…if we were asked today to rebrand Greece

by Ares Kalandides and Mihalis Kavaratzis

Let’s face it: There are probably few countries in Europe right now with a worse image than Greece (we can’t really think of any that even come close). From what we hear, it is especially in Germany, the Netherlands and in Austria where that image is the worst. And even Greece’s southern neighbours (Italy for example) seem to be glaring at us with the fear of contamination. Greece is Europe’s joke. Both being Greeks who have been living abroad for a while and have left for different reasons, we know very well how much of what is said today is absolutely true – and partly a reason we are not living there. But also, we know Greece very well, we have our families and our friends back there, and we know that there is much more to the country than what the populistic central European media wants us to believe. The problem, as usual, are the stereotypes: extending what may be true for some (or many) to everybody. So any expression of the type “the Greeks are” or “the Greeks do” (it could be the Germans, the Brits etc.) is reductive and simply stupid. But it serves the goal of stigmatizing a whole people, making it look like humans of a lower category.

A pre-crisis campaign: "Greece the true experience"

So what is to be done? Both of us involved in Place Branding in different countries (the UK and Germany), we were thinking of what we’d do, if we were asked to rebrand Greece. We’ve heard many cries in that direction. They describe some ideas on possible messages that could help and include some amazingly stupid suggestions (such as to change the international name from Greece to Hellas, as if that would make a difference). One could come up with plenty of ideas – and creative advertisers will have more and better. For instance, how about reminding the world of the beauty of Greece? Why not have a campaign with beautiful beaches and amazing sunsets? Or how about reminding the world of our ancient heritage? Let’s have a campaign that features Delphi and the Acropolis and remind the world that it was here where democracy and philosophy were born. We could reinforce this by the humorous reminder that ‘crisis’ is a Greek word! Or how about reminding the world that stereotypes are just that and that all countries are occasional victims? Why not have a campaign explaining that not all Greeks steal EU money in order to drink ouzo all day long just as not all Americans carry guns and drink bourbon all day long.

Only recently did the Greek minister of Culture and Tourism announce that they are planning to hire PR experts to promote Greece. We’ve seen such campaigns and have commented on them in the past. The issue, however, is that all these are simply campaigns and not re-branding. Campaigns are good and useful and the more creative they are the better; but they remain campaigns. Campaigns are partial tools that help reach a strategic goal that has been discussed and agreed upon. Is there such a goal for Greece now? Campaigns are a small part of the communication-based part of a branding strategy. Apart from communications there is a lot to be done so that the term rebranding can be used. Does Greece have any sort of strategy now? Campaigns alone do not re-brand. All that campaigns can do is send a message out. This message, though, is not a brand. The brand is much wider and deeper than that. The brand is a platform on which messages can be sent and received. Or to use Anholt’s words: the context in which messages can be communicated. Campaigns right now might, at best, serve as a temporary crisis management mechanism and even this with dubious effects.

Therefore our answer to what we would do to re-brand Greece is: We wouldn’t do it. At least not now and not in the short term. Place branding is effective as a proactive strategy and not as a crisis management mechanism. The other side of the same coin is, of course, that branding is a long term process (re-branding also) and fire-fighting is not done through long-term processes. What we would do though, is try to design a multi-level strategy for the day after.

First of all there is a need to understand what we want to achieve: Do we want more tourists? Do we want investors? Do we want political clout? Or simply our dignity back? Probably all of the above, but that doesn’t help much. Four different goals ask for four different strategies. Endeavouring into re-branding exercises without even discussing the strategic goals leads nowhere but to fruitless and pointless expenditure.

Despreate times need desperate measures

Then we need to get into some very serious (and self-critical) analytical work. What is Greece’s image today in different places (which we need to define) and among different groups (that we also need to figure out)? We need to monitor the media and see who writes what about the country? How does this relate to what Greece is? What do other quantitative and qualitative data actually tell us about Greece? Where do they agree and where don’t they with the prevailing image?

Let’s use this period of crisis (where, as we explain above, communication alone, no matter how good will be lost) to do our homework. Once the situation is more stable (we almost wanted to say “once the crisis was over” but we corrected ourselves), then you can start thinking of ways to react. But there is so much to be fixed before that.

When we used the term multi-level Place Branding strategy we meant that there is a need to tackle different objectives with different time scales at the same time. There is always a need for some short term effect. Something that will pop-up in people’s minds and will say “something is happening there”. It does not have to be a festival. It does not have to be another iconic building or the 100th logo or the 1000th advertising campaign. We can not tell you what it needs to be (and do not believe anybody that does). That is where serious research comes in.

