FutureBrand has announces that Canada takes the No.1 spot in the FutureBrand 2010 Country Brand Index (CBI), presented in partnership with BBC World News. The sixth and most comprehensive study of country brands to date, which assesses 110 countries across 26 image attributes and six other measures of brand strength, highlighted the role of media freedom among key drivers of positive perceptions of a country. In the survey, the Scandinavian countries enter into the top 20 the first time, whilst the economic crisis knocks the USA and UK down in this years ranking. Elsewhere, demand from China helped Australia and New Zealand rise in the rankings.
The 2010 CBI is an in-depth study that explores the complexity, dynamics and benefits of how nations manifest as brands. The strength of a country brand is determined in the same way as any other brand – it is measured on levels of awareness, familiarity, preference, consideration, advocacy and active decisions to visit. However, the most important factors that truly differentiate a nation(‘s) brand are its associations and attributes – the qualities that people think of when they hear a Country’s name, read or see images of a location, or plan a business or leisure trip.
This year’s leading country brands share some common features. They are all democratic, progressive, relatively politically and economically stable and do business in English. As ever, there are rising and falling stars, but position is not the whole story. Themes are emerging in 2010 that hint at future drivers of country brand strength, including the importance of value systems and the freedom of communications: a major factor in world perception of a country, its culture, people, businesses and brands.
The Trends from this year’s report include:
The Role of Media:
It should come as no surprise that the leading country brands have a healthy mixture of public and commercial broadcast networks with multiple stations, some international reach and a relatively free press. They also have excellent communications infrastructure with high levels of Internet and mobile phone penetration. In a world defined by user-generated content, borderless communication through social networks and unprecedented access to news, information and rich media, a country brand is now partly built by aggregated sentiments and content arising from peoples’ personal experience. Therefore it isn’t a co-incidence that digital openness is a common feature of the strongest country brands.
Weathering the Storm:
The economic crisis is also a powerful factor in country brand strength this year, but mainly for those that avoided it. The top three brands managed to escape the worst of the banking collapse and maintain relatively strong economies throughout 2010. Australia and New Zealand have both enjoyed consecutive-quarter growth thanks in part to continuing demand for commodities like iron ore, timber and milk from China. Canada has also shown strong performance among the G7 nations, being the last into recession and the first out, not least thanks to fiscal conservatism that helped it to avoid the sub-prime crisis. Other countries that have fallen down the rankings – notably the USA and the UK – have both suffered conspicuously as a result of high-risk ventures and the banking collapse.
The Obama Effect:
The USA has fallen 3 places this year, showing that the ‘Obama effect’ can work both ways. Just as its rise to the top spot in 2009 reflected global attention, hope and anticipation of change promised by the new administration, the USA has suffered in parallel with the waning approval ratings of its new President. This could indicate that brand USA was artificially stimulated by the charisma of an individual, covering up some of America’s challenges in the wake of the global economic crisis. With unemployment nearing double figures and a slower than predicted recovery, the world’s largest economy has also been affected by the Gulf of Mexico disaster and sustained criticism over foreign policy.
Brand USA however continues to communicate strong and desirable values in everything from popular culture and entertainment to food and retailing brands.
Brand UK plays to its strengths:
Perceptions of brand UK might have been particularly affected by recent public spending cuts and a move towards a new ‘austerity’ following this year’s change of government. However, despite a slight fall in 2010, brand UK is still a global contender. A major exporter of music, television, film, fashion and literary icons – from the BBC to the Man Booker Prize, syndicated TV talent show formats, Vivienne Westwood and James Bond – the UK still punches above its weight in global media and popular culture. It continues to be a centre of research and learning with Oxford and Cambridge as well as notable business schools appearing prominently in global rankings. And global brands with UK provenance such as Burberry, M&S, GSK, Diageo, British Airways and Virgin Group do much for brand UK’s international image. Unlike more youthful counterparts among the leading country brands, the country also consistently achieves high scores in the dimension for Heritage and Culture that makes up for a rather weak performance in the dimension for Tourism this year. It is also important to remember that the UK hosts some of the most powerful sports brands in the world, from Manchester United to Chelsea and Arsenal as well as the English Premier League. It will be interesting to see whether brand UK maintains its Top 10 position over the next three years – particularly with the London 2012 Olympic Games firmly in view – with a new administration and hopes for a steady recovery from economic difficulty.
English as a first language:
What Canada, Australia and New Zealand have in common with the UK is English as a first language – the unifying force behind global communications and commerce. Rising business schools and universities position them well as education hubs providing talented mobile students who act as international ambassadors for their countries’ brands. The strong tourism draw for all three markets is closely related to each country’s diversity of natural beauty and tourism-friendly urban centres. All three are notable for their strong commitment to natural and environmental causes, and are often used as locations for major films, television shows and commercial advertising as well as promoting themselves as diverse and affordable destinations for adventure and relaxation.
