Italy ranks 18th out of 80 countries in the latest global Best Countries ranking, an international study identifying the strengths, weaknesses and changing perceptions of countries.
How people around the world feel about other countries is of huge significance for brands, because consumers tend to apply their sentiment regarding a place to the products, services and even the people who come from there.
The annual Best Countries study found that 77 percent of people around the world "prefer to purchase products when I know which country they were made in".
The Best Countries Report is now its in fourth year. It is the world’s largest study of nation brands, based on research among more than 21,400 people. Best Countries is a project by U.S. News & World Report, BAV Group and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
The rankings evaluate 80 countries across a range of categories, from economic influence and military might to education and quality of life, to capture how nations are perceived on a global scale.
Why the drop?
Italy has been pushed down the ranking by Singapore and China, both of which have surged ahead due to improved perceptions of them being “open for business” and being “movers” – a measure of a country’s future growth based on per capita GDP. The arrival of Belgium in the ranking, newly included for 2019, also pushes Italy down one place, as Belgium debuts at #17.
This all reflects the increasing competitiveness of global markets, and the importance of not just creating but maintaining positive consumer perception about a market. It shows that while Italy has achieved fairly steady scores relative to a year ago, this is not enough in such a competitive world. Standing still means moving backwards.
What probably hasn’t helped Italy’s international standing is that news headlines relating to the country in the past year have generally related to political upheaval and instability. Economic growth has been sluggish, unemployment remains a major concern, and the birth rate is low – with clear implications for the national economy as the population ages.
How Italy compares to the world
Italy’s brand reputation, according to the Best Countries Report, is centered around its culture and heritage. The country ranks #1 in the world out of 80 countries on the cultural influence and heritage sub-rankings, and is #2 for adventure. It is also first in the world for having great food, appealing fashion, being culturally accessible and trendy. Its friendliness (#2 out of 80) and rich history (#3) also contribute to its image around the world.
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.
Movers: a metric predictive of a country’s future growth in terms of per capita (purchasing power parity) gross domestic product.
How Italy scores
Top of the World
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 country 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 that are 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.
Add to basket? Depends where it’s from
This year’s Best Countries research for the first time asks people explicitly about how they feel about products based on their country of origin. This has led to a new ranking: the Origin Index, which ranks consumer preferences across a range of product categories.
Here, Italy is a strong performer. Its long-earned credibility for culture and heritage has helped it secure top Origin Index rankings in the categories of food, wine and fashion. This aligns closely with the country’s current profile of exports. Italy also stands out in the Origin Index for automobiles (ranking #3 in the world), powered by iconic Italian brands such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, which reflect perceptions of Italy around style.
What Italian brands should know
While brands with obvious cultural links – food, wine and fashion brands, for instance – can most easily use their Italian heritage to create a competitive advantage, cosmetics, travel, engineering and healthcare brands can also take advantage of Brand Italy. Italy is still developing its reputation in technology, and Italian tech companies have an opportunity to shift perceptions of their home country as they grow on the world stage, ultimately paving the path for even more development in that area.
BAV Group, a division of WPP’s VMLY&R, recommends brands:
- Borrow from their country’s strengths
- Shield themselves from their country’s weaknesses
- Know which attributes should be developed from within
- Understand the commonalities a brand shares with impressions of its country of origin
CASE IN POINT – NUTELLA
BAV has assessed the way one of Italy’s best-loved exports measures up against Brand Italy in the minds of consumers. Perceptions of the chocolate-hazelnut spread Nutella in the United States in many ways echo the way Americans think of Italy itself. Both Nutella and Brand Italy are seen as authentic, trendy and down to earth.
Brand Italy has certain attributes that Nutella could draw on: the country is seen as being glamorous, charming and sociable. In seeking to expand in the US market, Nutella can draw on Italy’s reputation for charm, sociability and to some extent glamor. Attributes relating to being a premium product and being high quality should be pursued by the brand alone.
The OI Matrix below shows how attributes associated with Italy but not yet with Nutella can help the brand broaden its reputation - and those personality traits that are strongly linked with Nutella but not Italy itself are best pursued by the brand without making the link with its Italian heritage.