by Andreas Markessinis
There are many reasons why countries embark in branding projects. Some feel that they pass unnoticed in the international context and want to raise awareness of their existence, others believe foreigners have a too vague image of them, and finally some others because they think their image abroad is outdated. Others feel that they can be overlaid by more powerful neighboring countries. Slovakia, Austria or Ukraine would start a branding process to strengthen their national differences in order to be displayed as much distinct as possible against countries with which they could be easily confused. Slovakia fights for its own identity as opposed to the Czech Republic or to the former Czechoslovakia of which it was part. Austria’s brand effort, in the other hand, partly consists in being not overlaid by Germany, and also in being not confused with Switzerland, a country with similar features. Ukraine strives to detach itself from the former Soviet bloc and to emerge as a different nation on its own, de-associating from Russia, its powerful Northern neighbour. Romania, on the other hand, may want to de-associate itself from its image as a corruption-ridden nation and instead introduce herself as a country open for business opportunities. Other countries in Europe experience similar situations, like Slovenia, Latvia or Belarus.
The Greek case
Greece’s case is different. Unlike the above mentioned countries, Greece is favored by the fact that it is already known as a distinctive country, a country which can hardly be confused with any other nation. Greece is a very particular country with a very different personality when compared to others and its national traits are also very well streamlined. Hence it needs not to underline its national personality. Its brand problem is all in all completely different thereafter and that’s why the above mentioned countries’ branding practices do not apply to Greece. If Greece’s brand problem is not that its national identity is blurry as that of some former Eastern Bloc countries, and if Greece’s brand problem is not the one countries such as Slovakia, Austria or Ukraine face, then what’s the brand problem for Greece?
Here comes the drama. Greek national features are in fact well-known; the problem lays in the tragic fact that those characteristics by which we are known are, in their largest part, seen abroad as negative. In other words, the core problem of Greece’s image is not that the country does not a have a differentiated identity, but that that identity is mostly negative. Therefore, a branding project for Greece should not waste the citizens’ money in expensive campaigns in the international media explaining how different Greece is to the rest of the world, because the larger part of world already knows it. The story must be different, and the focus ought to be in turning those negative particularities we are known for into positive features.
We are known for being anarchic, unorganized and noisy. Athens’ chaotic traffic is well-known. Our disorganization is world-famous (witness the Olympic preparations). And we are famous for being hysterical -just take a round by Omonia Square in Athens and you will notice it. These traits are certainly not the best attributes for a country willing to compete in the international marketplace.
However, we can’t change these traits or the way we are because they may be part of our national collective identity. In reality, it is the sum of these features (along with more positive ones) which have sustained our acknowledged identity. Even more, most likely we don’t even want to change the way we are -and that’s correct. Trying to do that would be self-denial. Thank God, changing national personalities is not what branding is after. In reality, branding has nothing to do with changing the essence of a country, but with making such essence more attractive and helping that identity to better crystalize in larger foreign investment, more tourism or more exports.
In fact, one of the factors for success when constructing a national brand lays in being loyal to truth and in not portraying a country which differs from reality. Honesty in country branding is mandatory: Greece’s brand engineers could broadcast a massive message that we Greeks have changed, that we no longer are a country of loud-speaking, gesturing people but it would fail in the long term… because we are still so. Without real changes, a publicity campaign telling otherwise would be built upon falseness and not only will not convince anyone, but will also be counter-productive in the end; Greece’s brand and Greece as a whole would suffer from being perceived as an unreliable, misleading country. Eventually, that would be a serious mistake.
The question is, if we are anarchic, noisy and natural improvisers and we don’t want to deny ourselves, how can we improve the perception the world has of us?
