BY VASKEN KALAYJIAN
Any Armenian reading this will either agree or disagree to some extent with the results of the Country Branding Discovery Report, the cornerstone of the Armenian government’s initiative to create a new brand identity for Armenia. My hope is, however, that you will come away with an appreciation for the value of the research in sorting out perceptions and measuring them against realities—with the ultimate goal of turning realities into new possibilities. That is the mission of the Armenia Country Branding project that began last spring.
As I stated in my first article on this subject, tourism and foreign investment are key drivers of Armenia’s economic future. In addition, finding a brand identity behind which all Armenians can unite is bound to have a significant impact on the evolution of the cultural and social values that ultimately distinguish among countries competing for the same tourists and foreign investors.
An exhaustive and multi-faceted discovery process
Conducted by my team, GK Tribe Global, and Cundari, our Canadian-based partner office, this original and in-depth study spans 35 countries. It includes over1000 personal interviews among government representatives, resident Armenians, the Armenian diaspora, civil servants, subject and industry experts, academics, business leaders and other stakeholders.
Soon after, an online survey was conducted among a cross-section of demographics worldwide. That exercise generated 4,360 responses, providing a statistically valid measure of the perceptions revealed in the personal one-on-one interviews.
But that’s not all. Supplemental research reviewed over 200 articles and reports about Armenia, including government documents, economic evaluations, historical and cultural analyses, international tourism surveys and statistics as well as USAID tourism documents from 2006 to the present. Not only that, but a team of researchers visited over 200 Armenian sites and attractions for a firsthand assessment of Armenia’s core assets.
Finally, an audit was completed to assess the competitive landscape in which a branded Armenia would find itself. In this phase, we reviewed and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of myriad country brands, in terms of visual and verbal cues, i.e. logos, symbols and taglines.
This groundbreaking study paints a vivid portrait of how the Republic of Armenia is perceived. In some ways it confirms long held perceptions, in other case it affirms that a new narrative can emerge, and in other cases, the findings contradict conventional wisdom. In all cases, these insights serve as a solid basis on which to develop new ways to articulate the Armenian brand and position Armenia in the contemporary and competitive contexts.
Survey highlights and key findings
Here are some highlights from the discovery report. For those who follow Armenian issues and events closely, some responses may come as no surprise.
For example, an online survey question “What keeps Armenians together as a country” yielded a predictable majority of 68 percent agreeing that it was the “unique Armenian culture,” followed by 61 percent attributing “ancient history” as the glue that keeps Armenia intact. In the same vein, when asked what was Armenia’s unique point of difference, the majority answered “unique culture and architecture” at 59 percent and “ancient churches” at 56 percent. As expected, “very hospitable people” also scored relatively high at 47 percent.
To the question “What is Armenia’s greatest strength,” multiple opinions emerged with statistically equal weight: “resilient people at 43 percent, “intelligent people” at 44 percent, “creative people” at 39 percent and hard-working people at 38 percent.
In contrast, an overwhelming 70 percent of respondents agreed that “corruption” was Armenia’s greatest weakness, trumping other possible answers such as landlocked, emigration and the Artsakh issue.
Curiously, the majority of respondents felt that the most common misconception about Armenia was that “no one knows where it is located” at 59 percent or that “it is not a modern country” at 44 percent. Both these perceptions need to be overcome by an effective brand strategy for the simple reason that the former is critical to tourism and the latter for investments.
When asked “what is your dream Armenia in 20 years,” 50 percent answered “vibrant and diverse economy” and 49 percent indicated “a must-visit destination.” This supports the original thesis that Armenia needs more tourists and more foreign investors if it is to find its economic footing in the next decade. Also not surprising is that Switzerland and Israel were thought to be the best models for what Armenia should look like in the future.
As for the qualitative personal interviews with key stakeholders, various segments within this overall group emphasized different attributes. Specifically, those in the Armenian Government sector cited “Christian values, survival and pride” as key attributes of the Armenian national identity, whereas those in the Education sector predictably stressed “determination, intelligence and creativity” as the delineating factors of the Armenian brand. Likewise, stakeholders from the world of arts and culture emphasized “history, traditional culture and nature” as Armenia’s most appealing attributes.
From the Diaspora perspective, a different pattern emerged with concepts such as “unity, strength and compassion for fellow Armenians” as key themes. Those in the business community seemed to agree that investing in Armenia is restrained by concerns around the stability and security of those investments, as they pertain to taxation, corruption and legal obstacles.
As a final note, the constancy of religion was mentioned across-the-board among the stakeholders interviewed.
Implications of the research
How do these results help us create the optimal category positioning for Armenia? After careful consideration of such comprehensive findings, it seems that the greatest and most viable potential for Armenia’s brand lies in emphasizing the emotional and/or “high order” attributes. A high order descriptive usually coalesces around intangible attributes of the society and its people and less on conventional asset-based propositions such as location, climate and other material features.
Nevertheless, there is ample opportunity to weave these secondary attributes into the overall Armenian story, because as one stakeholder we interviewed put it, “It’s a rugged, fascinating little country that will surprise you in so many ways.”
The research and immersion process revealed several “high order” equities for Armenia, such as spirituality, intellectual reward, learning, and discovery. Exploring one or a combination of these could provide an appropriate positioning of Armenia.
At the same time, there is the emotional component that appeals primarily to the Diaspora versus new visitors and investors who do not come with pre-existing impressions of Armenia and Armenians. Yet even when addressing the Diaspora, the thrust of the message should express a forward-looking and optimistic theme that embraces the wider richness of the Armenian experience and sense of place.
As one stakeholder said, “see Armenia and Armenians as part of the future of the world, not the past.” Another aptly described it this way: “Armenians are an ancient people but a new nation.” And another summed it up best by stating; “It’s time to share Armenia with the world.”
The next phase of our assignment will do just that. In a few months, we will be unveiling a new brand identity for Armenia, including brand positioning, a logo, tagline and multi-media global communications plan designed to reinforce, promote and celebrate the new face and personality of Armenia in ways that will captivate the imaginations of tourists and investors alike.
I look forward to sharing it with you in the months ahead.
Vasken Kalayjian is the CEO and Brand Architect at GK Tribe Global.