Interview with Joanna Landau and Rebecca Smith on COVID-19 crisis management and how the Brand-Nought helped them
Joanna, Founder and CEO of Vibe Israel and Rebecca, Director at New Zealand Story share with us their sentiments towards COVID-19 crisis management and the impact it has had on their respective Nation Brands. Vibe Israel and New Zealand Story have put in the hard work to comprehensively understand the Brand-Nought, let’s see how they’ve used it to their advantage in terms of stakeholder communication.
What challenges did you face in your position or as a Nation Branding institution during COVID-19 crisis management and recovery?
Our biggest challenge was to align perceptions and reality internally, within Israel, about how our country was being perceived globally in this respect. Based on your Brand-Nought research, however, we at Vibe Israel knew that positive impressions people around the world had towards Israel as a result of our initial handling of the pandemic, had a long tail, and several months later, even when we were deep into a dramatic rise in COVID-19 contractions, people around the world still thought Israel was handling the situation well. With less concerns about how the world sees us, it would have been easier to encourage our partners in Israel to avoid a “wait and see” strategy and adopt a more proactive effort to continue sharing Israel’s story with the world.
New Zealand came through its COVID-19 lockdowns quite quickly so there was an energy and desire to get into rebuild quickly. The challenge was holding back on our communications to respect the situation citizens of many other nations found themselves in.
So instead of rushing this, we took the time to a) research and understand how other nations were feeling b) create a strategy and content for the rebuild and recovery stage.
What do you think your country or public governance did well during these times and did these actions and/or policies have a positive impact on the Nation Brand?
The Israeli government was very quick to react strongly to the global pandemic, closing its borders very quickly and enforcing very tight regulations to maintain social distancing and protect people against the virus. Our prime minister participated in much-publicised Zoom discussions with the handful of countries, such as Austria and New Zealand, that were handling the crisis well, and this created very positive exposure for Israel. In addition, as a country that is very strong in the field of medical and health related discoveries, we received a lot of awareness on media platforms for Israeli efforts to find the vaccine for the pandemic, or other solutions.
Our leadership responded quickly and decisively to the risk of COVID-19. In addition, we implemented transparent and regular communications to reduce anxiety and uncertainty.
We are a very egalitarian society by nature, so the cohesive response adopted by our “team of 5 million” was seen globally as further tangible evidence of our inherent values and the importance we place on the wellbeing of people, place and planet.
How much do you think this “Place Brand touchpoint” (COVID-19 crisis management) has impacted perceptions about your country?
Israel is a country whose brand has an enormous amount of stress attached to it, whether because of the Israeli — Palestinian conflict, global anti-Semitism which is sometimes translated into anti — Israel efforts, or other reasons. Consequently, the initial handling of the pandemic by our government, which received very positive press around the world, and the medical innovations related to the pandemic, served to very positively impact perceptions of Israel.
It’s been a truly significant moment of truth for many nations. For New Zealand, it has certainly opened the minds of many around the world to who we are, what we stand for, and how we operate as a people and a nation.
What was most intriguing for you about the study, COVID-19: Impact on Nation Brands?
I found the study an important confirmation of the importance of perceptions as compared to reality. When Israel’s handling of the crisis deteriorated, and a second lockdown was looming, it was natural to assume that the world would change their view of Israel. However, it seems from your research that first impressions last, and this was an eye-opener for us. Having said that, as a non-profit organization that is not involved in the management of the health crisis or the economic aspects of the crisis, we do very much hope that our government will put aside political influences on their decision-making and improve conditions for the Israeli people.
We were expecting some negative commentary as we are far from perfect and our approach wasn’t one that all other nations subscribed to. What surprised us was the positivity — or lack of negativity — in responses relating to New Zealand.
What did you find most interesting specifically about the Brand-Nought?
What was most interesting for us was that the Brand-Nought can be used not just for the current pandemic, but also to assess perceptions of our country in how it handles other crises. Crisis management is part of managing a country’s reputation, and while the impetus for the development of the Brand Nought was COVID-19, I am sure it’s here to stay and serve nation brand professionals well beyond this specific crisis.
The study has at last given us all a benchmark and methodology for measuring the ratio of positive to negative commentary needed to come through a crisis in a relatively positive manner.
This study reinforces the importance of Governance in driving perceptions of a country. The most recent Nation Brand Index supports this finding as New Zealand is, for the first time ever, in the Top 5 for Governance.
In what ways did you find this data useful?
We used the data to create PR about Israel’s global positioning, within Israel and amongst the Jewish diaspora. It was very useful to us in order to enable leadership and our partners to redefine how they think the world perceives us, as we are doing right now for increasing foreign direct investment and trade with Israel.
This study provided evidence that our Nation Brand strategy has indeed been effective in creating a favourable and credible position enabling us to weather multiple crisis.
How would you explain the Brand-Nought to someone who has never heard of this concept?
The Brand-Nought is a metric that allows countries to assess how the world perceives they are dealing with a specific crisis. A global survey is conducted asking how people think the country is handling the crisis, and the research can show how many positive responses are needed to neutralize one negative response. This data can help nation brand managers to know where to put their efforts, and to what extent to invest efforts in trying to change perceptions. We found that the easiest way to explain the metric is through a numeric example: for every 1 person that said something negative about how Israel was handling the pandemic crisis, there were 5 people saying something positive about it. And this was 5 times better than the average for all countries — meaning Israel was doing very well in this respect and we don’t need to worry as much as we initially thought. A numeric example is absolutely essential to explain this metric, which is extremely complicated and technical.
The Brand-Nought provides a robust yet simple method to establish the ratio of positive commentary required to overcome negative commentary to achieve a net positive outcome for the reputation of a nation.
What did you think about other countries’ performances? Why?
New Zealand was a good example of a leader who was clear about what the country was doing and was not afraid to take unpopular decisions to protect her people. That having been said, New Zealand’s population is relatively small and the fact that it is an island may make it easier for them to handle an outbreak. Now that the crisis is continuing and countries around the world are finding it very difficult to manage, it is unclear what the solution is and therefore, it seems that the most important part is a calm and reliable leader. How the pandemic can be handled health-wise or economically has yet to be discovered and so people seek out leaders who can take them through these uncertain times.
The results really reinforced the important role of media, messaging and communication in shaping perceptions of a nation. During the height of the pandemic, media focused on reporting case numbers and the tragedy and scale of the situation across the globe. This initial headline-grabbing coverage left a lasting impression on consumers with those initial perceptions having a long tail.
Smaller economies received less media attention making it difficult for consumers to form any specific or well-informed insights. Countries such as Israel, well regarded in terms of medical advancements, vaccine development, and crisis management capability, had exposure but could have been covered a great deal more. Economic and political weight, along with the drama of trade spats, has pushed certain nations to the top of the consumer mind.
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