Thursday, August 22, 2013
How Israel has Rebranded Amid a Volatile Geopolitical Backdrop
Israel has more than 100 embassies and diplomatic missionaries worldwide, and Ido Aharoni is head of its largest one. As consul general of Israel in New York since 2010, Mr. Aharoni's job is to cultivate ties on a grassroots level and open America's eyes to Israel's culture and industries. He oversees seven departments in the consulate, which was the first office in the world to hold a press conference on Twitter.
Mr. Aharoni launched "Brand Israel" in 2005 when he was serving as consul for media and public affairs at the IsraelConsulate in New York. The campaign is meant to "rebrand" Israel, emphasizing its relevance and modernity. Mr. Aharoni, who joined the Israel foreign service in 1991, calls his specialty "country positioning." In short, he's worked to define what makes Israel attractive for tourism, foreign investment and export, and then used those advantages to promote his country to relevant audiences.
At Ad Age's CMO Strategy Summit in San Francisco on Oct. 16, Mr. Aharoni will share how he's worked to define Israel's brand and discuss how he deals with the obstacles Israel faces, given its difficult geopolitical situation.
Ad Age: What do you hope to achieve as consul general?
Mr. Aharoni: On a philosophical level, the goal of a consul general is to impart his country's message in a reliable and authentic manner and to be able to cultivate relationships and ties with people of influence. This is the mission statement of a consulate: to build bridges, build relationships. It's a new approach. In the past, not so long ago, 20 years ago, the conventional wisdom was, all over the world, that the purpose of diplomacy was to advocate; in other words, to debate. It came from a long European tradition of debating. And the tradition of debate made its way to the core practice of diplomacy, but that's changing. Diplomacy is changing in front of our eyes. And the role of a diplomat nowadays is not to win debates, but rather to build relationships.
Practically, we have no fewer than seven different departments. Each is covering a different aspect of the community. Public affairs produces events, exhibits, ceremonies and conferences. Their job is to come up with strategies to promote certain sectors in Israeli economy and to oversee our entire social networking apparatus. We're very active on Facebook and Twitter. We were, in fact, the first office in the world to hold a press conference on Twitter.
We introduced the concept of micro-marketing to governments as early as 2004. We were the first government to take bloggers seriously, to bring them in groups to Israel as early as 2004. …And today, we look at the blogosphere, and it's extremely friendly for Israel. The work that we do is groundbreaking for governments. People from private companies, perhaps, do things that are more brazen or innovative, but for governments to do those kinds of things is rather unusual.
Ad Age: How do you deal with the misconceptions surrounding Israel?
Mr. Aharoni: There is, at the end of the day, a reality which one cannot and should not ignore. We are in the midst of original conflict. Today the conflict, by the way, doesn't have a lot to do with us. But the most effective way to deal with the unhappy situation is by simply not ignoring it -- and not only not ignoring it but embracing it. So, strategically, you want to come up with a strategy that is reliable and authentic and that is able to correspond well with the geopolitics of your region.
So, in our case, the strategy that we chose was to celebrate Israel as a bastion of creativity, inspiration and innovation. It corresponds well with the need to defend yourself, because necessity is the mother of all invention. So, in our case, you ask me how do you cope with the situation that Israel is still producing a lot of bad news? You simply keep on emphasizing and highlighting your competitive edge, because that includes the geopolitical situation in it.
Ad Age: How is country positioning helping Israel make a name for itself?
Mr. Aharoni: Country positioning is mistakenly referred to sometimes as "nation branding." Country positioning is what you do in order to improve the positioning of your place, of your country, as opposed to your competition. It requires two things. It requires a definition or an exploration of your own relative advantage. What makes you unique or better than your competitor? So, if you're Brazil, what's your competitive edge as a country?
Once you've figured it out, then the actual, practical ramifications are to devise a plan to effectively communicate that very competitive edge, that very relative advantage, to relevant audiences. Technology today is allowing us as governments to engage in niche conversations. In each conversation, you actually make a little contribution to the improvement of your overall positioning. So, for example, Israel engaged in a very productive conversation with the gay and lesbian community in Europe and the United States. You see the results are immediate. You see that in the number of gay tourists that are coming to Israel -- it went up immediately.
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