Places are like people; they have a personality. When you hear the name of a place – an image, concept or value pops into your mind: Paris is oozing romance, Las Vegas is all about sin, and Brazil evokes a feeling of fun.
It’s hard to change a reputation developed over decades, let alone centuries. But that’s exactly what some nations are doing now as the world gauges their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With narratives being rewritten at an unprecedented pace, one country in particular – Israel – would do well to leverage its success fighting COVID-19 into strengthening its reputation on the global stage. It seems that there has never been a time that has highlighted so dramatically the difference between the national character of countries as much as the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It began with the admirable leadership of New Zealand and compliance of its citizens, not only flattening but crushing the curve, and the impressive containment strategy deployed by Taiwan to protect its citizens from the pandemic – all well before most countries began to pay serious attention to the virus. As the weeks went on and the horrific effects of the virus became clear, we sang together with the Italians on balconies, clapped politely and respectfully with the Brits as they applauded their NHS workers, and watched with concern how the Swedes were experimenting with the notion of herd immunity.
The pandemic, for all its devastating effects, has also unexpectedly reconnected people with the values of their home, community and country, and allowed the global community to rediscover these attributes in each other.
Smart countries are recognizing the impact the pandemic has had on their national reputation and have been quick to leverage this boost in appreciation: The NZ Story Group, for example, a government initiative working to enhance New Zealand’s international reputation beyond natural beauty, recently relaunched their FernMark campaign to increase awareness and appreciation for made-in-New Zealand products: “With consumer trust in New Zealand riding high around the world, there’s never been a better time to carry the FernMark Licence logo on your brand or products,” says their website, which is aimed at encouraging New Zealand businesses to capitalize on the unprecedented goodwill their country is now enjoying.
Israel is another country that can, and should, do the same. Israel is currently leading the global vaccination drive and is poised to become the first country to vaccinate all of its citizens. In so doing, it is sharing the statistical data from its well-organized and digitized health records with Pfizer and the World Health Organization, for the benefit of mankind. The world is looking towards Israel for inspiration and advice, with the Chancellor of Austria and the prime minister of Denmark coming to Israel personally recently to learn in person from Israel’s success.
But what Israel has to offer the world in the post-COVID-19 era goes well beyond the vaccination drive: we are global leaders in cyber security and digital health and other relevant technologies, and while venture capital investors and business decision makers in the tech sector are aware of this, it remains a best kept secret for wider audiences. Research conducted by Vibe Israel in 2020 amongst 3,000 businesspeople in 10 countries indicated that while we are known for our technological prowess, other countries are just as appreciated as Israel as “start-up nations,” and only 1% of respondents answered “start-ups” in response to the question: “What is Israel best at?”
Respondents also indicated they would pay 0.3% less for an Israeli tech product than for that of our competitors. This indicates a clear lack of awareness for the value of “Made-in-Israel” tech products.
The pandemic offers us a window-of-opportunity that will close soon to shine a light on what Israel truly is best at, since it correlates so perfectly with the needs that have arisen as a result of COVID-19. This requires an immediate injection of capital and strategic thinking in a burst of marketing efforts for the country that leverages the vaccination drive success to a broader story.
Jeff Bezos said “your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.” It seems that the pandemic, as heartbreaking and devastating as it is, also offers countries the opportunity to strategically manage their brand and engage with the rest of the world, let people know what they stand for, and yes, dramatically improve how people talk about them (since they are almost always not “in the room”). Taking advantage of this unique occurrence is not opportunistic, it is common sense, and Israel should do so now to reap rewards for years to come.
An expert in country branding, the writer is the founder and CEO of Vibe Israel, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing Israel’s global reputation