Armenia Country Branding: How national character becomes a brand icon

By Vasken Kalayjian

Now that the Armenia Country Branding team has completed the discovery, analytic and strategic phases of building a brand identity for Armenia, it is working full speed ahead to put a face on it. This is where the creative process takes center stage.

Nonetheless, before arriving at a winning creative execution, meaning a logo and tagline, for Armenia, several more exploratory exercises are involved. After all, encapsulating 2000 years of history and the promise for the future in a few words and images is no easy feat.

However daunting this may sound, our discovery phase has uncovered a goldmine of compelling material to work with. The real challenge is to identify which of Armenia’s many national attributes best resonate with key stakeholders and primary audiences.

Another important factor is launching Armenia’s brand in a marketplace that abounds with mature country brands that enjoy high recognition and popular appeal—the likes of Great Britain, France, Brazil and Spain, to name but a few.

Secondarily, regional competitors, such as Turkey, Georgia, Russia and other post-soviet states are vying for the attentions of travelers seeking new experiences and investors scouting for emerging growth markets. Armenia needs to stand out by virtue of its unique assets rather than leverage its similarities to its neighbors.

That’s where our creative exploratory takes on interesting dimensions and perhaps shed more light on the rigors and disciplines of building a country brand.

Defining the central idea
The central idea is the articulation of the primary behaviors, principles and pragmatic approaches that keep a country brand on course in realizing its vision.

In the case of Armenia, the central idea has several crosscurrents running through it. At once, it inspires the mind and the heart, yet it pursues success based on new knowledge. At the same time, it preserves rich cultural traditions as it aspires to greatness as a modern nation state.

The Country Brand team has translated each of these dimensions into concrete proof points for Armenia. When it comes to inspiring the mind, for example, Armenia’s complex history, ingenious architecture and world domination in chess are crystalizing examples of the intellectual legacy that drives Armenian innovation and invention.

As for speaking to the heart, Armenia’s early Christian roots and emphasis on family life appeal to those seeking spiritual fulfillment or, for diaspora Armenians, the emotional tug of ancestry and identity. In contrast, the pursuit of success is suggested by Armenia’s growing entrepreneurial sector and the presence of global companies seeking new markets in the region. And, surely, the emphasis on new knowledge has sharpened Armenia’s competitive edge in high tech, science and medicine. Yet tradition remains intricately woven into the fabric of Armenian society—from holidays and weddings to folk dances and mystical chants.

Ultimately, each component of the central idea helps inform national strategies for raising Armenia’s potential for greatness in this decade and beyond. This, in turn, helps drive the unifying concept for the brand.

The unifying concept in action
The unifying concept works to motivate everyone up and down the chain of society and ranks of government to keep strategies, efforts and resources focused on the central idea. For Armenia, the Country Branding team has put the unifying concept into one simple sentence: Armenia rewards the bold. This is not a slogan or tagline. It serves as the spirit behind the idea, thereby urging everyone to rally behind and uphold Armenia’s national brand.

Armenia’s brand values
Brand values helps shape attitudes about what the country will do to live up to its brand, how it will do it and who will serve as Armenia’s “brand ambassadors”. The Country Branding team has identified four brand values for Armenia.

1. Everything should inspire a conversation. That means that communications should spark curiosity, engagement, and insert the Armenian point of view across a variety of categories, from fashion, music and science to economic development. The more relevant Armenian can become to cultural trends of the time, the higher its profile in traditional and social media, not to mention positive word of mouth.

2. Take short-term actions that lead to long-term value. This value will build brand equity over the long term, as well as compound the value of investment year over year and formalize responsible planning.

3. Fortune favors the bold. Linking back to the unifying concept, this brand value speaks to Armenia’s points of difference and inspires innovation, vision and originality.

4. Every relationship is an opportunity. This enshrines the brand in a customer-centric philosophy. For economic growth, cultivating long term partnerships with high potential for a steady return on investment makes sense. For tourists, it means not just thinking about the guest’s first visit, but the next one.

The big-idea: Armenia is an eternal source of inspiration
As mentioned earlier, Armenia has abundant material from which to build a winning brand. But for those who come to know the Armenian story of survival and transcendence invariably come away truly inspired. So it’s no wonder that inspiration is intrinsic to Armenia’s brand positioning.

Armenia’s brand positioning statement
With the central idea, unifying concept, brand values and big idea in place, the Country Branding Team is ready for the next critical step: formulating the brand positioning statement—the master “narrative” about Armenia, both in long and short form.

“Armenia is a symbol of tradition, innovation and perseverance. It’s a place in which a vibrant cultural and spiritual heritage bridge past and future. It’s a country that excels because the ability to adapt, create and invent are part of the national character. And no matter where on earth or at what point in time, the people thrive knowing they will always be a part of an irrepressible, passionate nation. Thus, the impression of Armenia is eternal.”

Condensing these thoughts down to what marketers call the “elevator pitch” isn’t easy, but here is what the team was able to boil it down to: “Armenia is eternal. Culture thrives everywhere. The people are united by faith and a passion for prosperity. No matter where on earth or at what point in time, the people thrive knowing they are part of an irrepressible, passionate nation.”

Armenia as archetype
Another worthy exercise in the creative process is to reduce the “narrative” to its most elemental and nonverbal form: a human archetype. For example, Father, Mother, Sage, Hero, Eternal Youth (Peter Pan) are all archetypical characters. For Armenia, the team concluded that its primary archetype is the Creator and its secondary archetype is Explorer.

The rationales for these archetypes are powerful: the quintessential Armenian drive to build (therefore create) and to learn (therefore explore) has served the Armenian Nation well for millennia. There’s no reason to stop now.

Armenia in the world context
Despite all the allure that Armenia holds for travellers and businesses, making Armenia’s “face” stand out in a crowd of formidable competitors, both regionally and internationally, is key to a successful launch of a branded marketing campaign for Armenia.

To this end, our researchers have conducted a competitive audit of branding and tourism campaigns for 80 countries. They concluded that Armenia’s brand theme should be expressed as what marketers call a “high-order” descriptor, meaning that it would express a feeling or idea, rather than “physical assets”, such as Egypt has, with its pyramids along the Nile. Nor should it focus on emotion, such as lively Jamaica and colorful Spain, nor as a call to action, such as the USA and France. Another descriptor that wouldn’t make sense for Armenia is proximity, which is used by Belize and the Bahamas.

Once the decision to keep Armenia’s brand theme in the high-order category, the team then examined countries with best-in-class high-order descriptors such as Great Britain, Brazil, India.

As you can see from this sampling of country logos, each owns a distinctive execution with a specific audience in mind. For no country can be all things to all travelers and businesses. Determining what audiences are most important to Armenia’s ultimate growth and prosperity can make all the difference to the ultimate success of the brand.

Later this year, the final execution of that brand will be unveiled in the media and launched in marketplace for all to experience for themselves.

Vasken Kalayjian is the CEO and Brand Architect at GK Tribe Global.

Photos by Karen Minasyan

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