Countries must initiate a different conversation

Every brand has a DNA and every place has a personality.

Every brand has a DNA and every place has a personality. Just like a human. In some cases, such as Paris (romance), the brand identity evolved organically. In other locales, such as New York City (Big Apple), the DNA was carefully engineered by professionals and political and civic leaders.

In recent years, we have heard often about overlapping new emerging fields: nation branding, place branding, destination branding, public diplomacy, and others. Essentially, all of the above stem from the same source: the need of a place to effectively communicate its own relative advantage.

Places see themselves as brands, too. They often communicate to the world through a number of traditional channels: media coverage, foreign and domestic policy, history and heritage, and human diversity. However, with a decentralized Internet and the radical fragmentation of new media, places can now successfully identify and segment their target audiences and then engage in a meaningful conversation with them.

This conversation must never be self-congratulatory, but rather beneficial - and relevant - to both sides. In real estate, it's all about location. In place positioning, it's all about relevance. The inquisitive nature of cyberspace necessitates the deployment of third-party endorsement to enhance authenticity and increase reliability.

In the last decade, Israel conducted a series of comprehensive global studies to identify the core meaning of its personality as a brand. Research revealed that in areas with a relatively high degree of awareness to international affairs, such as North America and Europe, Israel is associated almost completely with the region's geo-political circumstances (i.e., Israel's dispute with its neighbors). In parts of the world with less awareness of the Middle East's unique circumstances, Israel is associated with creativity and innovation.

Indeed, Israel faces tremendous challenges and is engaged in various crisis management efforts, but there is much more to the country than just its political predicament.

We concluded that in today's competitive environment, it is no less important for Israel to be attractive than to be right. And indeed, Israel is attractive. For many years, little was done institutionally to communicate those assets to the world. However, its government began on a new path several years ago. Along with the "crisis of the day," a series of significant niche conversations around its competitive edge would be facilitated.

We highlighted a wide range of areas, from Israel's booming film industry to its unique architecture, which all have the potential to become terrific conversation topics about it.

We have seen the fruits of this labor in the growing number of visiting tourists, Claire Danes among them. During her appearance on Conan O'Brien's show last December, Danes, who was in Israel to shoot the pilot for her Showtime series Homeland, said, "The big surprise was that Tel Aviv was the most intense party town I have ever been to."

The key is not just to identify your competitive edge, but also to build genuine relationships with your target audience. It's not about what you say, but rather what they hear. It's not about winning a debate, but about building meaningful relationships with relevant people - relevance being the operative word.

To give your place a compelling persona, to make it stand out, you must celebrate the values that are of interest to the world. The task of every government is twofold. One, identify your competitive edge. Second, find the most effective way to communicate it.

Far from creating a perception of change, a place's marketing efforts hinge on actual quality and continuous improvement of its performance. A place can never stop working to improve its global positioning, which is why place positioning is not really a campaign, but rather a never-ending process.

Over the past few years, Israel's brand has evolved to the point where that initial image, its persona, is no longer just defined by geo-politics, but brings into account its ever-dynamic creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Through a pioneering micromarketing endeavor, Israel as a brand is now many different things to many different groups - from being a world leader on desert agriculture to an active LGBT regional hub. Above all, Israel has made real progress in broadening the conversation.

Ido Aharoni has been Israel's Consul General in New York since February 2011. Previously, he was head of Israel's brand management team.

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