward Brown’s AdReaction Connecting Generations reveals that Generation Z, aged 16-19, is the hardest to prevent from skipping pure advertising, but the most receptive to branded content, especially if it’s in video form.  Generation X, meanwhile, which is aged between 35 and 55, is less likely to seek out or trust branded content, and sometimes reports feeling “tricked” and annoyed when they see a piece of content and later find out that it was created by a brand. Gen Y, meanwhile, generally falls somewhere in the middle: most notably, this group, aged 20-34, is less likely than Gen Z to skip or avoid advertising at all costs.


17. Embrace local themes

With a population that’s 70 percent English-speaking and numerous trade and transit links to the rest of the world, the Netherlands might seem like a prime candidate for importing communications campaigns and brand strategies from other major markets. But Dutch people are proud of going their own way – quite literally, in the case of their unique bike lane and “woonerf” living street systems.  And as one of the most economically healthy European countries, they’re in a position to reward brands that approach the Dutch market with strategies rooted in cultural insight and specificity.

18. Spread Happiness

Optimism in marketing communications isn’t just a way to associate brands with positive emotions; it’s also an accurate reflection of the general Dutch disposition. According to official government statistics, almost nine out of ten adults in the Netherlands say they are happy. A similar proportion say they are satisfied with life in general. In the United Nations’ 2018 World Happiness Report, the Netherlands ranks sixth out of 156 countries assessed for happiness. Among Dutch brands, the more joyful aspects of happiness are well-represented in messaging from beer brands, but there’s room for all Dutch companies to reflect more everyday manifestations of happiness: moods like contentment, security, satisfaction, and pride.

19. Export productivity and purpose

The world has positive perceptions of the Netherlands, Dutch people and Dutch brands, and this can be turned into a competitive advantage. Dutch people are known for their business friendliness, high ideals, fair-mindedness, and commitment to a healthy lifestyle (think of all those bike paths!), and these are all aspects that can be used to activate a brand in global consumers' minds. BAV Consulting’s annual “Best Countries” ranking puts the Netherlands at 10th place in the world, winning recognition for its entrepreneurship, quality of life, and sense of citizenship. The Netherlands is seen as a forward looking place that’s that's "open for business" and ideal for raising kids – a modern Dutch vision of the good life that goes well beyond those hoary clichés of windmills and clogs.

20. Think long-term

BrandZ™ research over more than a decade consistently shows that the brands that invest in communicating their strengths tend to ride out the ups and downs of economic cycles far more comfortably – and recover much faster – than those that don’t . Now is the right time to invest in building relationships with consumers, even for brands and products they can’t afford or can’t afford to prioritize at the moment. Levels of disposable income are rising, and the young people who might be unemployed or short  of cash right now won’t always be in this situation. Brands should foster familiarity and trust. They should plant the seeds of aspiration, and meet that aspiration with products and services that fulfill consumers’ needs as their lives change and their ability to spend increases, whether that’s for something as simple as shampoo and biscuits, or higher-end purchases like white goods, jewelry, or even cars and real estate. Talk to people now, and they’ll remember you when they can afford to buy.