It is possible not just to measure the value of UK brands, but also to assess the strength of Brand UK 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 in partnership with U.S. News & World Report and the Wharton School, 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.
Power and innovation at heart of country’s global image
The UK has a high-profile presence on the world stage and is widely regarded in a positive light. As one of the largest economies in the world, it is recognised for its economic influence and general stability, even if there has been a wobble in perceptions of that stability in the past year as a result of the vote to leave the European Union.
The country – and, by association, its brands – is seen as a hub of entrepreneurialism and innovation, with strong, transparent systems of governance in place. It is seen as a place of fairness and equality, but also fashion and cultural influence.
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.
Opinions on the UK vary quite significantly between older and younger people, and this perception gap is one brands should be wary of falling into. The gap does, however, give the UK an opportunity to gradually shift what Brand UK and Made in the UK represent around the world.
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.
Background on the Best Countries ranking
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. 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, the UK ranks 3rd out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures, behind only Switzerland and Canada. This is despite declines across several key measures following the referendum decision to withdraw from the European Union. The UK’s greatest attributes are its perceived power, entrepreneurship, cultural influence and heritage.
The UK is one of the few top-ranking markets to hold its position between 2016 and 2017; other powerful nations such as Germany and the US slipped down during the period.
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 favour 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 centre 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, a focus on people, 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
2017 Best Countries
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. 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.
#3 out of 80 countries
The UK is seen as a trustworthy country, and this helps make it one of the top countries in the world to do business with. And, while it is not seen as a particularly affordable market – ranking 62 out of 80 countries – its products are perceived as highly desirable. In fact, 93 percent of people questioned said they would happily buy products made in the UK – about the same as for Canada, Italy, France, Germany and the US.
Among business decision makers, 33 percent said the UK was the country they preferred to business with or in.
The Brexit divide
The UK’s referendum on its relationship with the European Union in 2016 has not just divided opinion at home, it’s also had a significant effect on perceptions of the country internationally. In some quarters, the decision to leave the EU, or “Brexit”, has been seen as a bold expression of individualism and strength; among others, it’s seen as a backward step that has already damaged the country’s standing, even before a break-away takes place.
In general, the world’s business leaders see the country as presenting them with greater opportunities after Brexit, and in 2017 ranked the UK as #2 in the world overall among this group, 1 ranking higher than among all respondents overall and 2 points higher than last year’s ranking among business decision-makers.
But not all groups saw the positives. Millennials and Informed Elites – well-educated, high income individuals who pay attention to global events – saw the UK decline to #5 in the world, 2 positions behind its overall standing...
Ranking out of 80 countries.
There are opportunities for the UK to make gains, however, building on its strong and enduring reputation for entrepreneurship and citizenship. Brexit has given the UK a clear point of di erence compared to its Western European neighbours, and this can
be used to promote a spirit of independence. This is a chance to position the country and its brands as individually driven and dynamic.
TIME FOR CHANGE?
There is a clear gap between how millennial consumers regard the UK and the opinions of older people, particularly those we call the “informed elites”. Younger consumers – despite having mixed feelings about Brexit – are decidedly more positive in their views on the UK than older people. To them, it may be a less affordable market, but it’s more distinctive and sexy. Even the food and the weather are better if you’re younger. This divergence of views can help brands develop what they stand for over time. Individualism and modernity should be key areas of focus for brands targeting young international consumers.
KEEPING UP WITH THE NEIGHBOURS?
The UK jostles with other large economies both in Europe and farther afield for the top places on key attributes. It performs consistently well on factors that are likely to affect the desirability of its brands and products.
The UK has a skilled workforce, but those of Germany and Japan are seen as superior; France is more prestigious and fashionable, and the US is regarded as more innovative and better connected to the rest of the world. These are all areas that need to be given attention if the UK is to remain competitive in a post-Brexit world.
The UK’s Best Countries profile is similar to those of its Western European neighbours and the United States. Its attributes have an 86 percent correlation with those of Germany, 79 percent with the US, and 70 percent with France. The UK ranks in the Top 10 countries in the world on a range of measures, but doesn’t manage to get to the number one spot on any of them. The US and Japan dominate the top two places for attributes such as technical expertise and leadership; the UK’s top score on an individual measure is #3, for being connected to the world and having strong international alliances.
CHALLENGES FOR UK BRANDS
Brands can use their country of origin to greatest effect when they align with values and positive attributes already associated with that country. This often means walking a fine line between using accepted wisdom to benefit a brand, and perpetuating stereotypes.
Striking the right balance is a matter for each brand, and will depend on the brand’s category and the market it is entering. For some brands, the reputation of their country will help fill gaps in what consumers know about an individual brand.
The following rules of thumb apply to most brands:
- The UK is best known outside the country for its global connections, scale and influence over a long period of time. Brands that reflect an international outlook and rich heritage will feel authentic to consumers around the world.
- International consumers do not see the UK as a particularly affordable market, but the country is viewed as both prestigious and trustworthy. There is a sense, therefore, that goods from the UK might be expensive, but that their premium pricing is justified, and this helps explain the strong predisposition to buy British. Show that brands are not cheap, but they are “worth it”.
- Innovation is strongly associated with the UK, and among young people in particular, the country is seen as modern and fashionable. This reflects well on brands in a range of categories, from technology to clothing and accessories. Consumers expect new and exciting things from UK brands, and in the post-Brexit era, individualism and difference are likely to become more closely linked with the UK.
- Global opinion on the UK’s climate and cuisine are fairly poor, particularly among older consumers. Except when used in conjunction with some traditional British humour, neither is likely to make a strong selling point.
- The UK is seen as a leader in political, economic and cultural spheres. This gives UK brands the opportunity to present themselves as leaders in their own categories.
- The powerful associations the UK has with heritage and prestige – and the high regard in which its workforce is held - can be used to raise consumers’ expectations of quality craftsmanship. This could be advantageous to UK brands in building consumer preference or justifying a premium.
China, Singapore, Japan and Korea have shown how international perceptions of what their country represents can be transformed, and relatively quickly. When there is a concerted and sustained effort by government bodies in collaboration with the private sector, change can happen fast.
People believe what they do about a country because they gradually accumulate snippets of information that either reinforce or challenge what they think. Experiences with brands can provide those snippets, and leading brands don’t just represent themselves, they represent their country.
National airlines are frequently the first brand that people will encounter from a country, and Singapore Airlines and Emirates are two that especially embody what their home countries have come to represent to international consumers. British Airways is also in that category. Formerly a state-owned enterprise but now privately run, BA still flies the flag for what it means to be from the UK; their planes’ livery and staff uniforms echo the national flag, and the airline flies from its hub in London to hundreds of locations in all six inhabited continents. Recent industrial action and IT malfunctions notwithstanding, BA’s mission remains: “To Fly. To Serve.”
Burberry has become an iconic luxury brand that wears its UK heritage with pride. The brand is synonymous with the trench coats developed for British soldiers in World War One, and the life and times of founder Thomas Burberry were at the heart of advertising for the Christmas 2016 season. The brand uses identifiably British celebrities in its communications, and – linking to the UK’s reputation for innovation – has been an early mover in the world of chatbots as customer service assistants.
Jaguar and Land Rover both embody key aspects of Brutishness: heritage, reliability, and a high-end take on style. Both brands, now part of the Tata group, at the same time reflect Brand UK and have helped shape what the UK has come to represent to the world.