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Best Countries: Spotlight On The Netherlands


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 fourth wave.


The Netherlands has a unique combination of strengths that sets it apart on the global stage, allowing it to “punch above its weight” as a medium-sized European country. What The Netherlands has in its favor is a strong reputation for openness, fairness, and quality of life - it is seen as a progressive place where people can live a happy and prosperous life regardless of their gender or creed. The Netherlands is seen an entrepreneurial, forward-looking, and transparent environment that provides a high standard of living and good public education. It’s also seen as one of the best countries for women.

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 directly affect brands. It was developed by WPP’s Y&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 2018 Best Countries ranking, The Netherlands ranks 10th out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures. It has moved up one position in the past 12 months, taking the place of Norway in the global top ten.



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 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 the Netherlands, brands like Heineken, Shell, Philips, and Booking.com have shown the world that the Dutch can innovate and deliver while upholding their social responsibilities for a fair and equitable society.

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.


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 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 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:








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 table above, 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, visit: https://www.usnews.com/news/ best-countries/articles/methodology



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 and tops the ranking for quality of life. 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.





In the past year the netherlands moved up one position, from eleventh to tenth, taking the place of norway and returning the country to the global top ten

The number one spot is claimed by Switzerland for the second year running, and Canada has retained its grip on second place.

The number one spot is claimed by Switzerland for the second year running, and Canada has retained its grip on second place.


Best Countries for…



The Netherlands’ attributes correlate most strongly with those of Denmark – their profiles are 96% the same – followed by Sweden 95%, then Norway, Austria and Canada. These markets are all distinct, but they are also all forward-looking, well-educated medium-sized economies with a strong sense of cultural and


The Netherlands is among the top ten countries in the world for women, entrepreneurship, transparency, being “open for business,” raising a child, and being “forward-looking.” This all adds up to a country that’s seen as stable, reliable, welcoming, and humane. In short, the Netherlands is seen as an ideal place to invest both one’s money and one’s time. It’s the kind of solid, dependable reputation that one would expect for one of the world’s major banking, trade, and transport hubs – although this strong-but-sober economic profile also goes some way towards explaining why the Netherlands isn’t seen as particularly dynamic, sexy, or adventurous. There is room to tell a stronger story about the Netherland’s recent entrepreneurial successes, as well as to highlight the dynamism inherent in the country’s rich cultural history. Despite the country’s numerous cultural landmarks – ranging from The Girl With A Pearl Earring to the scintillating theatrical productions of director Ivo van Hove – the country could stand to score higher in perceptions of heritage, innovation, distinctiveness, and uniqueness.


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 ne 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 Dutch brands:

The Netherlands is seen as a happy, progressive, educated, and forward-looking place, though not particularly dynamic or culturally rich. This despite the Netherland’s cutting-edge theater scene, Northern Renaissance heritage, and star designers like Piet Hein Eek. As such, consumers around the world perceive the Netherlands more as a place for banking and beer than for innovation and design – a perception that’s ripe for change as brands showcase the best in Dutch ingenuity.

There’s an association in people’s minds between the Netherlands and beer, something that’s underscored every time someone buys a Heineken in each of the 192 countries in which it’s available. Brands – beer or otherwise – can tap into the Netherlands’ reputation for quality and reliability to tell stories about craft, excellence, and innovation that hit all the right cultural buttons.

Many Dutch brands have turned to the passion and power of sport as a way to publicize their brands. Brands could do well to engage with the country’s unique underdog appeal in this area: in terms of medals per capita, and despite it’s smaller size, the Netherlands is one of the most successful countries ever to compete at the Olympics.

Thanks to international institutions centered around The Hague, as well as the Dutch government’s own history of consensus and progress (for instance, being an early adopter of gay marriage), people see The Netherlands as an exceptionally safe and stable place that upholds gender equality, religious freedoms, and human rights. Brands that reflect this progressive perception by developing their own industry-leading social purposes will place themselves in sync with Brand Netherlands. They will thus reap extra benefits by seeming authentic and in tune with the best aspects of what it means to be Dutch.


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.

There are several strong ambassador brands for the Netherlands.

Much as Philips showed decades earlier that small but mighty Netherlands could compete with world powers in designing electronics, today Booking.com and Takeaway.com are leading the way in showcasing the Netherlands as a destination to build world-conquering startups. It’s notable that these are two platforms with straightforward and transparent missions to improve people’s everyday lives – whether they’re arranging travel or ordering dinner - as opposed to being online companies in which monetization is “hidden” in the form of data collection and consumer targeting. Booking and Takeaway’s success reinforces the Netherlands’ reputation as a country of straightforward, pragmatic problem-solvers.

In this same vein, retailers HEMA and Action have used this focus on practicality and transparency to sell their extraordinarily fair-priced home and personal goods in may hundreds of stores across Europe; Action does so by constantly engineering its product array to bring in new, budget-priced essentials, while HEMA highlights on the quirkier side of Dutch identity by focusing on cheerful democratic design.

And then, of course, there’s Heineken, which is not only the world’s second-largest beer conglomerate, but also a brand that serves as many a global beer drinker’s first encounter with premium (yet approachable) imported beer. 25 million Heinekens are served daily across 192 countries, all with the kind of consistently balanced taste that is itself a kind of feet of Dutch engineering, ingenuity, and reliability. More than that, though, Heineken shares Netherlands’ energy and celebratory spirit with the world though its partnerships with Formula 1, the UEFA Champions League, and James Bond, among other leaders in sport and culture. It’s no surprise, then, that the brand’s Heineken experience museum is Amsterdam’s most-visited attraction.


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. In the Netherlands, BAV has been tracking [number] of brands on the same 75 brand associations, including 48 imagery dimensions, since 1993. The evolution of the brandscape in the Netherlands 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:

Michael Sussman

CEO, BAV Group Michael.Sussman@yr.com

Anna Blender

SVP, BAV Group ablender@bavconsulting.com

Lauren Hayden

Senior Brand Analyst, BAV Group Lauren.hayden@yr.com