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Bigger than Brexit

Bigger than Brexit

Brand UK strong despite uncertainty

The UK is maintaining its global reputation as a prestigious, influential and entrepreneurial country, despite anxiety over the shape of its future relationship with the European Union.

The country ranks #4 out of 80 countries assessed in 2018 in the Best Countries ranking.

The annual Best Countries ranking measures global perceptions of countries against a series of attributes – 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.

How the world views the UK

The UK has traditionally been seen by consumers and business people around the world as a strong and powerful nation with much to recommend it. This is still the case following the referendum decision to leave the European Union; the UK ranks #2 in the world for having strong international alliances, a position it has held now for two years. It ranks #4 for being politically influential, #4 for being entrepreneurial, and #5 for being a powerful nation. These scores underline the strength of the country’s reputation, one that has been built up over decades, if not centuries.

Perceptions of Brand UK among the country’s major trading partners – China, the European Union, India and the United States – remain positive. Within Europe, however, the wrangling over Brexit does seem to have had an effect on the UK’s reputation closer to home.

So, while Europeans rank the UK #4 in the world for entrepreneurship, trailing only Switzerland, Germany and Sweden, it has dropped two places in the past year on being “open for business”. Europeans have also voted down the UK as a good place to live, with the country slipping to #20 among Europeans this year (from #12 last year). This likely to be linked to shifting perceptions around the openness of the UK’s travel policies, a measure on which the UK has also slipped this year, from #21 in 2017 to #24 this year.

These declines, along with a drop in the UK’s score for being “open for business” (from 19 to 20 in the past year) explain the UK’s overall drop in the ranking from third place to fourth.

On the flipside, citizens of EU countries rank the UK higher than those in the rest of the world for being progressive (the UK ranks #12 on this measure among Europeans, but #15 when ranked by respondents all over the world).

It is within the UK that perceptions are most notably shifting. Unsurprisingly, given the slim margin on which the decision to leave the EU rested, opinions on how the country is faring in this interim period are divided. Views on the UK are generally more positive outside the country than within it.

  • 54% of global respondents believe the country is moving in the right direction (51% of UK respondents say the same)
  • 59% of global business leaders believe the UK is on the right track (56% of UK business leaders)
  • 69% of UK business leaders say they have benefited from membership of the EU and other global trade organisations (62% of business leaders globally say the same)
  • 60% of UK respondents said they feel more like a citizen of their own country than the world (higher than the 48% global average)

This mixed picture provides a degree of reassurance that Brand UK is retaining its value around the world, but it also points to the need for vigilance, given that confidence among citizens at home and in the EU appears to be slipping on some key measures.

The value of a strong country brand

Impressions of a country matter immensely 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.

This is why labelling olive oil “Produce of Italy” commands a premium, as does “Made in France” when applied to fashion. Likewise, the words “Designed in California” add a certain cache to a range of personal electronics that are “Assembled in China”.

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 German cars sell so well around the world is that people believe in German design and engineering – in a large part because of brands like BMW and Volkswagen.

How people feel about a country and its brands can, therefore, change over time, depending on the behavior of governments, brands and populations. When all parties are aligned on what they want to stand for abroad – and work together to ensure they deliver on their promises – great things can be achieved. Strong countries fortify strong brands, and the same applies in reverse.

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” – 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 8 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.

Top of the world

2018 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.

Surpassing expectations

UK 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 the UK” stands for. Brands can use their country of origin to greatest effect when they align with values and positive attributes already associated with that country.

A focus on the following attributes will ring true to international consumers:

1 Strength and scale – Brands that position themselves as leaders will be seen in the context of the country’s prominent position on the world stage.

2 Quality at a price – This is not a market known for affordability, but the flipside of this a reputation for reliability, linked not just to price but also perceptions of quality around the UK’s education system and its workforce.

3 Entrepreneurship – This is a market known for taking big ideas to the world, so even brands that are starting small will be given a hearing and taken seriously by consumers abroad.

4 Culture and heritage – British history, architecture, literature and music have all had a global impact. Use these strengths in creative ways to emphasise pride in a brand’s heritage, creativity or craftsmanship.

5 Fairness – Well known as home to the mother of parliaments, the UK is seen as a bastion of democracy, reason, fairness and the rule of law, all of which helps UK brands’ pursuit of consumer trust.

Best Countries 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 revealed each year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the world’s largest gathering of global leaders and heads of industry and influence.