It is possible not only to measure the value of Spanish brands, but also to assess the strength of Brand Spain itself. The Best Countries ranking does exactly that, comparing perceptions of countries around the world held by a broad spectrum of consumers. There is a close relationship between how people feel about a country, and their attitudes towards the brands they associate with that country. Strong countries fuel strong brands, and vice versa.
Developed by WPP’s Y&R BAV Group, the annual Best Countries ranking was first launched in 2016 at the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos, the world’s largest gathering of global leaders and heads of industry and influence. It is now in its third wave.
Culture, heritage and fun at heart of country’s global image
Spain has a high international profile on the world stage; centuries of exploration and cultural exports have created a strong impression among global consumers of Spain, its strengths and weaknesses. Consumers in most global capitals will be as familiar with Iberian ham, Rioja and Spanish olive oil as they are with the work of Gaudí and Picasso.
How a country is viewed around the world is of huge importance to brands. The words “Made in …” can instantly lend credibility and trust to a product or brand that a consumer hasn’t previously encountered. That can be enough to convince someone to buy, and, beyond that, convince them to pay a premium. Likewise, “Made in …” can prove an instant turn-off if a consumer associates the country of origin with poor safety standards, or sees it as being behind the times on social issues or workers’ rights.
What’s important to note about global consumers’ perceptions of Spain is that opinions vary somewhat between older and younger people. This gives Spain an opportunity to gradually drive a shift in what Brand Spain and Made in Spain represent.
The perceptions and performance of brands abroad feed back into the development of the country itself. Willingness to invest is closely linked to the strength of a country’s brand, and as local brands and businesses succeed, they generate economic growth as well as lending further positive associations to their country’s brand.
The annual Best Countries ranking measures global perceptions of countries against a series of characteristics – impressions that have the potential to drive trade, travel and investment, and directly affect brands. It was developed by WPP’s Y&R BAV Group, and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, in consultation with U.S. News & World Report.
The ranking is based on a large global survey, which asks a range of people about how they perceive different countries against a range of key attributes.
In the 2017 Best Countries ranking, Spain ranks 19th out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures. Its greatest attribute is its heritage, a measure that includes cultural attractions, a rich history and great food.
This places Spain just ahead of China and right behind Austria in the global rankings.
The virtuous cycle every brand hopes for
The relationship between country brands and the products and services those countries produce is complex and changes over time. When a country and its brands represent consistent qualities and values, they lend one another credibility, and there is a multiplier effect for both.
Think of France and Chanel; both represent elegance, glamor and prestige. Chanel is intrinsically French, and France is synonymous with Chanel. The same could be said for Germany and BMW, and perhaps Italy and Ferrari, or Japan and Sony. In each case, the brand and the country are part of a virtuous cycle, a symbiotic relationship.
Brands can both shape and be shaped by perceptions of their country of origin.
Japan in the 1970s was known as a cheap manufacturing base, but is now respected as a world leader for quality electronics and technology thanks largely to brands like Sony and Toyota. South Korea has taken a similar path, with Samsung and Hyundai demonstrating to the world what modern South Korea is and, in doing so, creating a consumer predisposition in international markets to favor other Korean brands.
In a relatively short time, China, too, has shifted perceptions from being seen as the world’s toy factory, to a place of entrepreneurship and innovation, particularly in digital technology. This is partly because of government strategy and a rebalancing of the Chinese economy, but also due to the ambassadorial role of some of China’s leading export brands, such as Haier, Huawei and Alibaba.
Closer to home, Ireland has fairly rapidly gone from being viewed as a center of agriculture and a huge exporter of its talent, to being seen as a young and vibrant nation with a thriving tech and creative scene that attracts global investment.
How to measure a country
The Best Country ranking incorporates the views of more than 21,000 individuals surveyed in 36 countries in four regions: the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East and Africa. These people included a high proportion of “informed elites” – college-educated people who keep up with current affairs – along with business decision makers and members of the general public.
Collectively, the 80 countries in the 2017 ranking account for about 95 percent of global Gross Domestic Product and represent more than 80 percent of the world’s population.
