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Heritage, Dynamism, and Uniqueness at the heart of country’s global image

It is possible not only to measure the value of Indian brands, but also to assess the strength of brand India 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 VMLY&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 fifth year.

Heritage, Dynamism, and Uniqueness at the heart of country’s global image

India has unique combination of strengths that set it apart on the global stage, helping it carve out a reputation as a storied civilization that is also poised to win the future. Whatever Indian people may think of their own country – and indeed, there’s a vital debate going on within India about the path India needs to take it’s full place as a global leader – the good news is that when it comes to India external perception among foreigners, the country enjoys a strong reputation as a place with unique cultural attractions and a hunger for business and growth. India seen as a forward-looking country with affordable manufacturing and ambitious entrepreneurs, and where deep traditions of architecture, food, and entertainment contribute to a vibrant environment. India is seen as a prime “mover” on the global stage, a country whose influence is only set to grow in the years to come.

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.

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 that directly affect brands. It 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 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 2019 Best Countries ranking, India ranks 27th out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures. It has moved down positions in the past 12 months.

The virtuous cycle every brand hopes for.

India ‘s reputation is buoyed by the joy, energy, and acumen that institutions like tata, infosys, and bollywood bring to the world stage.

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, glamour and prestige. Chanel is intrinsically French, and France is synonymous with Chanel. The same could be said Italy and Ferrari, or Japan and Sony. In each case, the brand and the country are part of a virtuous cycle, a symbiotic relationship. In India, brands like Infosys and Tata have created the impression that India is serious about international business, while Bollywood has showcased the vibrancy and energy of India to audiences worldwide.

Brands can both shape and be shaped by perceptions of their country of origin. Japan in the 1970s was known as an inexpensive manufacturing base, but is now respected as a world leader for quality electronics and technology thanks largely to brands like Sony and Toyota. 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. This is partly due to the ambassadorial role of some of China’s leading export brands, such as Haier, Huawei, and Alibaba.

The Best Countries 2019 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 include 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.

Respondents are asked about the 80 countries that feature in the 2019 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:

The 9 Elements of a Country’s Brand

Adventure A country is seen as friendly, fun, has a pleasant climate, and 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.

Movers Takes into account how different, distinctive, dynamic and unique a country is seen to be, as well as prospects for that country’s future GDP growth.

Each of the nine measures is given a weighting in its contribution to the total score for each country, as follows:

The weight of each category in the final index is determined by the strength of its correlation to per capita GDP (at purchasing power parity). As seen in the graphic below, 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.

To see the full Best Countries methodology, visit: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/methodology

The best of the best

The Top 5 countries in the world on the Best Countries ranking have not changed in the past year, though there has been some shifting of positions.

Switzerland is once again at the top of the list, fueled by a strong sense of citizenship, entrepreneurship and being widely seen as open for business.

Japan has risen to #2 ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics, due to take place in Tokyo. The country is seen as the most forward- looking nation in the world, and also ranks #1 for entrepreneurship.

Canada, Germany and the UK round out the Top 5, as they did a year ago. The US is in eighth position, but its performance on trust has fallen, as have perceptions of the country as a society that cares about human rights. The US is still seen as first in the world for power, followed by Russia at #2.

The Nordic countries put in another strong performance, based on measures of “soft power” – influence and desirability unrelated to traditional indicators of strength, such as financial and military might. Sweden and Norway both make the Top 10 this year; Sweden is the best country for green living, for women, and for raising children.

Other top performers include New Zealand as the best country for retirement, and Canada for quality of life.

A closer look at brand india

In the past year India moved down two positions overall, from 25th to 27th, but maintained its top-ten positions in the heritage and movers categories, and moved up two rankings in the quality of life rankings.

Best Countries for…

Keeping up with the neighbors?

Along with South Korea and Thailand, India is part of a cluster of Asian countries poised to enter the top quartile of the global best country rankings.

Keeping up with the neighbors?

Even more than the other Asian countries positioned just outside the global ranking’s top tier, what sets India apart are its high rankings in the “Movers” category. This category was added to the global rankings formula to capture attitudes towards countries’ future prospects for growth and dominance – taking into account not only GDP growth projections, but also how distinctive and dynamic a country’s future trajectory seems. India already scores highly for affordability and the accessibility of manufacturing, so the kindling for growth is clearly there. What’s more, India is seen as a country that possesses a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a number of advantages toward starting a company; the main problem, as of today, is that India’s perceived regulatory and infrastructural impediments have kept the country from fully unlocking that zeal for growth. This is why the country’s present-day “Open for Business” scores lag behind its future-focused “Movers” scores.

Even in its economically emergent state, India is already perceived as a major world player in business and politics, as evidenced by its top-quartile rankings for power and international influence. In the “soft power” cultural sphere, India has clear assets in its culinary attractions and heritage sites, as well as a spirit of artistic dynamism that could stand to be further leveraged to increase the country’s cultural influence worldwide.

