It is possible not only to measure the value of Italian brands, but also to assess the strength of Brand Italy 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.
Cultural heritage, fashion and fun at heart of country’s global image
Italy has a prominent role on the world stage and a place in the hearts of many consumers. Its reputation has been built on its enduring cultural influence, its rich heritage, and the sense of fun and adventure it projects. Italy also ranks high on being connected to the rest of the world, having an educated population, being safe, and promoting gender equality. These are attributes that contribute to “soft power” – an increasingly important source of international influence. Italy also fares well on more traditional measures of power.
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 to be 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 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, Italy ranks 15th out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures. Italy stands out for being culturally influential, rich in heritage, friendly, and scenic – building perceptions of Italy as the perfect place for an adventure.
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; France and Chanel or Louis Vuitton; Japan and Sony. In each case, the brand and the country are part of a virtuous cycle, a symbiotic relationship. In fact, Italy is great exemplar of the power of brands to influence the brand of a country, and vice versa. Names like Gucci, Prada and Ferrari have all shaped and been shaped by the beauty and prestige that consumers around the world associate with Italy 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 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.
In Europe, Ireland has 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 Countries 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 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.
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 nearby 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:
Best of the best
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 Italy
#15 out of 80 countries
Italy is consistently a top player in the rankings of the 80 Best Countries, and has continued its rise up the table in the past year, from 16th in 2017 to 15th in 2018. Scores below are out of a possible 10, and rankings show Italy’s place on each attribute out of 80 countries.
Keeping up with the neighbors?
Italy’s Best Countries profile is similar to those of its nearest neighbors; its attributes correlate 89 percent with those of Spain, 69 percent with Greece, and 66 percent with France. But while these markets have much in common with one another in the eyes of global consumers, Italy is seen as different in subtle ways. For instance, it is seen as more prestigious, powerful, scenic, and trendy than Spain.
Both countries have a strong international range of high-performing fashion brands, but those from Italy tend to be at the luxury end of the market, while Spain’s fashion leaders provide more affordable trends. Italy beats Greece for political influence and international alliances. Compared to France, Italy is seen as a happier, friendlier, and a more fun country, with a greater spirit of adventure. Italy also beats France to top spot in the Best Countries ranking for who has the greatest cuisine. Internationally successful food brands from Italy, such as Ferrero, Barilla and Lavazza, help promote the country’s culinary credentials.
Italy 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, Italy is the preferred country of origin of products for 70 percent of people, and a further 22 percent say they would happily buy “Made in Italy” if there was no other option. This is about the same as levels registered for the UK and France; enthusiasm for “Made in Germany” and “Made in the US” was slightly stronger.
Business decision makers are less keen on Italy than consumers, with only 26 percent saying it is their preferred place to do business – well below other major European markets – though a further 39 percent say it’s one of several places they would do business in or with.
Crunching the numbers
Italy has many strengths, but it also has key areas of weakness when it comes to credibility as a business destination, and this is an area ripe with opportunity to improve. It has one of the least-favorable tax regimes in the world, ranking 77 out of 80 countries in the Best Countries ranking. It’s also seen as an expensive manufacturing center, though this plays well with Italy’s reputation for quality craftsmanship, which no one expects to come cheaply. The job market does not compare well to the rest of the world in the eyes of Best Countries respondents, with Italy ranking 34 out of 80. Economic and political stability are also found to be lacking, with Italy ranked 27 and 26 respectively on these measures. And while startups are a growing part of the Italian economy, this message is yet to have a strong impact abroad; Italy ranks only 21 for entrepreneurship, and 45 for being “open for business”.
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.
Italy has for many years been one of the top five countries in the world for the number of tourists it attracts; close to 51 million in 2015 , according to the World Tourism Organization. More than 20 million people visited the 2015 Milan Expo, a fair designed to showcase the country’s economic and cultural capital as the gateway to the nation. Yet this is a highly diverse destination, with Milan and its people quite different to those of other cities and regions. Sicily and the far south of the Italian mainland are a long way from Milan, and have a very different vibe.
Messaging and imagery around fashion, culture, family, fun and food all resonate with what people already feel about the country, and what people who have visited Italy will feel rings true.
A word of caution: There are other countries that also have strengths in the areas that Italy is famous for, and Italy needs to nurture its international reputation. France, for instance, has much in common with Italy in the eyes of global consumers, and in the past two years the two have battled for the crown for being the most culturally influential country in the world. Both countries marry culture, history and prestige with international influence.
