By Martin Nunn
KYIV – A communications conference organized by the Cabinet of Ministers and recent announcements by the Ministry of Information Policy indicate the government is finally getting serious about building brand Ukraine.
In the past, few Ukrainian governments have ever really taken brand building, or even communication, seriously. There are still those in powerful positions who believe that all government communication is political. If they are the ones controlling this new push, then it is destined to fail. It would ignore the fundamental premise that brands are built by their audiences and not by promoters.
A brand is not a symbol or a slogan or a corporate identity.
Brands are determined by our level of trust in a product or service. That is often an illogical gut reaction. Ladies trust their mascara they use every morning. They buy named brands in the belief they have been properly tested and that they will make their eyes sparkle.
We chose our cars initially on the basis of trust. ‘Lada’ could produce the world’s most advanced electric car -- and we would still think twice before buying it. ‘Mercedes’ could produce electric skateboards -- and we would probably queue up to buy them.
When we go to buy a mobile phone, there are hundreds to choose from. But a majority of us will look at ‘Apple’ first and then one of the rest, simply because Apple has never let us down. This comes to the fundamental of brand building. Brands are determined by the perceived value that they create for the buyer.
That value can take many forms. Ladies want beautiful eyes, we want cool cars and efficient phones. If value to the buyer determines if a brand is successful or not, here is my ‘Ukrainian brand’ question: What is the benefit or value that Ukraine is going to offer to the world community in this new campaign?
In the past, government videos have offered railway lines, bridges, motorways, churches and lakes… not exactly awe inspiring when you think that virtually every country in Europe has the same, if not more. Ukraine has offered traditions and heritage. This may make us feel proud, but again they do not create a universal benefit or inspire trust.
A good example of how brands evolve is the success of Ukraine’s ‘vyshyvanka’ on the world’s fashion catwalks. There was no money for flashy advertising, just a highly original product presented in a very new way. Fashion adds a real benefit in that it makes the buyers feel special. As a result, our national dress was an international hit, albeit accidentally. Sadly today’s top fashion is often tomorrow’s floor cloth so perhaps it would not be wise to build a national brand on something so transient.
In reality every country is known for something.
Germany is known for its engineering simply because for over 150 years German engineering has been the envy of the world, Japan for its technology, South Korea for consumer electronics, France for fine wines, the USA for software, Britain for democracy and the rule of law.
So the first question we need to ask in building brand Ukraine is: ‘What do we want to be known for?’ If we cannot answer that simple question then all attempts at brand building are just window dressing.
Ukraine already has a reputation… for corruption, Chicken Kiev and pole dancing skills. Is it a real or even fair assessment? Certainly not, but it is a reputation that has evolved through lack of management and a good dose of foreign propaganda. Can it be changed? Yes of course, but only through a deliberate government policy.
Taiwan was once known as the cheap plastic capital of the world -- until their government decided that cheap plastic had no added value. They taxed the industry until it moved to China and stimulated growth in electronic component production with extensive tax breaks. Today virtually every computer and mobile phone in the world has components that are designed or made in Taiwan, their economy is infinitely stronger and the country is recognized for its new found skill.
Similarly South Korea was once an agricultural country famous for its fragrant rice.
So what could brand Ukraine be built around? Agriculture… this might well alienate virtually every farmer in Europe and North America as it would be seen as a threat. Aviation… Airbus and Boeing already have that slot. Fashion… too frivolous.
There are two areas which may not seem obvious but both could easily form the basis of a new Ukrainian brand.
The first is the IT industry. Ukraine is rapidly becoming the ‘Silicon Steppe’ of Europe, producing top quality software for the world’s leading companies.
The other is innovation. No country in the world is yet known for innovation. There are innovation league tables, but these tend to be focused on industrial innovation rather than social innovation. When you look at Ukraine perhaps our greatest contribution to the world at large is the power in our minds.
Ukrainians have achieved more reform in the past three years than any other nation on earth using innovation -- ‘Prozorro’, decentralisation, de-bureaucratisation and the simplification of systems. That not only took massive effort. It also took a 180 degree change in thinking.
In the last two years, the IT industry grew seven fold, to $3.5 billion. Ukrainians built the world’s largest aircraft, the world’s most effective satellite launchers, and most of the Buran space shuttle. In the USSR, 40% of everything made was designed and produced here.
Ukrainian scientists have greatly contributed to the world body of scientific knowledge. Our defence industry is the 5th largest in the world. Through our innovation we could feed half of the world. Even our designers shout innovation in the clothes we now sell world wide.
The beauty of the word innovation is that it is wholly positive. It’s a feel good word that we can be proud of in that it involves every single person in the country as most importantly anybody can be innovative. So how do we promote our ‘innovation’?
Surprisingly it does not take big budgets or expensive advertising campaigns. They are stages 2 and 3.
All it takes is the clever use of systematic communication and a good dose of psychology to kick-start a real change in perception.
Without this foundation, however, it will not really matter how much money is thrown at promotion or how many videos and brochures are produced. These alone cannot build trust or deliver benefit.
In the end building brand Ukraine all comes down to our own 'innovation'.
Martin Nunn is a 44-year veteran of corporate communications and CEO of Whites Communication in Kyiv. He has worked for major international corporations in the United Kingdom, Europe, the USA and in Eastern Europe and in 2015 was communications advisor to the Prime Minister of Ukraine.