In the areas where India’s rankings are weaker, the good news is that the country already possesses the strengths it needs to improve its standing –  it is only a matter of fully unlocking their power by removing a few reputational drags. For instance, India is already seen as a place with the kind of entrepreneurial spirit, knowledge base, technical know-how, and manufacturing capacity needed to build great businesses; the only problem is that these attributes are at the moment hamstrung by perceptions of weaker infrastructure, red tape, and regulatory and political uncertainty. Remove those perceived roadblocks, and India’s business and power rankings would soar. Similarly, in the cultural sphere, India already boasts an excellent reputation for heritage, vibrancy, food, and uniqueness; if the country could begin to tell a more compelling story around cultural openness, tolerance, quality of life, and ease, India’s “soft power” would reach its fullest potential.

Challenges for indian brands

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.

What a brand represents in people’s minds can gradually change. China, Singapore, Japan, and Korea have shown how international perceptions of what their country represents can deliver a change in perceptions relatively quickly. When there is a concerted and sustained effort by government bodies in collaboration with the private sector, change can happen fast.

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 their category and the market they are 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 Indian brands:

India is seen as a diverse, energetic, heritage-rich, and forward-looking society, though not as exceptionally tolerant, happy, or equitable place. This is despite India’s beloved and joyful Bollywood productions, which have shared the colors and music of India with countless people worldwide. What this means is that while consumers around the world may perceive India’s cultural exports as joyful, they don’t necessarily have a good view into the roles that harmony and happiness play in Indian society. This is a perception that’s ripe for change as the country continues to lift its population out of poverty, eliminate social inequities, and emerge as a middle-income world power.

Part of the reason for the gaps in India’s global reputation is that, aside from “Brand Bollywood” and the Indian national cricket team, India simply doesn’t have a wide portfolio of internationally prominent brands or institutions out in the world to burnish “Brand India” and provide an alternative to more negative press. If the Chinese trajectory is any example, that should change as India emerges more fully onto the world stage. As of right now, some of the India’s strongest international operations are in the less-visible world of B2B services – which doesn’t mean that these B2B brands can’t play an even greater role in promoting India’s potential, just that they’ll have to be especially creative in the ways that they do so.

Depending on the election cycle, India’s status as the world’s largest democracy can also be an asset in burnishing the country’s reputation as an open, free place. Indeed, the country’s political trajectory is significantly entwined with the economic side of “Brand India” – for example, affecting the country’s reputation for fairness, stability, and openness.

China, Singapore, Japan and South 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.

There are several potential ambassador brands for India. In the cultural sphere, Bollywood is only continuing to grow its audience worldwide; a next step may be increased exposure to India’s compelling television serials as streaming platforms grow more diversified (think of how Korean dramas have found fans around the world). In the luxury and travel sphere, brands like Taj Hotels, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, and Jaipur’s Gem Palace have already won the love of the world’s richest elites; what’s needed now are ways to extend India’s highest-end assets into the more widely-known worlds of affordable and accessible luxury.

The potential for great Indian ambassador brands is there: global brands across the value spectrum, from Ikea to Loewe, already source from and collaborate with Indian artisans (weavers, embroiderers, metalworkers and more) to create covetable goods across a variety of categories. It’s only a matter of time until Indian brands fully leverage the country’s many strengths to break out globally in their own right. Similarly, it’s equally possible that one India’s many rising tycoons could follow the example of rising Chinese brands and make a marketing and expansion play for more global prominence for one of their existing (non-B2B) brands. Acquisitions and mergers could also play a role in promoting Indian companies and brands abroad; think of how Tata Group’s acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover raised the conglomerate’s profile among car aficionados across the globe.

About BAV

The BrandAsset® Valuator (BAV) is a study of consumer brand perceptions, measuring brands on imagery and equity dimensions in a category-agnostic fashion. By understanding and exploring a brand against the broader dynamics of culture, BAV can uniquely provide insight into a brand’s larger role in the evolving cultural marketplace, and provide actionable insights that drive both brand growth, and the brand’s impact on culture.

BAV has been collecting cultural ranks of brands for 24 years to date, having spoken to over 1.2 million consumers globally. The evolution of the brandscape in India has been meticulously measured and studied by BAV and reflects the culture of the times and consumer attitudes.

BAV’s “Cultural Rankings” tool captures a snapshot of consumers’ mindset and market conditions measuring key brand dimensions that matter, from trust and innovation to social responsibility. When combined with other market-specific brand associations, the tool helps contextualize a brand’s cultural role, guiding marketplace positioning.

For more information about BAV and its Cultural Rankings, please contact:

Ryan Johnson, VP, BAV Group

ryan.johnson@bavgroup.com