How should war-affected Israeli companies face the world?

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As Featured in Globes- Israel Business News.

“In testing times, and with world opinion divided, Israeli companies operating internationally need to project strength”, says marketing expert Sharon Israel.

Ever since the cruel, bloody, and deadly day of Saturday, October 7th, our routine has shattered in every possible way. Our country is engulfed in deep sorrow and immense pain over the dead, wounded, and kidnapped, but wartime also presents unprecedented business challenges. These include restrictions imposed by the Home Front Command, staff shortages due to the conscription of employees into military reserves, escalating security concerns, plummeting revenues, and widespread budget freezes. The economic uncertainty of wartime has become a stark reality for many businesses and organizations.

The ripple effects extend beyond our borders. Israel-based companies providing services internationally must navigate a treacherous landscape, surrounded by criticism and hostility towards Israel and Jews in general. They fear malicious attacks by anti-Semitic opinion leaders on social media networks, boycotts against their businesses, growing doubts among customers about their future and ability to meet commitments in light of the security situation, and even the alarming departure of customers and investors.

Adaptation is key in these testing times. Just as we are learning to adjust to this new reality, companies with a significant portion of their activities abroad need to adapt and reassess their marketing strategies. They must update the messages they broadcast to the world, understanding exactly what to avoid and emphasize.

However, seeking identification or sympathy can backfire. Our customers and partners worldwide recognize that Israel and its citizens are enduring challenging times, which undeniably have an economic impact. While it’s a mistake to completely ignore the situation and pretend it’s “business as usual,” equally erroneous is broadcasting a message that highlights significant harm to the business. Making appeals to overseas customers for support, investment, and continued consumption of services from a standpoint of sympathy and identification is a significant strategic error. The global public will not support Israeli brands out of solidarity or empathy for our situation in the long term; they will do so because of quality, value proposition, and proven strength to deliver excellent solutions despite these trying times.

Remember, unlike us, the world moves on. The global economy is relentless and doesn’t pause. Organizations and companies in the US and elsewhere are pressing forward, relying on the services they are accustomed to receiving from Israeli companies. Should these services falter, they will inevitably turn to other providers. The business world, lacking compassion and sometimes even cruel, leaves no room for companies to show weakness, even briefly.

The message to convey in these times is not the harm suffered, but resilience and strength. For an Israeli company accustomed to functioning in emergency situations, the emphasis should be on resilience and continued commitment to deliver quality service and to divert resources as necessary without compromising on resilience and the ability to function at optimal levels. Alongside this, maintaining open and authentic communication with existing and potential overseas customers is crucial. They should feel free to express their concerns about the company’s continued operations, and receive transparent and authentic information about our resilience.

Examining Ukrainian companies as a case study reveals a unique response to the war with Russia. These companies chose to broadcast messages that conveyed vulnerability, portraying themselves as victims of the Russian invasion. This approach aimed to generate identification, support, and market engagement for their products globally. For instance, Peter Souslenskii, CEO of NVKF Universal, a nanoparticle manufacturer, expressed in an interview the depth of his despair: “I invested years in this business, and in just a few days, everything disappeared. Our entire staff left Kharkiv, and we were unable to deliver our products to our customers.” Similarly, Andrei Zdesenko, a prominent Ukrainian entrepreneur and owner of Biosphere Corporation, furloughed his entire workforce, predicting a prolonged five-year recovery period for Ukraine’s economy. These stories, however, represent just a fraction of the broader narrative.

The empathy for these companies is palpable, and the international community has shown solidarity with Ukraine. However, from a business perspective, this strategy of vulnerability raised questions about the future viability of these companies, the return of employees who joined the fight, and the stability of their operations. This approach, conveying instability and uncertainty, contrasts sharply with the messaging typically vital for businesses, especially during challenging times.

In the marketing world, particularly in crisis situations, the role of employees as ambassadors becomes crucial. They can champion the company’s resilience and strength on social networks and other platforms. By sharing candid insights into the national situation while highlighting their belief in the company’s recovery, employees boost morale and optimism. This perspective can significantly influence how customers, both current and potential, view the company’s business health.

During a crisis, employee testimonials often carry more weight than traditional marketing tactics. They are seen as more credible, offering an authentic, human perspective on the company’s quality, services, and resilience under adverse conditions.

Differentiating between business operations and advocacy activities is essential. Understanding that the global audience has distinct interests from the local one, marketing campaigns must be tailored accordingly. International campaigns should not dwell on local suffering, as this may not resonate with a global audience. By contrast, Israeli-targeted campaigns should not ignore the conflict, as national events deeply impact local sentiment. These campaigns should focus on unity, support, and optimism for a brighter future.

Since the war’s outbreak, many people have mobilized as part of the war effort, citizens and businesses volunteering to help the community, including through online advocacy across various platforms. This surge in content presenting the Israeli point of view comes in response to the rise in anti-Semitism and lack of awareness of the scale of the tragedy of the murder of over 1,000 Israeli civilians, men, women, and children. While numerous organizations possess the knowledge and capability to support these advocacy efforts, there is a concern that such involvement could negatively impact their business operations.

For companies that primarily conduct business internationally and want to contribute effectively through advocacy, a key recommendation is to separate their business and advocacy activities. It’s both possible and advisable to use the company’s resources, including manpower and budgets, for these advocacy efforts. However, it’s crucial to maintain a clear division, preventing any overlap of advocacy content with marketing activities and avoiding any direct association with the company’s name. This approach allows companies to support advocacy initiatives without positioning themselves politically, which could distract global customers and partners from their core business solutions. Additionally, it’s important for executives with significant influence in global markets to voice their opinions and reinforce the Israeli narrative, while maintaining a respectful and fact-focused narrative.

Opportunities arise even in crisis. When the Israeli economy faces challenges, especially in global public opinion, attracting new global customers can seem daunting. Yet, despite these business hurdles, crises can also unveil new opportunities. The war’s impact has sharply divided global perspectives into those who support or oppose us. While backing Israel doesn’t automatically secure new clients, it significantly aids in identifying potential customers and those better avoided.

Through research on social networks and other online resources, we can gauge the stance and willingness of organizations and potential clients to collaborate. This research helps in understanding their views of Israel, especially following Hamas’s brutal attacks, allowing for an initial filtering of entities as allies or adversaries. It’s also beneficial to check which companies have committed to anti-anti-Semitism pledges and to assess their positions not just on the October 7 events and subsequent war, but also on past conflicts. For a comprehensive view, it’s not enough to only consider corporate leaders’ official statements; the opinions of middle management and other employees also matter. Examining their social media posts and comments on platforms like LinkedIn, X (Twitter), and Facebook can provide insights into whether the company’s organizational culture aligns with its stated values. Such an approach makes it possible to target the selected audience effectively, focusing marketing efforts on those who appreciate and support Israel and its cause, even during challenging times.

Sharon Israel, founder and CEO of Xtra Mile, an international marketing and branding company specializing in technology and medical sectors, is at the forefront of these efforts. Currently, she has led the company to engage actively in advocacy work, establishing a social media page to combat anti-Semitism and counteract fake news. This initiative demonstrates the proactive stance businesses can take in times of crisis, leveraging their influence for the greater good while navigating the complex business landscape.

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on November 30, 2023.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

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