The solution lays in context. Attributes that are for their most part negative in one context can be positive in another circumstances. Take vacations, for example. Who would like to spend his vacations with a serious, organized and boring accounting officer? Probably no one if we could choose. But, who would not choose that person for dealing with administrative tasks? Reversely, why not going on vacations with an anarchic, passionate and disorganized friend? After all, vacations is all about breaking the rules that apply to the rest of the year, so the latter option would be more attractive to many people. People go to Brazil on vacations not because they expect to find white collar workers but because they hope to have fun with the eager locals.
Of course, not all the negative features of the Greek character can be properly positivized. That’s not all negative though: keeping some peculiar, even if they aren’t too favoured, traits is also positive as it brings humanity and credibility to the brand. We’re speaking of common people here, not about all-perfect Greek cyborgs.
Someone once said the problem of Greece’s image is not that foreigners have a wrong negative image of Greece, but that they have an accurate negative image. But this is fallacious. In reality, most attributes are not absolutely positive or absolutely negative in all situations and all times. They do fit better or worse depending on the situation. A person gifted with one quality can suit a job very well, but will suit not in another task requiring other attributes. Once we have understood this, we have the key to introduce ourselves to the world more conveniently.
Introducing ourselves more conveniently
To make it short: we Greeks have a commonly shared set of attributes (exceptions apart). Some of the qualities associated with Greekness are positive and celebrated -heroism, hospitality, joie de vivre and entrepreneurial spirit. This brings no trouble: highlight them whenever they will be most valuable: when facing problems, when on tourism, when talking about lifestyle and when doing business, respectively.
On the other hand, as we have seen above, some of the attributes tied to Greekness are less shiny: we are told to be sleepy, badly organized and chaotic. We are also portrayed as noisy, bully and natural improvisers. These are values which are more difficult to manage, but still there are chances to positivize them. The trick, as I mentioned above, is in contextualizing them, because most of them could be perceived as positive in certain circumstances.
For example, are we sleepy? That would be a uninspiring trait when in business, but it is definitely a desirable feature when on vacations. We can positivize it by constructing upon this feature a mental image of a calm, tranquil and relaxed country. Sleepiness is an advantage for our country when competing as a tourist destination. We are sleepy, yes, and we for sure have a keen enjoyment of living too.
Follow. We are told to be chaotic organizers. Chaos is an ever-changing circumstance by definition, which entails that stable processes are not chaotic. The message to convey is not that we are chaotic, but that we are accustomed to act in difficult, non-lineal, random environments. Positivize it: we can adapt better than others to changing or evolving circumstances. These are qualities commonly sought after in today’s ever-changing business world.
More. Are we Greeks noisy and loud speakers? Yes, probably we are. But, isn’t noise a signal of passion, of activity and intensity? We are loud speakers, true, but wouldn’t that mean that we are not a shy, accomplexed people who fear to express itself openly? Probably. Positivize that: we are vigorous, and probably energetic too. Yes, we shout, but we are intense. And that’s Greek genuine.
Follow. Bully people? Nah, turn it upside down: we are a people who love discussion and exchange of ideas. After all, we invented democracy. We have the largest proportion of newspapers per capita in the world. We are good at debate, excellent at rhetorics and brilliant public speakers. It is a matter of accepting not whatever, a matter of aiming for challenges. Parallely, it is not about being a country of submissive individuals, but about a country of persons with initiative and self-esteem.
More. Positivize that we are natural improvisers: say not that we are that, but say instead that we are resourceful. Working under pressure is no big issue for us; quite the contrary: we are pretty comfortable with it. We perform better than most others when tight deadlines loom.
By emphasizing our more attractive features, positivizing our more average characteristics and contextualizing our more deceiving traits, we can build up an attractive and appealing image for Greece that suits most of the contexts in which country image is paramount (tourism, foreign investments, exports).
Employing correctly these techniques, we will be able to improve the attractiveness of Greece’s image. Not only that, but also that eventually we will obtain a brand which is multi-faceted, and cross-purposed. A polyedric brand that provides different attributes to different audiences seeking different qualities, because Greece’s brand would consist of several values that are both remarkable and effective when aiming for diverse objectives.