An enviable global brand:
Canada scores #1 as a place people would like to live
In addition to measuring the value of brands from the Canada, we can also assess the strength of Brand Canada itself. The Best Countries ranking does exactly that, comparing perceptions of countries around the world held by a broad spectrum of consumers. Developed by WPP and VMLY&R’s BAV Group, it surveys 21,000 people across 36 countries to understand how a nation’s policies, politics, and people are affecting its perceived standing in the world. It then ranks countries against a series of attributes—such as education, culture, and openness to business—all of which have the potential to drive trade, travel, and investment.
Given that the Best Countries ranking speaks to global perceptions, it should not be surprising that people living in a country can sometimes be surprised at the ratings that are given. Canadians should have no such worries. If they’re feeling their country is stepping out on the world stage in a positive way, the rankings confirm it. At #3 in 2018, Canada stands out on a vast range of metrics, from its business climate and global citizenship to its job market and high quality of life.
Part of this certainly has to do with how Canada has responded to a world in which economies are volatile and politics have often turned dark and authoritarian. While many countries have decried liberal immigration policies, Canada has remained one of the most open and welcoming societies in the world. In 1971—yes, that far back—the country embraced a policy of multiculturalism.
In addition, the country has been remarkably stable politically and has experienced almost none of the global trend towards nationalism and, worse, nativism. Its discourse is largely unaffected by the turmoil, fake news, and divisive propaganda that has upended traditional norms in many countries. To many, Canada has become a beacon of sanity in a mad mad world.
If you’re looking for a single metric that encapsulates Canada’s global reputation, it’s that people consider it, more than any other country, a place they’d want to live. They value it for its healthy politics, excellent healthcare, friendly people, good job market, enviable education system, and all around safety and security.
Of course, we have plenty of data points that confirm this—and the real estate market most of all. Across Canada, and especially in major population centers, where 82 percent of Canadians live, people are putting their money where their mouths are. International buyers have parked billions of dollars into the country’s housing market—which has had major consequences for people living there—some of them unwelcome. Millennials are only half as like to own homes as their same-age counterparts did in 1975. The popular TV show Love It or List It, which is shot largely in Toronto, draws gasps from international audiences, who are stunned to see ordinary row homes in the city selling for over a million dollars.
Faced with soaring housing costs for their citizens, a number of Canadian cities have either implemented or are considering so-called empty homes taxes to discourage those overseas from buying up and then not using real estate in the country. Whether this will work is anyone’s guess, but this “problem” certainly demonstrates how attractive the country is to those who live outside it.
Canada by the numbers
The Best Countries rankings include questions that assess a country based on 65 different attributes. It’s a testimony to Canada’s excellent reputation that on 34 of these measures, or comfortably more than half, it ranks in the top 10 of all countries. On seven of them, it ranks first.
Best Countries also compiles its metrics into nine overarching categories. Of these, Canada ranks number one in the world for Quality of Life. Global citizens perceive Canada as a safe and stable place, with good job security and excellent education. It is also seen as family friendly. In fact, the only knock on it—and one where global and Canadian perceptions likely converge—is that it’s not particularly affordable. High housing costs of course play into that, not to mention $2.75/liter milk, and family data plans that can cost hundreds of dollars a month. But all in all, the world feels you pretty much can’t beat life in Canada.
Canada has also gained two rankings to #2 in the world for Global Citizenship. It bears repeating, even at the risk of monotony, that the country scores well on a range of progressive traits, including healthcare, gender equality, property rights, human rights, and above all, trust, where it is the #1 nation in the world. In fact, Canada’s progressive reputation is so strong that it creates a halo effect. As a result, the country it is highly ranked on certain metrics, such as the environment, when some, like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), see a more nuanced story.
Canada also scores quite well for Innovation. While the BrandZ Top 40 may not be seen as terribly innovative, some Canadian companies are. A huge number of startups can be found in Waterloo, Ontario—Canada’s answer to Silicon Valley. And the University of Toronto is renowned for its prowess in deep learning and artificial intelligence, which has spawned dozens of startups. Within the Top 40, Tim Horton’s recently launched an innovation lab and seems determined to add to its reputation for unusual menu items.
Where does Canada fall down? Simple answer: not many places and most of them you’d expect. Heritage is an obvious one. When compared to countries like France, the UK, and Italy, the relatively new country has an uphill case to make. It is also not seen as being terribly distinct or different, and certainly not unique. However, Canada does rank quite high for cultural influence. This only makes sense as the country has long minted global celebrities—even though they are sometimes mistaken globally for Americans due to the countries’ largely shared accents.
The value of strong national brand attributes
Impressions of a country matter to brands because the feelings people have about a place are projected on to the brands that come from there. This, in turn, affects what people are likely to buy, and how much they’re willing to pay for it.
