Re-Brand Ukraine? How to Create a New, Trusted Nation…
We all know how Ukraine is struggling to not only stand up to Business in Ukraine Russia, but to also become a new democracy that could eventually attract investments from the West. Awareness is not the issue. Perceptions are!
If Ukraine can somehow survive and retain its independence, it can learn from other country branding efforts by similar nations adjacent to mother Russia. A brand is more than a new image, or what a nation “looks like” based on a collection of impressions that form a perception in one’s mind. Good branding forms an emotional connection with targeted customers that is based on trust and integrity. A brand is also a promise of predictable experiences, creating an expectation of performance. A major challenge for Ukraine is to be able to deliver on new promises, which will probably require a complete overhaul of its government, economy and business attitudes/practices.
Fortunately other countries in similar circumstances (i.e. under pressure from Russia) have successfully re-branded themselves. When Estonia won its’ independence in 1991, its awareness was relatively low in the West, and for those who knew anything about this tiny Baltic state, their perception was deeply influenced by the more familiar Soviet style of planned economy and authoritative politics.
Fortunately Estonia had a well educated yet low cost work force, respected cultural values, a heritage of trade as part of the Hanseatic League, and a progressive attitude toward free market business. To build on these strengths, Estonia benchmarked itself against Scandinavia, especially its northern neighbor Finland which shares a common language base. In the past two decades, it has established itself as an emerging technology center in Europe (Skype was invented there) and has become a model for economic stability and continued growth. Their “Brand Estonia” project has created an emotion driven-brand that is successfully attracting Western capital and instilling a deep sense of pride among its citizens.
Other nearby countries have been able to straddle this fence too, retaining a distinct culture while continuing trade with the West and East. Finland has long been praised for walking this tightrope as part of the EU, yet still maintaining healthy relations with Russia. Poland is a Slavic speaking country like Ukraine, and has enjoyed noteworthy prosperity from its integration in the EU since leaving the Soviet Union.
Ukraine has a long way to go before it can enjoy the benefits of a newly branded nation. Assuming it can become free from Russian dominance, it must re-structure its economy and develop a culture and business environment that is credible and can be trusted by Western investors. At a minimum, this will involve eliminating corruption (now one of the highest in the world), establishing democratic practices that are fair and sustainable, and ensuring a willingness among its leadership and people to make sacrifices in the short term.