A nation’s identity – its brand – is created by everything it says and does. The products it makes, buys and sells, the decisions made within its borders, and its response to international circumstance all have a dramatic impact. A nation’s brand image, at any given moment, sends signals as to its personality, its capabilities and its positioning within an ever-growing and expanding global market place.
It leaves an impression in our minds which contributes to building a framework for choice, the development of ideas and shapes our perception, good or bad. Economic, foreign and social policy, humanitarian aid or lack thereof, trade partners, wartime actions and inaction, all contribute to building a nation’s brand. A nation’s actions, response and its symbols all contribute to creating its brand identity.
A Qantas jet landing on a Parisian airstrip is as much a symbolic representation of the Australian national brand as an Australian actor thanking the audience for her Academy award – or an Australian athlete winning gold at the Olympic games. All symbols of the Australian brand image. Everything communicates. Which leaves us to pose a somewhat poignant question – what of “Brand Greece”? In today’s globalized economy, nations increasingly compete for global attention, the investment dollar, tourism, talent, knowledge, funding and events.
In an economic and cultural landscape where consumer focus is leaning towards an information / attention economy, the competition is no longer the nation next door, but the world as a whole exists as a competitive landscape for every country, its products and services. With debts mounting, a government in a state of shock and collapse, unemployment hitting record highs and an entire nation of people trying to pick up the pieces both emotionally and financially, Greece is in the midst of crisis, without doubt.
With tumult, riots, Eurozone negotiations, strained internal diplomacy and an Information and Communication Ministry scrambling to manage perception, Greece is at a tipping point – a moment in time where it can re-invent itself, turn negative perceptions around and build a future for itself and its people that is deserved and purposeful. Brand strategist Peter Economides, in a recent presentation at the 11th International Aristoteli Conference in Thessaloniki, called for a re-imagining of the Greek brand to resounding applause.
Mr. Economides posited that the time is now to imagine the future of Greece and Greek brand; and believes that Greeks over the world have the power and nous to imagine a Greek brand that is ‘the apple of the Mediterranean’ and many agree with him wholeheartedly. The Greek nation must not wait until the dust of a Eurozone crisis has settled to begin rebuilding its damaged global image. It must begin managing and rebuilding now. It is a nation that exists at a time in its history where it must work hard to manage negative perceptions and move forward with purpose.
It can no longer rely on antiquity and tourism alone to position itself in an ever more competitive global marketplace. It must stand for something that inspires others to act, to visit, to trade and to partner with it. The 2004 Olympic moment filled an international audience with adoration for the Greek people and their culture. This single moment displayed a nation’s progress, discipline and determination to exist on a world stage. It displayed the power of creativity to communicate to all audiences simple but powerful messages. The two young drummers who echoed the heartbeats of both antiquity and modernity, the paper boat mirroring Greece’s maritime tradition, the display of arts and sciences; a single moment filled with messages that left positive impressions upon a global audience and a Greek diaspora with a pride never before experienced – why was this not a springboard for tomorrow?
The Olympic moment showed the world that the Greek people gave birth to wonders and the Greeks must now understand that it is now time to give birth to something new and wonderful – a new Greece for the world to celebrate.
The Greeks must create value within; they must seek creativity and innovation within all industries. They must develop and nurture this value and continually and consistently demonstrate this value to the world in new and meaningful ways. They must do away with outdated perceptions of a cheap eastern European tourist destination mired in chaos and crisis, and must demonstrate and give reasons as to why they are worth so much more.
Greece must develop a world-leading framework for innovation, it must tell the world of its accomplishments, its thinkers and creators.
This isn’t the stuff of new logos and tourism advertising asking the world to flock to its shores – it must build on one simple idea that exists at its core and it must create value. It must continually demonstrate this value throughout all its industries – from wine making, health services, its environmental strategies and policies as well as tourism, conferences and other reasons why the international investment dollar should turn its attention back to this nation.
This value must be nourished within and continually proven and demonstrated to what will be a very attentive international audience.
What next? In his speech, Mr Economides stated that if Greece was the heart and soul of the Mediterranean it needs to own and express a simple notion – that the nation and its citizens must inspire and be inspired by this single-minded idea which he calls “the apple of the Mediterranean.” Like any corporate brand, a nation must stand for something and that something must be simple.
The United States has forever stood for freedom in the minds of those that it tries to woo, be it a tourist or an investor; a simple message that is reinforced through signal and symbol alike. What simple idea will Greece stand for into the next century? It is without doubt that Greece needs leadership and a united vision for its future. Yet it must envision its future, as well as develop the infrastructure and resources that will make this future a reality and agree on the simple values and strategic pillars that will assist it in fulfilling this vision. It must develop, as Mr. Economides states, “a common brand narrative.” A
consistency in its approach to communications that will reinforce its value and place in the world we live in and inspires even more compelling narratives to guide the Greek brand and its growth well into the 21st century. A country steeped in the richest of histories, Greece must now create its own future and reignite its own flame. It must create a brand of Greece that shows respect to its history both ancient and modern, and must look forward to ask itself where it will be in the next century to build a nation brand that will exist alongside the strongest.
Jim Antonopoulos is Executive Creative Director of Melbourne-based brand agency TANK Branding. Follow Jim on Twitter at @jimantonopoulos