It is possible not only to measure the value of French brands, but also to assess the strength of Brand France 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, 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.
Culture and prestige at heart of country’s global image
France has a prominent role on the world stage, and is highly regarded among consumers and business leaders alike. Its reputation has been built on its enduring cultural influence, and France is almost uniquely positioned in being recognized both for its heritage and also its modernity, at the cutting edge of what’s trendy.
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.
France is seen as a stable country with a well-developed legal framework, religious freedom, transparency in government, and is a place that many people say they would choose to live. It is culturally rich, and closely associated with what’s fashionable. It has, however, been through considerable recent turmoil. France has been targeted repeatedly by terrorists, and deep differences in public opinion were exposed during the 2017 presidential election, and this is all affecting impressions of France around the world.
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, in consultation 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 2017 Best Countries ranking, France ranks 9th out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures. France’s greatest attributes are its perceived cultural influence, its heritage, and being modern and fashionable.
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 Germany and BMW; Italy and Ferrari; Japan and Sony. In each case, the brand and the country are part of a virtuous cycle, a symbiotic relationship. In fact, France is great exemplar of the power of brands to influence the brand of a country, and vice versa. Names like Chanel, Yves Saint Lauren and Louis Vuitton have all shaped and been shaped by the elegance, glamor and prestige that consumers around the world associate with France itself.
These associations can evolve over time. Japan in the 1970s, for example, 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.
In Europe, 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.
Respondents are asked about the 80 countries that feature in the 2017 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 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.
Each of the eight 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 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 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:
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.
A closer look at Brand France
#9 out of 80 countries
France is consistently a Top 10 player in the ranking of the 80 Best Countries, though it has slipped slightly, from eighth place in 2016. Scores below are out of a possible 10, and rankings show France’s place on each attribute out of 80 countries.
#2 Connected to the rest of the world
#3 Well-developed infrastructure
#4 Culturally accessible
#4 Strong international alliances
Keeping up with the neighbors?
France’s Best Countries profile is similar to those of its nearest neighbors; its attributes correlate 86 percent with those of both the United Kingdom and the United States, and are very closely related to the impressions people around the world have of Italy and Spain. Of the 10 countries most closely correlated with France, seven are also in the Top 10 Best Countries ranking for 2017. What distinguishes France from its neighbors is its especially strong showing for being fashionable, happy, culturally accessible and having many cultural attractions.
France is well placed among 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. Among consumers around the world, France is the preferred country of origin of products for 69 percent of people, and a further 24 percent say they would happily buy “Made in France” if there was no other option. This is about the same as levels registered for the UK and Italy; enthusiasm for “Made in Germany” and “Made in the US” was slightly stronger. Business decision makers show strong backing in the research for doing business in France, with two-thirds saying it’s either their number one market or one of several they would do business in or with.
Political turmoil ahead of the presidential elections – and a spate of terrorist attacks in the past few years – may have contributed to slight declines in perceptions around France in the past 12 months, particularly among consumers in other European countries. The country’s position in the Best Countries ranking slipped one place in 2017; when only European respondents’ views are counted, France would have been in 10th place overall last year, and only 13th in 2017. The perception gap between global and European consumers is not new, but it does appear to be opening up.
Brand building on the move
Travel to a country is an important way people become aware of a market and the brands it produces. It is not just that when travellers use services or buy products they remember them. A visitor’s entire experience of a country will be reflected in the brands that country produces, even if the traveller encounters these brands many years later. So, while tourism campaigns might not have an immediate effect on demand for or appreciation of a country’s brands, there is a gradual impact on perceptions over time, and tourism campaigns can often be the starting point of an international consumer’s relationship with a country and its brands.
France has for many years been the number one country in the world for the number of tourists it attracts; more than 84 million in 2015, according to the World Tourism Organization. Messaging and imagery around fashion, prestige, culture, family and food all resonate with what people already feel about the country, and what those who have visited France will feel rings true.
A word of caution: There are other countries that also have strengths in the areas that France is famous for, and France needs to nurture its international reputation. Italy, for instance, has much in common with France in the eyes of global consumers, and in the past year has taken France’s crown as the most culturally influential country in the world, knocking France into second place. Where France thrives compared to Italy on measures rooted in the economy and infrastructure, indexing much higher than Italy for its international alliances, economic and political influence, and the education level of its citizens. On a global scale, France’s brand has married the aesthetically pleasing attributes of culture and prestige with the influential attributes of economic prowess.
Challenges for French 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 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 French brands:
* Brand France is strongly associated with fashion, style and design, and these strengths can be applied to categories outside apparel and accessories for which looking good is an advantage.
* France is seen as a cultural capital of the world, and associations with iconic cultural centers – both historic and modern – reinforce the way global consumers already feel about France and its brands.
* Prestige and luxury are powerful drivers of both purchase and premium pricing. Few international consumers would expect French brands to be the cheapest option, but they are open to being convinced that they are “worth it”, and link “Made in France” with high-quality, long-lasting craftsmanship.
* France is viewed internationally as a global leader not just culturally but also economically, which gives French brands an opportunity to credibly present themselves as leaders in their own categories. Brands that reflect an international outlook will feel authentic to consumers around the world, who already see France as well-connected and authoritative.
