Imagine you're walking into a supermarket. Your shopping cart is empty and the shelves are bursting with products to purchase. But the products being sold here aren't detergent, rice or a prime cut of beef—they're travel destinations, real estate and business investment opportunities, international cultural events, and actual products to buy that are deeply associated with their country of origin (think Ikea = Sweden; Samsung = South Korea; Mercedes = Germany). You see, this is no ordinary supermarket: it is the Supermarket of Nations.
We shop at the Supermarket of Nations every day. Since the advent of the Internet, and international travel and investment made accessible to all—our options are limitless. The Supermarket of Nations is one of the most competitive arenas out there, and every nation/country/city is vying for our attention.
In the last ten years, various place brand rankings have appeared to evaluate the success of these efforts. One such index is the Best Countries 2017, published last week. The survey included 21,000 people from 45 countries, and 80 countries were ranked based purely on perceptions of people around the world about them.
Israel came in 30th out of the 80 countries included in the survey. By any standards, Israel can be proud of this positioning, especially considering the great efforts by the BDS movement to discredit it. However, this achievement will be short-lived unless the Israeli government, and anyone who cares about Israel, starts paying attention to a worrying undercurrent.
I work with Prof. David Reibstein, the Wharton professor who co-created the Best Countries index, and as such I am privy to more in-depth information about the survey results.
Specifically, I asked to understand how millennials—the next generation of decision-makers and movers and shakers—view Israel. It turns out that their views of Israel are strikingly different to the overall population: millennials ranked Israel almost 20 points lower than the overall ranking, in the 48th place. As far as millennials are concerned—Israel is in the 79th (!) place for "Open for Business," 77th for "Adventure and Beauty," and 54th for "Cultural Clout." On the other hand, they ranked Israel 7th in the "Power" category—strong army, politically influential, strong economy—all attributes millennials are turned off by (because they believe these can only exist on account of minority rights, compassion and social justice).
Bottom line, the millennial generation is not seeing Israel for what it really has to offer, and since they're also not nearly as interested in the Middle East conflict as we may think (as research for the last 10 years has repeatedly shown)—millennials are hardly seeing Israel at all. Any advertising exec will attest to the fact that it is extremely difficult to sell a product that isn't on its market's radar. And that products that aren't sold eventually are taken off the shelf to make way for those that can be.
In light of the above, the Best Countries 2017 index should serve as a wakeup call for anyone interested in improving Israel's image: in the Supermarket of Nations, millennials aren't buying what Israel is selling. This is because Israel's current offering is focused too much on its policies, and not enough on what else it has to offer (a young and vibrant country, exciting business sector, a huge contributor to social causes and sustainability, and much more). This trend can and should be reversed, with a long-term marketing strategy for Israel and a willingness to invest whatever it takes to move from strategy to implementation. Now.
Joanna Landau is the Founder & CEO of Vibe Israel, a nonprofit organization leading initiatives to strengthen Israel's brand in the world.