The following is an excerpt from the book Reimagining Israel by IZZY founder Josh Hoffman.
The year is 2002. An Israeli foreign diplomat named Ido Aharoni decides to initiate Israel’s inclusion in the BAV (Brand Asset Valuator), the world’s largest database of brands maintained by advertising powerhouse Young and Rubicam.
Later that year, he convenes the Brand Israel Group, an independent body of marketing and branding specialists, which laid the foundation for what later became the Brand Israel Project — designed to improve Israel’s positioning in the world by highlighting its relative advantages and increasing its relevance.
As Aharoni says,
“No place, no person, no organization, wishes to be solely defined by its problems. Every place has a DNA, a personality, just like a human being.”
Aharoni couldn’t have been more spot-on, and what came out of his genius was a sexy, shiny brand moniker that Israel started to adopt — Start-Up Nation — which became the focus of a book in 2009, written by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, using the same name and premise:
Start-Up Nation addresses the trillion dollar question: How is it that Israel — a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources — produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?
Israeli cities, universities, and non-profits leveraged some version of the “Start-Up Nation” brand within their own brands, and digital-driven organizations such as Vibe Israel, Israel21C, No Camels, and ReThink Israel joined the bandwagon. It seemed to be working like a charm, as foreign investment, tourism, and other key performance indicators (KPIs) consistently increased year-over-year.
In 2020, for example, capital raised by Israeli high-tech companies set another record at roughly 10 billion U.S. dollars, more than tripling in six years, and over 20 percent above the previous year’s figures. All of this was in stark contrast to tech companies in the USA, which benefited from a mere five-percent increase in 2020, while Europe recorded a weighted increase of just one percent, and investment in Asian technology companies fell by 15 percent.
“Start-Up Nation served Israel extremely well to promote its business offering and technological prowess, and today perhaps it still does,” Vibe Israel founder Joanna Landau told me. “But looking down the line, within a few years, because of the pandemic changing how the world’s economies are working, it’s not enough to use the same messaging we used 10 years ago. We have to adapt ourselves to the new reality.”
This is precisely the problem with the “Start-Up Nation” brand. It only speaks to a certain — and tiny — group of people who are genuinely interested in technology and innovation as a core part of who they are and how they define themselves. We are effectively telling the world: If you’re not interested in technology and innovation, you probably won’t be interested in Israel.
Naturally, this doesn’t bode well for Israel, especially when the country finds itself in a military conflict that gets blown out of proportion on the world stage, because technology and innovation don’t create empathy or motivate people to separate their views on Israel’s military disputes from those on Israeli culture, lifestyle, and society.
Don’t get me wrong; if Israel’s only brand attribute revolved around technology and innovation, that would be one thing, and I probably wouldn’t have written this book. But Israel is one of the few countries that actually has something interesting to offer for virtually every type of person: foodies, fashionistas, music lovers, history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, patrons of the arts, nightlife owls, businesspeople, and so on.
Why limit ourselves to one aspect of Israeli culture and society when we have so many other exceptional attributes that can capture the hearts and minds of so many other groups of people?