On April 14-15, I was a panel speaker at the Global Russia Business Meeting in Limassol, Cyprus, organized by Horasis and hosted by the government of Cyprus. In my talk, I planned to address the necessity for Cyprus to stay positive, and use the collapsed economy as a rare chance to improve the country’s brand in the long term. Perhaps a rather surprising and unusual approach to branding in the midst of the emotional aftermath of the banking system collapse. But for better or worse, my unusual message stood out from the crowd -- which happens to be the very purpose of any good brand.
A COLLAPSED BANKING SYSTEM
In a way, the timing of the meeting, aimed at fostering bilateral economic relations between Cyprus and Russia, could not have been more difficult. With a freshly collapsed banking system, and sovereign long-term foreign currency credit rating sinking into junk status, Cyprus was about to host a high-level gathering of prominent Russian business leaders - many of whom had just lost millions of Euros as a result of the ‘haircut’ procedure imposed in agreement with the EU and International Monetary Fund. The chance of this bilateral meeting, organized in the midst of a huge economic crisis, running smoothly, seemed rather small at the onset. In fact, I wondered if it would go ahead at all.
GOVERNMENT OF CYPRUS DECIDES TO GO AHEAD WITH THE CONFERENCE
However, the government of Cyprus decided to go ahead with the conference. Brilliantly chaired by charismatic founder of Horasis, Frank-Juergen Richter, the conference gave a chance to the Cypriot government to express itself to the community of Russian business people in a transparent and open way. It was clear that the message the Cypriot government wanted to pass to the Russians, was one of regret for not having been able to safeguard the wealth and trust of those who had invested into the country, and also one of commitment. The commitment of the government to take a very broad look at the underlying causes of the economic collapse, and seek realistic measures in order to fix it.
TOP-DOWN COMMITMENT - A SECRET INGREDIENT OF ANY RE-BRANDING PROJECT
In the business context, the top-down commitment of senior management is a crucial element which can make or break any major re-branding project. As far as nations go, re-branding, or reshaping an image of the country vis-a-vis the minds and hearts of its target audience, also requires full commitment of its government to start thinking differently. As soon as there is commitment to start fixing one’s own problems, chances for a successful outcome of a re-branding project increase tremendously.
Although rarely on the radar screen of governments dealing with the urgency of major economic crisis, branding can actually help any government keep a broad perspective of what needs to be attained in the long term. Whereas its main preoccupations in the present situation may be of a remedial nature in the short term, and mostly directed at reforms of the banking system and tax regime, the government of Cyprus would benefit from embracing some of the following principles of branding a nation:
1) Stay positive about the future
The world loves success stories about countries emerging from economic crisis. Whereas it’s crucial to address the most urgent things first, positive morale of a good outcome is of great importance in any rebranding project, or crisis communications.
2) Identify your Unique Value Proposition
Just like any product or company, any country has something that makes it unique in the eyes of its target audience -- be it tourists, or potential investors. The Cypriot government would need to go through a major brand audit exercise, whereby it would collect all of the elements that could be considered unique for its brand, and decide on a shortlst of most powerful ones to be communicated to the world.
3) Identify your target audience
Whereas the main audience in the context of the conference consisted of Russian investors into Cyprus, the government of Cyprus should identify different categories of its target audience, which may include investors from other countries, EU, international credit rating agencies, tourists, and others.
4) Create a unique brand personality and brand positioning
Based on an in-depth brand audit, and having identified its unique DNA, Cyprus should then translate this into a credible and inspirational brand personality.
5) Roll out the new brand positioning through a high-impact communications campaign across offline and online channels
Depending on the previously identified target audience, select channels for rolling out a brand communications campaign
Whereas many governments still tend to view re-branding campaigns simply as advertising initiatives aimed at fostering growth of the tourist sector, it’s worth looking at country re-branding from a different, more strategic, angle. In the case of Cyprus, a re-branding project would be highly beneficial as it would help the government to identify the main areas requiring immediate fixes, allowing at the same time to keep a broad perspective of exciting opportunities that the future holds for this beautiful sunny island.