* As well as having a rich history, France is seen as one of the most modern and trendy countries in the world. This, combined with the country’s educated workforce and strong infrastructure, lends French brands cachet as they seek to build a reputation for innovation.
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. Air France flies the flag for what it means to be French. Indeed, its tagline is “France is in the air”. From its staff uniforms, cabin livery, in-flight meals to their communications, Air France projects the glamour of air travel, Air France style.
A handful of luxury goods brands, chief among them the likes of Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Chanel, have for more than a century shown the world what luxury looks and feels like. They have become the gold standard for craftsmanship, desirability and an exclusive customer experience.
Intelligence & creativity drive engagement
Attributes reflect culture of modern France
BAV Consulting has created a research tool—Cultural Rankings—to capture a snapshot of the mindset of the consumers and their markets across categories. The Cultural Rankings measure brands on key dimensions that matter, from trust to innovation to social responsibility. The importance of the attributes varies in relevance depending on the context—the time and region being studied. The results yield insights into otherwise inexplicable cultural factors underlying the success and failure of brands.
Applying Cultural Rankings to France today reveals a new and useful insight: brands seen as creative and intelligent, ideally in combination, are the ones that consumers are most likely to prefer.
Consumers naturally expect the brands they buy and use to perform well. Quality trust are key building blocks of brand consideration and consumer advocacy, but it’s brands that also demonstrate “creative intelligence” that rise to the top as particularly strong in this market.
The combination of intelligence and creativity – two of the attributes measured in the BAV study – drives Brand Strength, an indicator of momentum. Brands that personify these two characteristics are twice as likely to be identified as the “Best” in their category by consumers. These beacon brands have 55 percent more pricing power and garner almost twice as much respect, on average, as other brands measured by BAV.
The importance of brands thinking creatively has grown in France in recent years, reflecting of the changing French consumer. With GDP decreasing across the EU and an aging population more heavily relying on pension income, French consumers have begun to shop “smarter”.
BAV shows that brands that bring smart and inspired solutions to consumers, rather than just high-end brand names, are succeeding as a result. In 2009, traits such as prestige and style were much more strongly associated with brand power, but – while still very important – they have waned in their importance as brand differentiators.
Intelligence and creativity are also powerful reflections of Brand France, at the heart of French traditions like food and wine, fashion, and fine art; they are important characteristics for driving perceptions of France as an innovator. The balance of these two personas reinforces a multi-dimensional image of France as a country, and can highlight the strengths of France and French brands to consumers globally.
Intelligent creativity in action
Beauty and adventure brands show how it’s done
One heritage French brand and one that’s a relative youngster show how brands spanning a range of categories can blend intelligence and creativity to drive up demand and brand growth. L’Oreal and Quechua showcase the ingenuity of modern French branding.
L’Oreal might be the world’s largest cosmetics company, but it also has strong claim in biopharmaceutical research. Started by a French chemist, the brand has kept innovation at the forefront by developing new cosmetic testing procedures, nanotechnologies, and sustainability initiatives. Beyond R&D, L’Oreal advises consumers on smart skin and haircare choices through online tools like the Ingredient Library – a glossary of cosmetic terms that aren’t in the vocabulary of most shoppers.
But L’Oreal’s scientific background doesn’t stop it from competing with the rest of the artistry of the beauty space. The brand embodies creativity through a diverse range of products such as temporary hair colors, partnerships with fashion designers, and an online “lookbook” designed to inspire. Combined with innovative apps to help customers identify their skin tone and create virtual makeovers, L’Oreal is a leader is make-up design and cosmetics development.
This blend of intelligence and creativity has helped elevate L’Oreal as a leading beauty brand not just in France, but globally. As a key brand ambassador for France, L’Oreal exemplifies creativity, style, quality, intelligence, and what it means overall to be French.
Since its creation in 1997, Quechua has been a leader in mountain sporting goods in France. Even though the brand is fairly new, it is very well known and trusted among French consumers. It only took one year for Quechua to be sold nationwide in the biggest local sporting goods store.
The brand was founded and built at the foot of the Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, and has been able to bring outdoor enthusiasts better products through creative innovation. Quechua was the first brand in the world to design and launch what they call the “two-second tent”: a tent that assembles itself when thrown in the air. Since then, the brand has been constantly innovating with features like easy-folding technologies or interior lighting in their clothing.
Quechua is able to innovate by promoting creative thinking and making it a priority. In November of 2014 it built its new global creative center. Located at the foot of the Mont Blanc, very close to where the company was founded, this creative hub is now home to over 300 creative thinkers, dreaming up and creating revolutionary products that proactively cater to the needs of outdoor enthusiasts.
While not yet at the global scale of L’Oreal, Quechua is an example of a powerful brand ambassador that can elevate Brand France’s reputation for ingenuity.
About Cultural Rankings
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 France, BAV has been tracking thousands of brands on the same 75 brand associations, including 48 imagery dimensions, since 1993. The evolution of the brandscape in France 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 to 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 CEO Michael Sussman at Michael.Sussman@yr.com.