THE JERUSALEM POST, December 18, 2004
Build Israel's brand

To win the PR debate, we must change its terms and argue from our strengths

Ask people around the world to give you the first association that pops into their mind about Israel, and they will give you a variety of answers. The Holy Land. Land of conflict and war; superb army; target of suicide bombers; oppressor of Palestinians; Jewish state; staunch US ally, among others. According to a recent and still unreleased survey of Israel's national brand conducted by a major global advertising firm, people are quite aware of Israel but don't necessarily have a particularly positive impression of the country.

While this varies from country to country and among different sectors of populations (evangelicals love us, metro liberals less so), what is constant is that people do not associate Israel as a "cutting edge" country. There is very little awareness of Israel as a technology powerhouse or as a global source of innovation.

This lack of awareness is not just a problem for Israel's burgeoning tech sector but for the country at large, since our weakness as a brand is an underlying part of our image problem.

If we fail to change this image, it is not for lack of positive achievements - the raw material of PR - to work with. The reality of Israel's technology achievements is literally off the charts.

While Silicon Valley still reigns supreme among technology movers and shakers, Israel is clearly in an unassailable second place. In the third quarter of 2004, Israel produced 113 startups that attracted venture capital funding. Over this same period, the entire United States produced only 467 venture-backed companies. This means that Israel, with a population just two percent of America's, has almost 25% of the venture-backed startups relative to the US. Add to this Israel's number of patents filed and granted, its legion of companies traded on Nasdaq, our recent IPOs, mergers, and acquisitions, and the data is truly impressive. Yet these statistics tell only part of the story.

The fact is that the majority of technology-connected people around the world both use and interact with Israeli technology several times a day without even knowing it. Every time you open your Intel-based computer with either a Pentium or Centrino inside, you are using Israeli know-how. The same when you leave a voice mail message on a Comverse mailbox or when you send an AOL or ICQ instant message. Or when you use any electronics that has a circuit card or display inspected by Orbotech, or a flash memory from Msystems or SanDisk.

Whether you know it or not, Israel is there when you are billed for a phone call by Amdocs or when you contact a call center monitored by Nice or Verint.

Almost everyone on the Internet is protected by a Check Point firewall or by a myriad of Israeli antivirus products. This list can go on and on; and yet while this "daily dose" of Israeli technology is a fact of life, we get virtually no credit for it. Most people have no awareness of how much of their indispensable technology is actually "Made in Israel."

Add to this the new life-saving, medical, and green technologies now being developed by Israeli companies such as Proneuron's spinal cord restoration, Teva's cost-saving generic drugs, Given's pain-saving Pill Cams, InSightec's non-invasive cyst blaster, Syneron's cosmetic and skin savers, Ormat's geothermal and wind energy plants, and you have a broad story of Israeli companies working for the benefit of mankind.

If we could effectively begin to build an Israeli national brand around our technology and innovative prowess, it would mark a strategic shift in the hasbara war. As my high school debating kids are fond of pointing out, whoever sets the terms of the debate ultimately wins. Since the Palestinians have so effectively set these terms, we are stuck in a no-win situation PR-wise. No matter how effectively we spin our side, they are seen as the David-like underdogs with the sympathy, and we are the Goliath-like guys with the tanks and planes.

Branding ourselves through our innovation, by contrast, allows us to talk to our strengths, and creates a totally different frame of reference. It allows us to build sympathy and identification with Israel that is not dependent on convoluted historical or political argumentation. People like success stories, especially those that actually help people - and we have these stories in spades.

Getting the message out about Israel's tech miracle will also give our core constituency, the Diaspora Jewry, something to make them proud of Israel again.

Israel does not have the same emotional resonance for today's younger Jewish generation that it did for the generations that experienced the Holocaust or, at the other end of the spectrum, the Six Day War. Today, a young Jew's Israel memory is that of the first or second intifada, as interpreted by CNN and the New York Times. This technology-savvy generation will respond very positively to an Israeli brand based on how one small, embattled country is doing so much to shape the world they live in and its future.

What can be done to make this happen? For starters, we need to put this topic on the agenda of the organized Jewish community. We need to add a tech component to all missions to Israel. And we need to support Web sites like www.israel21c.org that are beginning to get this story out to the world.

If we focus more on the positive aspects of our lives here in "Innovative Israel," rather than letting our enemies set the terms of the debate, we will succeed in building an Israeli brand that projects our best and our brightest story.

The writer is a founder and general partner of Israel Seed Partners, a Jerusalem-based venture capital fund.

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