BY VASKEN KALAYJIAN
The Republic of Armenia, and by extension its worldwide diaspora, is at an exciting crossroad between the past and future. What road it will take in the coming critical years depends largely on Armenia’s ability grow its economy. Tourism and foreign investment are important factors in reaching this key goal.
Unlike other nations pursuing similar objectives, Armenia has been late to the party in terms of actively marketing its brand assets in today’s competitive global economy. But thanks to a groundbreaking initiative, recently launched by the Armenian government, this is about to change.
The Armenian National Competitiveness Foundation, working in close cooperation with the Embassy of the United States in Armenia, has been tasked by Armenia’s government to market Armenia and its people under the assignment’s banner “Brand Armenia.”
Brand Armenia is a project driven by original research that explores the ways and means to properly showcase Armenia and its people on the world stage.
It begins with asking a range of stakeholders and knowledgeable observers some fundamental questions like: What unites Armenians worldwide as a people? How do Armenians see themselves as a unique identity relative to other nations? What are Armenia’s greatest strengths and weaknesses? And most important, how would the “ideal” Armenia be defined in next 20 years?
Armenia is a Case Study in Contradictions and Complexities
Trying to brand a place like Armenia is both challenging and inspiring. Ideally, a country’s essence, assets and allure should be summed up in few words and images. Yet Armenia’s image is difficult to wrap a cohesive strategy around for multiple reasons.
First, Armenia represents a history steeped in Christianity, yet it is undeniably influenced by the Ottoman and Soviet empires under which historical Armenia was subjugated until recently.
Today’s Armenia is known to lack natural commodities for export and trade, yet it is very rich in human brainpower. It’s an ancient civilization, yet a relatively young and newly independent state. It boasts a mountainous climate with breathtaking vistas, yet it’s landlocked and surrounded by historical enemies, thereby creating barriers to trade and commerce.
Most of all, although Armenia’s population is extremely homogenous, its national identity is fragmented into hybrid identities resulting from its worldwide diaspora—French-Armenians, American-Armenians, Latin-American Armenians, Middle Eastern-Armenians, Australian-Armenians and Russian-Armenians. Each lays claim to Armenia as its ancestral homeland, so depending on who’s looking, Armenia is a mirror upon which to reflect a kaleidoscope of traits rather than as a window into the quintessential Armenian soul.
Brand Armenia is all about changing this outworn narrative, so that today’s Armenia can project itself as a modern, progressive nation with key cultural, social and business-friendly attributes that appeal to tourists and investors alike.
The Principles and Processes of Country Branding
People unfamiliar with the nuances of marketing may see branding as simply the presentation of a logo or design that can be instantly associated with a product or service. Clear examples of this are the Nike swoosh and the unmistakable penmanship of Coca-Cola’s signature, which has been used by the company since its inception. Also, few realize the psychological and emotional elements employed to construct a solid, loyal customer base that an effective brand campaign can generate.
GK Tribe Global country branding specialists are able to tap into individual and collective archetypes, emotions and values when branding products and companies. The same applies to place and country branding—forming a connection based on values and ideals.
As the CEO and Brand Architect of GK Tribe Global, the New York-based branding firm contracted to lead the Brand Armenia initiative in partnership with other Tribe Global office in Canada, Cundari Group. “I believe that a strong country brand enhances a nation’s cultural and political influence. And a country’s reputation is based on intangible assets built on actions and achievements that are highly tangible.”
Places are some of the most interesting things to brand. The initiative is often labeled “place branding,” “geo-branding” and “destination branding.” The most important activity in this process is identifying the most powerful strategy and unique positioning for the place—the “brand position.”
Establishing a signature visual and raising awareness of the brand are the next most important phases. Both involve conducting proper, relevant research with the various key stakeholders. Those audiences can include residents, businesses, tourists and visitors, meeting and event planners (including convention planners and major sporting event organizers), travelers and corporate commercial traffic.
It means surveying and interviewing people across the spectrum of society, from the heads of state to all levels of community, villages, various regions, artists and doctors, teachers and business leaders, religious leaders, political parties, the media, various diasporans around the world and non-Armenians in 36 different countries.
Each of these audiences has its own distinct issues and needs, and specialized place-based organizations market to meet such needs, such as visitor and convention bureaus, economic development councils and business improvement districts. The stakeholder groups multiply into a large mix of potentially competing points of view. This may include mayoral offices, county, provincial, state and regional entity executives and business, cultural institutions and sports team leaders.
A carefully orchestrated branding project seeks to gain a consensus across divergent stakeholder groups. That is another reason why a place-branding effort often takes much longer than does a product or corporate branding effort.
Some attributes that are important target audiences for place-branding can include good job opportunities, low crime, good medical care, affordable housing, scenic beauty, friendly people, tours to unique local sights and activities, abundant cultural opportunities, low cost of living, good restaurants and an environment for future growth and market competition.
Does Armenia possess enough of these qualities to gain stature on the world stage? Brand Armenia is ready to find out. Here’s how we will work to connect the dots in developing a cohesive and compelling brand image for Armenia and its people.
• Employ a consensus building process.
• Assess Armenia’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats based on in-depth market research.
• Select the most important assets around which a unique value proposition and marketing campaign will be built—one that appeals to residents, businesses and tourists alike.
• Tailor messages for each group.
• Create a tagline and master image that not only looks and sounds appealing, but also powerfully communicates Armenia’s unique value proposition at a glance.
Brand Armenia will present its brand strategy by the end of this year with the intention of launching the new brand in 2015. Stay tuned for updates of each leg of this exciting journey.