ATHENS – Ten years ago, Peter Economides, a marketing strategist who helped re-launch a dying Apple computer company into the world’s second-largest business, left New York, came to visit Greece, stayed at a hotel on Athens’ southern coast, saw the sun set on the nearby island of Aegina, and came home. Although a South African, he said he’d found a place in a country he now hopes to help resurrect from an economic crisis that has made the once-glorious nation the butt of jokes and scorn, Greeks whose ancestors created democracy branded as lazy, corrupt tax cheats threatening to bring down the Eurozone of the 17 countries who use the euro as a currency.
Economides re-awakened a sense of pride in Greece when, at a conference in Thessaloniki, he recommended a “re-branding” of the country to create a new identity. The 30-minute presentation of his talk on YouTube generated more than 50,000 hits, and that, said Economides, has helped start to create a new brand for Greece, even as the county continues to shuffle its way through an era of austerity and social unrest, and as a coalition government tries to keep bringing in money from international lenders as Greek political leaders squabble.
In an interview with the Greek Reporter, he said, “We’ve a certain mindset and created a certain culture in this country. That has really happened in the last 30 years and led us to the position we are in today,” he said. Economides’ Athens-based company, Felix BNI, has a raft of clients he positions in their markets with branding strategy, including the likes of Athenian Brewery, the country’s largest beer distributor, and newspapers, Mattel Toys, OnTelecoms, the Olympic Truce movement, and even the city of Limassol on Cyprus.
Before coming to Athens, he was Executive Vice President and Worldwide Director of Client Services at global advertising giant McCann Erickson Worldwide. He has lived on four continents doing work that has impacted brands and consumers almost everywhere. He has learned from the leaders of some of the world’s best brands, where, among other clients, he was responsible for the global management of the $1.8 billion Coca-Cola advertising account. As head of Global Clients at TBWA/Worldwide, he structured and rolled out the global Think Different campaign following the return of Steve Jobs to Apple. The spot created a sensation, linking the likes of Muhammad Ali, Einstein, and Gandhi to the idea of genius being a different mindset, captivating the young and rebellious who became a surging hard core clientele of Apple that propelled it ahead of the companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell, as the standard of computers.
That’s the kind of thinking, he said, that could change the face and image of Greece around the world, and re-connect people to the notion that it’s a country that created democracy, arts and literature, science, theater, medicine, and the unique Greek sense of arête – excellence – that has disappeared. “Here there are a lot of people who do get it, but we have a system that over a period of time leaves us with a feeling that Greece, as a country, doesn’t get it. Well-educated Greeks who have a drive to do something ask why they should stay here. What we have to do is encourage those Greeks,” he said. If Greece is to flourish again, he again, it needs to shed its ways, including finding a brand that it stays with. “Coca-Cola has never changed its brand. Apple has never changed its brand. Never,” he said. But Greece, he said at the conference, has changed its tourism logo 14 times since 1990 and changed its campaign 16 times. “Why do we need to do it every year? I think we can all suspect the answer,” he said, without answering, although the audience of business leaders knows he’s talking about the inside games in Greece where contracts are handed out to friends.
He bemoans that it hasn’t changed. Greece’s current tourism campaign from a bankrupt country? Asking Greek American restaurant owners to put Visit Greece on napkins and placemats, drawing derision and disbelief. Economides’ work is focused on change, using strategic responses, he notes, to shifting culture, consumer habits and behavior and the challenges of regional and global expansion. As Greece, despite a rise in tourism in 2011, finds its market share continuing to fall in comparison to other countries and rivals such as Turkey, he said the country’s leaders are stagnant and dull-thinking. He told Greek Reporter: “Tourism is just product … morale is at an all-time low and the very first step is to work on boosting the morale of each and every individual because if you have a country whose self-image is low that shows to the world. The world is not going to feel positive about a country with a poor self-image.” He added: “What people think of you depends on everything you say or do, or what you don’t do,” he said.
In Thessaloniki, he said, “Greece has richer DNA than any nation on earth. Greece is the heart, the soul and the spirit of the Mediterranean. Greece needs to own this, Greece needs to express this, Greece needs to be inspired by this,” he said. One way, he said, is getting rid of Zorba, shed the country of its image of the dancing Dionysian. “We need to put him on the side, not get rid of him. He’s part of a joyful life … (but) he has a problem right now, he has an issue,” he said, showing the world that Greeks are focused on introspection and pleasure, a picture he said needs to be changed. “Branding is the process of managing impressions … strong brands leave strong and positive impressions. It should the ambition of every brand to be the protagonist of its category.” Greece, he said, should be “The Apple of the Mediterranean,” an homage to the computer company positioning itself as prime in its genre.
He wowed – and shocked – the audience with a no-holds-barred shot at Greece’s mistakes and a proposition to change everything. “This may be an economic crisis, but the way out of it is to solve the image crisis,” he said. “Brand is what people think of you, nothing more, nothing less. Everything is a brand,” he added. “We’ve spent millions over the years in promoting tourism, but we have not been branding Greece, we have not been managing what people think of us,” he said.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Greece is short-changing itself, he told Greek Reporter, and consumed by the crisis instead of finding a way out of it and showing the world the traits that made Greeks great. “We’re living through defining moments in our history. I have no disillusion about that. Our future is right now in our hands. Image is the way out of this. We have to feel good about ourselves and do good things. It’s a small moment in a long and glorious history … our future rests in our hands because we are Greeks, we have the power to imagine and now is the time to imagine our future. We imagined democracy, the Acropolis,” he said.
“The world does feel connected to this country and we’re not exploiting that, we are squandering that. Greeks are looking for a good reason to feel good about being Greek,” he said, urging a government that shuns the Diaspora, apart from looking to get money from Greeks abroad, to embrace it. Economides said he’s not happy when he travels and people cringe at what Greece has become. “I don’t like feeling embarrassed,” he said, prompting him to offer advice to Greek leaders who have a history of ignoring it unless someone can make some money. Economides’ says branding strategy needs to all-encompassing, touching every aspect of the business organization and process. “Everything communicates” and “strategy is nothing without a universally compelling, and individually enchanting big idea that engages and aligns people inside and outside the corporation,” – or country.
He knows it won’t be easy to change a mentality branded in complacency. “It takes a lot more than a slogan. Branding is not about slogans and ads … it’s telling similar stories to each other,” he said, the tried-and-true method of word-of-mouth that he says can help reverse Greece’s slide, perpetuated by photographs and videos of people protesting and rioting and at each other’s throats. “We spent 2,500 years getting customers and in a couple of year we’ve chased them away,” he said, believing that Greece can capture even more visitors by creating an image that is alluring. It’s a lot more than just showing pictures of monuments and beaches, he said. “I’m not one of these people who say we are the descendants of the great ancient Greeks … our concept as a nation includes a glorious past and concept. I’m not saying let’s go back to the past. I’m saying let’s go forward with an inspiration from the past.”