Challenges for Italian brands
Brands can best leverage their country of origin when they align with the 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 different 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 Italian brands:
* Brand Italy is strongly associated with fashion, modern design and style, and these strengths can be applied to categories beyond apparel and accessories for which looking good is an advantage.
* It’s not just looking great that reflects well on Italy and its brands, but also the know-how that goes into style and design. These are strengths that other industries can leverage.
* Italy 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 Italy and its brands.
* Prestige and luxury are powerful drivers of both purchase and premium pricing. Few international consumers would expect Italian brands to be the cheapest option, but they are open to being convinced that they are “worth it”, and link “Made in Italy” with high-quality, long-lasting craftsmanship.
* Italy and its people are strongly associated with adventure and passion – not just romantic passion but also a deep love for the things in life they really care about. This care and focus can reflect well on aspects of craftsmanship that are beneficial to Italian brands.
* Italy stands out in Europe for being perceived as a fun, friendly place that’s great for families and wonderful food. While other countries in the region have similar associations with prestige and culture, Italy’s culture is seen as more widely accessible. Brands that adopt a warm, fun, and friendly tone will feel authentic to consumers around the world.
Charm & dynamism drive engagement
Attributes reflect strengths of modern Italy
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.
The latest BAV data from Italy indicates that the country’s greatest strengths are its beauty and cultural heritage, so it’s no surprise that some of the most iconic Italian brands have a distinct charm.
In BAV, the attribute “charming” drives perceptions of authenticity and originality in Italy, which earns brands higher consumer preference than their peers.
But charm alone is not enough – brands also need to have additional energy that helps them stay up to date and relevant in an ever-changing market. In Italy, brands that are seen as dynamic tend to get credit for being visionary and trendy, which are gauges of future momentum in BAV.
Brands that score in the top quarter of all brands on charm and dynamism tend to be seen as 2.5 times more “differentiated” and 1.5 times more “esteemed” than average. These are the two leading indicators of positive brand health in BAV. As a result, brands that are both charming and dynamic command 52 percent higher pricing power than their peers, on average.
Charm and dynamism in action
Carmaker and shoe specialist show how it’s done
Brands in highly varied categories can reflect Italian charm and modern dynamism in combination. As a result, they can command attention from consumers and a premium to other brands. They also perform an ambassadorial role for other Italian brands. Here are two examples that show the ingenuity of Italian branding, as well as BAV’s Top 10 charming and dynamic brands in Italy.
With its distinctive, innovative, fun and friendly persona, Fiat embodies the dynamic and charming identity of Italy at its best. Founded in 1899, Fiat has a long-standing history as an ambassador for brand Italy domestically and abroad. Though its merger with Chrysler in 2014 added new brands to the company’s portfolio, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Italy has remained its own entity and continues to be distinctly Italian, spreading “Italian-ness” globally.
In an increasingly globalized market, the ability to achieve economies of scale is a necessary adaptation for survival. In this climate, however, Fiat in 2014 recommitted to making Italy the base for building its premium cars for export. Fiat is Italy's largest private employer and this is an immense source of national pride. Fiat defines “Made it Italy” at a time when the “Made in Italy” label has room for improvement in how it is perceived abroad.
In the United States for example, while “Made in Italy” currently ranks in the bottom 30 percent of all “Made in” brands for charm, fun, distinction, and innovation, Fiat ranks in top 20 percent on all those attributes. Leveraging Fiat’s perceptions among consumers globally can help solidify the “Made in Italy” label in a way that helps other Italian brands globally, too.
Geox has long been associated with everyday innovation, right down to its name. The word Geox derives its meaning from the word “geo” (earth) and “x”, referring to technology. With over 60 patented technologies, Geox brings inventive energy to the footwear and apparel categories through its cutting-edge developments, which enable products to be both breathable and waterproof. Today, Geox continues to invest in developing and refining breathable technology through its research and development lab.
Although Geox has a forward-thinking, innovative spirit, the brand is rooted in its cultural charm. Geox originated in Treviso, northern Italy, as a side business for a man working in his family’s winery. The idea for Geox’s technology came to founder Mario Moretti Polegato on a business trip to the US; he cut holes in the soles of his sports shoes to release heat while he was running. A family-owned leather company helped to bring the product to fruition, and Geox later launched as an independent shoe business with five employees. Today, those five employees continue to work at Geox, demonstrating a continued connection to the brand’s small business charm, despite Geox’s rapid growth and globalization.
While most Italian shoe brands have focused on style, Geox has created a unique brand position by focusing on human-centered technology. Through its historic and continued dedication to developing everyday technology, Geox showcases the charm and dynamism that consumers value in Italian products.