Country Branding 101 - Unboxing Israel

Country Branding 101

Joanna Landau


People engage with places (countries, cities, regions) like they do with commercial products – they come across them by word of mouth, online recommendations, advertising, TV shows and movies, marketing, and public relations. They experience them for themselves through tourism, trade, culture, sport, and much more.

Like companies, products, and people, places must manage their global reputation to be attractive and relevant to the needs and interests of their target audiences. Cities and countries invest significant efforts and resources to develop feelings, emotions, and an accurate perception of the place. Country branding is the art of ensuring that feeling, emotion, or perception is the desired one. It is not a one-off marketing campaign but a never-ending effort to manage its global reputation and share a consistent message about its unique offering, ensuring that perceptions are aligned with reality.




A strong country brand protects in times of crisis, and public relations crises are unavoidable for Israel. Furthermore, defining what unites us and makes us proud of our country and people is the foundation of a robust and long-lasting relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.




The process of finding out what makes your country unique is based on two main components:

  1. Local and Global Research – Global research is conducted among relevant target markets and audiences to understand how people feel about the country, its people, and values. The objective is to understand the gap between perception (what the world thinks about us) and reality (what we believe about ourselves). The primary purpose of any country brand strategy is to erase misconceptions about the country and increase global awareness of what makes it unique, memorable, and relevant.
  2. Identify the Country’s Central Idea – the Central Idea is what we want our country to be known for. It is a feeling, an emotion, or a value. The Central Idea is not invented. It results from discovering what makes the country unique and differentiated from other countries. We do not say aloud; instead, we manifest in our behavior. Based on the Central Idea, narratives expressing and highlighting that feeling, emotion or value, are used to tell the country’s story and make it appealing to its target audiences.




Most countries have official agencies that manage their country’s brand. Their role is to manage the international communications of the country, sometimes holistically – in all channels, and sometimes specifically for one aspect of the country, such as tourism or attraction of foreign direct investment. Think of them like marketing departments in companies.

Countries with national brand agencies often work with government ministries to ensure a consistent message is presented to the world, regardless of whether it’s about their business, cultural or touristic offering. Here are a few examples of official country and nation brand agencies:


The brand is not managed officially for many countries and grows organically, forming a perception in peoples’ minds worldwide. It usually happens through non-profit organizations that take the lead, or other sporadic efforts by the people of that country, whether it’s the business sector that pushes the country’s story forward or famous people from those countries that create awareness for their home. And sometimes, you have both a strategic, organized effort coupled with the involvement and promotion of the people.

Regardless of who manages the effort, four elements must exist for a country branding effort to be successful:


  • Stakeholder Engagement – A country has many stakeholders: public and private sectors, the third sector, and in Israel’s case, the Jewish diaspora and pro-Israel. For a country branding effort to be successful, all stakeholders must carry a standard and consistent message about the country and amplify this message globally. To ensure this is the case, proactive efforts to engage the country’s stakeholders are vital.
  • Actions and Policies – The country brand or perception is delivered through actions, activities, and policies (such as events, conferences, TV shows, movies, etc.). These actions, activities, and policies, which can be carried out by any one of the stakeholders, need to reflect the country’s brand narratives and promote a consistent message about the country’s brand in the world.
  • Digital Identity – In today’s virtual world, a country must actively manage its digital footprint. Any offline activity needs to have an online component. The digital messaging should be consistent and reflect the country brand narratives, even down to the hashtag we all use when promoting the country.
  • Marketing – Like commercial brands, the country brand needs targeting and strategic marketing and promotional efforts to bring the message to the specific audiences identified as most relevant for the country.




With country branding (as opposed to marketing, where the objective is to generate “sales”), KPI’s are not defined as Key Performance Indicators but Key Perception Indicators.

Countries’ perceptions are measured by surveys usually conducted online in the target areas most relevant to the specific country’s needs or by global surveys on perceptions of many countries converted into rankings. Additionally, perceptions can also be assessed through online searches and social media usage by various audiences worldwide about the country (business people, students, tourists, etc.).


Here is a list of the most popular country branding rankings that assess perceptions (remember – these surveys reflect what people think about the country or what they’re looking for, not what the country represents, in fact):

  • US News Best Countries – Best Countries is a ranking and analysis project created to capture how countries are perceived globally, published on US News every year in partnership with BAV (a subsidiary of Young & Rubicam) The Wharton School of Business. The rankings evaluate 73 countries across 24 scales drawn from a survey of more than 20,000 global citizens, measuring 75 dimensions that can drive trade, travel, and investment and directly affect national economies.
  • Brand Finance’s Global Soft Power Index – a comprehensive research study on the perceptions of soft power, surveying over 55,000 people based in more than 100 nations. The Global Soft Power Index builds upon the Brand Finance Nation Brands study, published over 15 years.
  • Bloom Consulting’s Digital Country Index – The Index is used to measure the compilation of the total amount of searches performed by citizens globally towards any given country. The result indicates the Country Brand appeal.
  • Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index – the NBI is a partnership between Ipsos, one of the world’s leading research companies, and Simon Anholt, a place branding specialist. Twenty thousand interviews are conducted online in 20-panel countries with adults aged 18 or over to assess countries’ perceptions globally.
  • Data are weighted to reflect key demographic characteristics, including age, gender, and education of the previous year’s online population in that country.


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