In the Supermarket of Nations, Israel Needs Better Branding

By Joanna Landau

Imagine you’re walking into a supermarket. But in this store, you are not here to pick out bread or toothpaste – you are shopping for a country.

Once we are able to safely travel again, will you choose to vacation in Thailand or Iceland? When you buy your next car, will it be German or Japanese? When you invest in a startup, will you look for one based in Silicon Valley or Singapore?

Welcome to the Supermarket of Nations, where countries compete for the attention of various audiences: investors, consumers, tourists, students, etc. Just like in the commercial world, countries that manage their brand strategically stand out more on the “supermarket” shelf. Countries that neglect to properly invest in branding and marketing their offering to their target markets lose out in comparison, no matter how good their “product” may be.

So – how do you brand a country? Like Coca-Cola, Apple or Amazon, a country has to embark on a data-driven process to define its unique selling proposition. What is it offering investors, buyers and tourists that is differentiated from what other countries offer? Then, the nation branding team must develop marketing narratives that express the country’s unique selling proposition and implement a strategic work plan comprised of a variety of actions, activities and policies aimed at creating positive awareness. The ultimate goal, as always, is to drive sales. For a country, “sales” come in the form of tourism dollars, foreign direct investment, international trade of products made in the country, and so on.

Recently, Vibe Israel, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing Israel’s global reputation, published the results of a survey of 3,000 businesspeople worldwide who were asked about their perceptions of Israel. Despite Israel’s current positioning still being strong and resilient, the results of the survey exposed some worrying trends for the long run:

  • Online searches for terms relating to technology when it comes to Israel are stagnant at a growth rate of 1% since 2016, whereas the same terms combined with the names of other countries (U.S, U.K, Finland, Estonia, South Korea and Singapore), show an average growth of 21% in the last four years.
  • Only 16% of respondents correctly attributed Waze, Mobileye and Check Point to be Israeli brands, whereas most respondents were easily able to match tech brands made in other places to their correct countries of origin.
  • When asked if they would pay more or less for a tech product that is Israeli compared to that of competing countries, on average they would pay 0.3% less for an Israeli product. In other words, Israel’s current economic brand does not add financial value.
  • When asked “what does Israel do best?”, less than 1% answered “start-ups”. For the country that literally owns the term “Start-Up Nation,” this should serve as a wakeup call to revisit its marketing message, which is over ten years old.

Country branding is a necessary endeavor for any country – like Israel – that is dependent upon foreign direct investment and international trade. This is why in the last two decades, many countries have established country branding agencies dedicated to improving perceptions of their nation: New Zealand Story, e-Estonia, The Swedish Institute, and This is Finland, to name a few.

Israel’s competitors are already way ahead of it in the country branding and marketing game. As we face an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions due to the pandemic, it is critical that Israel adopt the same approach and establish a country brand agency of its own. For the Jewish state, it is even more important, as this agency will also play a role in countering anti-Israel sentiment and fighting anti-Semitism.

According to the premier place branding agency that is working with Vibe Israel on this project, Bloom Consulting, this agency will be most effective if it is private sector led and government enabled, with funding from three sources with skin in the game: philanthropists across the globe who care for Israel and wish to take part in shaping its future; Israeli businesses that recognize the benefit a strong country brand can have on their business; and, of course, the government of Israel.

In 2020, “Israel” is still an attractive “product” on the innovation and technology shelf of the Supermarket of Nations. In order to maintain this competitive advantage – which the research already shows is being eroded – we must join forces: philanthropy, businesses and the government – and create this agency today. After all, if we don’t define Israel’s brand ourselves, others will gladly do it for us.

Joanna Landau is the founder and CEO of Vibe Israel.