People surveyed for Best Country were asked how closely they associated 65 attributes with a range of countries. These attributes were then grouped into eight categories that were used to calculate the Best Countries ranking:
State of a nation – the 8 elements of a country’s brand
Adventure: a country is seen as friendly, fun, has a pleasant climate, is scenic or sexy.
Citizenship: it cares about human rights, the environment, gender equality, is progressive, has religious freedom, respects property rights, is trustworthy, and political power is well distributed.
Cultural influence: it is culturally significant in terms of entertainment, its people are fashionable and happy, it has an influential culture, is modern, prestigious and trendy.
Entrepreneurship: it is connected to the rest of the world, has an educated population, is entrepreneurial, innovative, and provides easy access to capital. There is a skilled labor force, technological expertise, transparent business
practices, well-developed infrastructure, and a well-developed legal framework.
Heritage: the country is culturally accessible, has a rich history, has great food, and many cultural attractions.
Open for business: manufacturing is inexpensive, there’s a lack of corruption, the country has a favorable tax environment, and transparent government practices.
Power: it is a leader, is economically and politically influential, has strong international alliances and a strong military.
Quality of life: there’s a good job market, affordable living costs, it’s economically and politically stable, family-friendly, safe, has good income equality and well-developed public education and health systems.
The weight of each category in the final index was determined by the strength of its correlation to per capita GDP (at purchasing power parity). As seen in the above chart, a nation focused on providing great quality of life for its people, which cares about rights and equality, and has a focus on entrepreneurship, is seen as having the most powerful nation brand. This reflects how the world has changed; no longer is it just tanks and banks that give a country influence around the world. Hard power is making way for softer power that comes about as a result of entrepreneurship and cultural exports.
In addition to the eight categories above, a momentum metric called “Movers” represents 10 percent of the index, measuring how different, distinctive, dynamic and unique a country is seen to be.
To see the full Best Countries methodology, click here.
Best of the best
Switzerland tops the ranking as it is highly regarded for its citizenship, being open for business, for having an environment that encourages entrepreneurship, offering its citizens a high quality of life, and for being culturally influential. All of the other countries in the top five also score highly across all of these measures. Canada is especially strong on the citizenship measure, while the UK scores best for entrepreneurship and power. Germany has a similar Best Countries profile to the UK, though Germany is stronger on entrepreneurship and is seen as offering a better quality of life. Japan’s greatest strength is also entrepreneurship, but it also scores highly across all the other measures.
How does Spain rate?
#19 out of 80 countries
Scores are out of a possible 10, and rankings show Spain’s place on each attribute in a ranking of the 80 Best Countries.
# 6 best country for a comfortable retirement
# 13 most influential country
# 16 best country for raising kids
# 19 best country to headquarter a corporation
# 22 best country for green living
# 23 most forward-looking countries
Been there, done that
Travel to a country is an important way people become aware of a market and the brands it produces. It is not just that when travellers use services or buy products they remember them. A visitor’s entire experience of a country will be reflected in the brands that country produces, even if the traveller encounters these brands many years later. So, while tourism campaigns might not have an immediate effect on demand for or appreciation of a country’s brands, there is a gradual impact on perceptions over time, and tourism campaigns can often be the starting point of an international consumer’s relationship with a country and its brands.
In the case of Spain, which is well known as a tourist destination particularly among travelers from other European countries, this is especially important. Messaging and imagery around cultural heritage, an easy-going lifestyle, family and food all resonate with what people already feel about the country.
In the 2017 Best Country rankings, Spain rates as the best country for solo travelers.
The country welcomes close to 70 million tourists a year, and is a top performer in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index, which assesses factors such as price competitiveness, environmental sustainability, and travel and tourism infrastructure. Spain is also seen as a relatively safe country, with a homicide rate a fraction of the OECD average.
Time for change?
Millennials see Spain as more powerful in the traditional sense than do other groups, and power accounts for 8 percent of a nation’s Best Country score. This younger audience counts Spain as #13 out of 80 countries ranked according to being “a leader”. Millennials also give it a much higher ranking (34 out of 80 countries) for military strength.
The attributes that are most closely associated with Spain are similar to those
of Italy and Portugal. Italy performs better on the sexiness scale, and for its jobs market, while Portugal is seen as slightly more economically stable.