But most of the work will have to be a long term strategy. It needs to be based upon the gap between reality (with all the difficulties to define what that is) and perception. Things that are good (and we can already see the huge fights about what is good) can be promoted directly, not just by advertising, but through a sophisticated marketing approach. What is not good (again that will be a mess) needs to be improved before it is communicated. For example: Is Greek tourism good? It depends. Nature has been amazingly generous to this country, yet tourism services are – to say the least – uneven. There are equal chances that the tourist who comes will be thrilled or disappointed. You can not afford disappointment when you’re building up an image. Improve your services first and be honest about what you have to offer. As we discussed earlier, the brand is the context in which messages can be effectively communicated. Sending messages in no wider context minimises the chances of these messages being received in the way we want them to be. And the problem of Greek tourism is that – let’s say it clearly – the context does not support quality claims…

There is an approach that people often forget and which goes hand in hand with Place Branding: Public Diplomacy. But with the Greek public administration at a comatose state for the time being, they will need time to build that. Maybe a look at how other countries (e.g. Germany) did it will help.

So, if we were asked to rebrand Greece today, we would probably say no. But we’d sit down at once and think about what can be done do now, so we’re ready the day after. Until then, what Greece needs is crisis management not re-branding.

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4 Responses to …if we were asked today to rebrand Greece

  1. Very good article. I am of the belief that branding mostly depends on content / reality, so I find it imperative that things do change for a fact, before any kind of communication campaign is undertaken.
    Trying to hastily re-brand Greece at the moment would only have the effect of masking (or trying to mask) problems and would thus be counter-productive in the long term.
    e.g. The recent “Give Greece A Chance” campaign, apart from everything else, makes the claim (in page 40 – http://cdn.greeceischanging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/GreeceIsChanging-updated19Mar2012.pdf and accompanying slideshow) that 108 closed professions have been opened to competition without need for any other formality. I know for a fact that at least one of those professions remains just as closed today as before 2011. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case for more.
    So, a campaign of good intentions ends up (unwillingly) promoting even more lies and -potentially- further damaging the image of Greece once this is discovered.
    So, yes, Greece has to CHANGE before it can be rebranded!

  2. I truly believe its not about a campaign. It a about a brand strategy. I call it business strategy because after all it is business. Landscapes where you can live, retire or just visit for vacation is just one product of our business (Greece). There are many other products: food products, energy, people, , history, art, entertainment, etc that you can work on and promote. But you need a BUSINESS first.

    My point is Greece needs a strategy (never had one). Communicating it comes later. I am working on that. Anyone can join.

    my 5 cents.

  3. Tom Buncle says:

    Good article – salient argument. But the risk of adopting a crisis management approach is getting stuck in a crisis-management mindset. What is needed is a mindset that still sees the opportunities in the midst of this crisis. Greece’s charms remain in spite of the economic crisis and the demonstrations (in which Greeks were merely exercising thier democratic rights – after all they invented democracy). So a powerful campaign to remind people why Greece is such a great destination and that the country’s charms are still there is very important. Sadly, today’s comments from UK tour operators suggest that the very opposite is happening – crisis-inspired inertia, while Egypt and Tunisia are out there promoting what they’ve got in spite of their problems.Tourism has to be one of Greece’s main economic lifelines. From a visitor perspective little has changed – it’s all still there in all its amazing glory. Greece needs the self-confidence to realise this or it risks exacerbating its decline by turning its back on its best opportunity.

  4. It seems that some people follow the argument of “never market a bad product” – change the product first and then tell everybody how great it is. Other people again believes that “perception is everything” and that an unfruitful perception can be changed through campaigns. They’re both wrong in my opinion.

    I agree with the authors argument that Greece doesn’t need a campaign and doesn’t need a re-branding effort. It needs to do its homework. I’d even argue that hiring (expensive) PR-guru’s will probably have to opposite effect: Imagine that Greece would start campaigning to tell the rest of Europe how great their country is. I’d expect German taxpayers to be somewhat immune to that kind of message right now. Be smart. Be strategic. Be patient.

    The path of using public diplomacy is an interesting one – but also in that case I’d wait, wait again and then wait a little bit more.

    If somebody would ask me to (re)brand Greece I’d probably tell them to hire Ares and Mihalis anyways. 🙂

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