We certainly will pay more for wine and cheese from France than we do, in general, from Portugal or Chile. Likewise, if a new technology product comes from Silicon Valley, we’re more open to its consideration and purchase. We travel to have fun in Brazil and to soak up food and culture from Italy. Each country’s brand influences a product’s perception, especially if it is new or unusual to us.
And just as countries perform an ambassadorial role for the brands they’re home to, brands also perform the same role for their home country. Samsung has helped reshape international views about South Korea, for instance, Sony has done the same for Japan and Japanese products. The reason American technology products and services sell so well around the world is because companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google have profoundly changed how people live.
Canada strengths, a selection (ranking out of 80 countries):
#1 Quality of life (category)
#1 Not corrupt
#1 Is a place I would live
#1 Politically stable
#1 Respects property rights
#1 Transparent business practices
#1 Well-developed public educational system
Canada’s weaknesses (ranking out of 80 countries):
#79 Has a rich history
#74 Cheap manufacturing costs
How Do We Measure a Country?
The Best Countries 2018 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,” or college-educated people who keep up with current affairs, along with business decision makers and members of the general public.
Respondents are asked about the 80 countries that feature in the 2018 ranking; between them, these countries 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 Countries are asked how closely they associate 65 attributes with a range of countries. These attributes are then grouped into eight categories, which are used to calculate the Best Countries ranking:
Switzerland tops the ranking as it is highly regarded for its citizenship, openness for business, and for providing an environment that encourages entrepreneurship. It offers its citizens a high quality of life and is quite culturally influential, with more Nobel prize winners per capita than most nations. Japan is seen as tops for entrepreneurship. Canada is best for quality of life, while Germany has a similar Best Countries profile to the UK, though Germany is stronger on entrepreneurship. The United States scores as the most powerful nation, but its low rating as open for business, presumably driven by its wrangling on trade and harsher immigration policies, drags it down in the rankings.
Being the best they can be
When it comes to positive attributes, Brand Canada has an embarrassment of riches. Canadian brands can make most of what their country brand already represents in the minds of international consumers, and at the same time contribute to what “Made in Canada” means. Brands can use their country of origin to greatest effect when they align with its values and the positive feelings already associated with that country.
A focus on the following attributes will ring true to international consumers:
Canadian banks can rejoice. When it comes to trust, an incredibly important characteristic in financial services, they can rely on Canada’s number one ranking by this measure. Interestingly, however, BrandZ data shows that Canadians themselves are not terribly trusting in their brands. Trust is an important part of building loyalty, so whether brands are expanding overseas or hoping to stave off disruptive upstarts, delivering on your promises is always table stakes.
Amy Badun, in her article “The late bloomer: Canada’s cultural rise and how brands can keep up,” notes that a huge number of culturally influential people are Canadian, including Drake, The Weeknd, Shania, Celine, the Ryans, Justin Bieber, Seth Rogan, Mike Myers, and even Keanu Reeves, who grew up in Toronto. The country has also recently seen a lot of success in sports, with Toronto Raptors winning the NBA championship and Bianca Andreescu capturing the US Open title. Canada’s brands certainly have an opportunity to celebrate Canadian culture, especially within the country, where pride in native sons and daughters runs high.
While Canada ranks poorly on nearly all measures of uniqueness, that doesn’t mean it has to. Top Canadian brands are also seen as largely undifferentiated, but where some see a problem, smart brands always see an opportunity. A number of smaller Canadian brands outside the ranking, as well as some like Lululemon and Aritzia are certainly seen as shaking things up. The key is largely innovation and doing something new. That can involve digital innovation, but it can also be as simple as taking a different approach or removing a pain point in customer’s lives.
On a wide range of measures, Canada is seen as a leading moral voice among nations. While this doesn’t translate easily to marketing activities, it does lend credibility to brands seeking to emphasize how their actions benefit the world as a whole. Canadian brands would hardly be stepping too far outside their lanes if they commented on equality, social justice, environmental concerns, and other issues of concern to their customers. The only caveat is that the stance taken must resonate with the brand itself—otherwise the effort could seem disingenuous.
Above all, Canada’s excellent global reputation should be encouraging to any brand looking to set its sights outside its borders. Brands like Tim Horton’s, Canada Goose, and Aritzia—all of which are expanding overseas—should benefit from the trust, good will, and openness the country has engendered around the globe. Brand Canada is clearly a welcome asset, and no brand should be shy to use it.
About Best Countries
Best Countries was developed by WPP’s VMLY&R BAV Group, and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, with U.S. News & World Report. The ranking is revealed each year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the world’s largest gathering of global leaders and heads of industry and influence. For more detail visit: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries.