COUNTRY BRANDING 101 - Unboxing Israel


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.

Just like companies, products and people, places must manage their global reputation so that they are attractive and relevant to the needs and interests of their target audiences. To do this, significant efforts and resources are invested by cities and countries in order to develop a feeling, an emotion, and an accurate perception about 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, mega-event or single public policy; it is a never-ending effort to manage the country’s global reputation and share a consistent message about the country’s unique offering, ensuring that perceptions are aligned with reality.




A strong country brand protects in times of crisis, and for a country like Israel, public relations crises are unavoidable. Furthermore, defining what unites us and makes us proud of our country and people is also the foundation of a strong, 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 – to understand how people currently feel about the country, its people and values, global research is conducted amongst target markets and audiences that are relevant to the country, which is based on research conducted within the country amongst its public, private and third sector leaders. The objective is to understand the gap between perception (what the world thinks about us) and reality (what we think about ourselves). The main purpose of any country brand strategy is to erase misconceptions about the country and increase global awareness of what makes it unique, special and relevant.
  2. Identify the Country’s Central Idea – the Central Idea of a country 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 is a result of discovering what makes the Country unique and differentiated from other countries. It is not something we say out loud, rather it is something 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 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.

Those countries that have nation 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:

…and many more.


But for many countries, the brand is not managed officially and grows organically, forming a perception in peoples’ minds worldwide. This 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, that is coupled by the involvement and promotion of the people.

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


  • Stakeholder Engagement – A country has many stakeholders; principally its 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, it is imperative that all stakeholders carry a common and consistent message about the country and take part in amplifying 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 brand in the world.
  • Digital Identity – In today’s virtual world, the country’s digital footprint must be actively managed. Any offline activity needs to have an online component, and 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 – Just like commercial brands, the country brand needs targeting and strategic marketing and promotional efforts in order to bring the message to the specific audiences which have been 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.

Perceptions of countries 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 that are converted into rankings. Additionally, perceptions can be assessed also through the online searches and social media usage by various audiences around the world in relation to the country (whether it be businesspeople, 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 rankings, news and analysis project created to capture how countries are perceived on a global scale, published on US News every year in partnership with BAV (a subsidiary of Young & Rubicam) and The Wharton School of Business. The rankings evaluate 73 countries across 24 rankings drawn from a survey of more than 20,000 global citizens, measuring 75 dimensions that have the potential to 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, which has been published for 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 clearly 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. To assess perceptions of countries globally, 20,000 interviews are conducted online in 20 panel countries with adults aged 18 or over. 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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