The Rise of Brand Scandinavia:
Perhaps most interestingly this year, the Top 20 performance of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark reveals a strong emerging preference for ‘brand Scandinavia’ across the world. From Denmark’s role as the host of the Copenhagen Summit, to Sweden’s internationally-renowned welfare state, brand Scandinavia represents a commitment to freedom, well-being, global citizenship and quality of life that unites these Northern European countries in people’s perceptions.
As a ‘rising star’ in 2010 – moving from 21 to 10 – Sweden in particular cultivates very strong perceptions around the dimensions for Value System and Quality of Life. Specifically, Sweden performs well in attributes such as Environmental Friendliness, Education and Healthcare System – which are all ranked at number two. The strong performance of brands like the airline SAS that bring Scandinavia together shows the power of unifying individual country brands behind regional flag carriers or corporations that represent common values.
Rising stars for 2010 :
Chile (#40 +19) has improved across every measure this year with huge leaps in Awareness and Advocacy, as well as in perceptions of Political Freedom. The San José miners’ rescue became a global news event generating extraordinary goodwill for President Pinera and brand Chile. This, coupled with growing economic stability, makes Chile a brand to watch in the region.
Israel (#30 +11) With significant marketing investment for tourist destinations, Israel moves in the right direction in 2010 – particularly in Tourism metrics like Authenticity and History, which align very well with campaigns promoting heritage and culture.
Argentina ( #33 +10) scores are up across the board for brand Argentina this year – particularly for Advocacy. After a quarter-finals position in the World Cup and significant GDP growth in the first half of the year, Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage in a move signalling a triumph of liberal values in the region.
Iceland ( #24 +1 ) rise is a counter-intuitive development for a beleaguered country that suffered negative global attention during the banking crisis and the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud flight ban affecting millions of travellers. Perhaps a signal that the world’s oldest democracy still carries some goodwill with international audiences, as well as highlighting the impact of efforts to market Iceland as an attractive transatlantic stopover at a time of unprecedented global brand awareness, scores for Familiarity have leapt up this year.
Falling stars for 2010
Greece (#22, – 8) presents the most conspicuous shift, dropping 8 places from 14 to 22, set against a high-profile financial crisis and subsequent industrial relations problems following government spending cuts and tax increases. Associations of Greece as a tourist destination are traditionally strong in this study, but during sustained periods of bad news – affecting confidence around core services and infrastructure – consideration and advocacy are threatened.
India (#23, – 5) is another falling brand, dropping five places to 23 this year, straight off the back of negative global media coverage of health and safety concerns at this year’s Delhi Commonwealth Games, as well as tourist attacks leading up to the event.
Spain (#10, -4) and Ireland ( move down the table, showing that even traditionally strong tourist destinations are not immune to shifting brand strength in straightened economic times.
Italy (#12, – 6) also falls down the ranking despite increased efforts to boost tourism this year with high profile internal and external advertising initiatives featuring the Prime Minister himself. However, this is set against a backdrop of sustained criticism of Silvio Berlusconi’s premiership and the financial difficulties the country has faced in the global economic crisis.
China (#56, -8) The Olympic effect seems not to have lasted long for China, with 2010 bringing public relations challenges around post-Copenhagen environmental impact and high-profile censorship battles with Google. Significant decline in perceptions of Political Freedom contribute most to this year’s drop in the rankings. A fall for China despite its promotion to the second-largest economy shows that financial growth is no guarantee of brand strength.
UAE (#28, -5) While Tourism metrics overall remain relatively strong, falls in Preference and Consideration contribute to brand UAE’s decline in 2010. Despite significant investment in brand building over recent years, high-profile economic troubles affecting Dubai and the other Emirates impact a country brand keenly associated with wealth and prosperity, but traditionally scoring less well on the dimension for Value System.
Russia (#81, –9) Anti-government protests surrounding March elections, ongoing corruption scandals and economic uncertainty provide the backdrop to a steep fall for Russia this year. Specifically, a steep drop in the score for Political Freedom has hit this emerging market in the 2010 rankings.
The worst performing brands:
This year’s weakest country brands struggle variously with political instability, security concerns, corruption, economic turmoil, natural disasters and high levels of state control, all of which confirm an unavoidable correlation between perceived brand strength and political, social and economic realities in the world’s most challenged countries. As a group, these country brands perform poorly in the assessed dimensions of Tourism and Value System. But it is important to consider that low awareness remains a strong part of the problem for these country brands, rather than merely negative associations. With significant formal or informal constraints on media freedom (with notable exceptions like El Salvador and Senegal), frequent travel restrictions,