Thursday, August 21, 2008

From The NBN JBlogging Conference: Marketing Israel

For me the most interesting speaker at the Nefesh B'Nefesh First International Jewish Bloggers Conference was Zavi Apfelbaum. She is Director of Brand Management, Foreign Ministry and spoke on: Branding Israel - From Vision to Reality.

She spoke on the idea of Nation Branding or Country Positioning, which is the new approach that Israel is taking in presenting herself to the world. This represents a departure from the traditional Hasbarah approach, which assumes that Israel's image problem is due to a lack of knowledge--that our goal is political support. (As a side note, this is also a departure from the approach that Israel needs half-naked Israeli women models appearing in Maxim.)

To illustrate how the world sees Israel today, Apfelbaum showed a short clip of a focus group study. Small groups of Americans sitting around a table were asked to imagine stopping by various homes, each one inhabited by a family of a different country, and described what they imagined they would see and experience. In each case, the participants decribed a pleasurable experience--all, except in the case of Israel.

When describing walking to and entering an Israeli home, participants described a home dominated by cement without a grass lawn. As opposed to all the other homes, in this one the man of the house answers the door--the woman of the home is not even seen. One participant said that it would be uncomfortable to enter, because the home would be 'Orthodox' and the people living there would probably not even want guests. In essence, many of the participants identified Israel with Saudi Arabia. It reminds me of when I was at Disney World--in the "It's A Small World" exhibit, Israel was represented by a chassid.

The key point is that here were intelligent Americans, Americans who tend to support Israel--yet they had no clue as to what Israel and Israelis are like. The fact that Americans support Israel is not because they actually understand or identify with her.

Pressed for time, she finished off with an outline of 3 basic Israeli qualities, about which there is going to be testing to see which resonates most with people: Passion, Ingenuity, and Fusion. She discussed the creation of a 'book' that would outline the key quality and its implemention and implied that bloggers would be helpful, each in their own way, by touching on the key quality in their blogs.

The marketing approach would be done on the community level as well, according to an article about a meeting with Jewish community leaders in Toronto:
A two-day “brainstorming” meeting was held last week in Toronto to discuss ways of implementing the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s “Brand Israel” program, which will focus on a “more creative, eclectic and yet more accurate picture of Israel,” said Ido Aharoni, founder of the ministry’s Brand Israel concept.

Toronto is one of eight markets, including Tokyo and London, selected for the pilot program, he said.

Aharoni was in Toronto last week for the meetings with representatives of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canada-Israel Committee, Hillel and Hadassah-WIZO, as well as marketing and public relations specialists with ties to the Jewish community.

Aharoni said the ministry has conducted market research over the past few years that showed “Israel is viewed solely through the narrow prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict… Israel’s personality is 90 per cent dominated by conflict-related images and some religious connotations,” he said. “Those of us who know the brand intimately are disturbed by the divergence of brand and the perception.”

...aspects of Israel are worthy of promotion, including its culture and arts; its accomplishments on environmental matters such as water desalination, solar energy and clean technology; its high-tech successes and achievements in higher education; and its involvement in international aid, he added.

Getting Canadians – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to see Israel in that light is part of the branding effort. Not only would that change Israel’s image, it could lead to more tourism and investment, educational exchanges and other benefits, Aharoni said.

...Aharoni said the pilot program will likely be launched in the next year or so. He said the branding process is a long-term strategy – it could take decades to change Israel’s “persona” – and will include several aspects. It could involve sponsoring a film festival, supporting cultural and sport exchanges, or junkets to Israel for Canadian opinion-makers. Once a brand is built, it becomes entrenched in the public’s mind.

It's going to be a lot of work.

Crossposted at Soccer Dad

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