It is possible not only to measure the value of brands in Latin America, but also to assess the brand strength of the individual countries within the region. 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.
The virtuous cycle every brand hopes for
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 attributes – 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.
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; Italy and Ferrari or Armani. In each case, the brand and the country are part of a virtuous cycle, a symbiotic relationship.
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 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 associated 65 attributes with a range of countries. These attributes are then grouped into eight categories, which are 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, 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.
Each of the eight measures is given a weighting in its contribution to the total score for each country, as follows.
As seen in the graphic below , 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:
The World View of Latin America
The countries of Latin America have much in common with one another, at least in the eyes of observers from around the world. They are generally seen as fun, adventurous places to visit, with good food and a rich cultural heritage. These attributes are all seen as strengths, and reflect well on the countries and the region more broadly.
What countries in the region also have in common is a global perception about what they lack: great infrastructure, transparency in government and business dealings, and in providing a good, equitable quality of life for their people. While these countries exert cultural influence internationally, they are lagging when it comes to demonstrating entrepreneurial spirit and being a place where it’s easy to get things done.
We will detail the world view of individual countries in the region later in this section, but what the top-line Best Countries data shows is that many markets in the region are not yet clearly defined in the minds of consumers from farther away.
Outside the region, the differences between markets in Latin America are somewhat blurred; brands that come from the region face a challenge in defining themselves not just as Latin American but as distinctly Brazilian, Peruvian, Colombian or something else.
Learning from Europe
Many countries in Europe face a similar challenge as those in Latin America, in that many of their strengths – and weaknesses – are shared by some of their nearest neighbors. Consider Italy, France and Spain. They are all seen as powerful magnets for tourism, with good food and wine, fashion, cultural heritage and a sense of fun and adventure on offer. But despite these similarities in the way they are perceived, these countries – and the brands that come from each country – have managed to define for themselves an image that is distinct, meaningful and valuable.
The same applies to countries like Germany and the UK, which have much in common in the minds of consumers. Both are seen as politically and economically stable, with good infrastructure and a strong sense of entrepreneurship. But they have built subtle yet clearly distinct messaging around what “Made in” either country means.
The countries of Latin America, and the brands that emanate from them, would do well to mirror the way European markets have focused perceptions of their brands. A broad definition of heritage, for example, could apply to all countries in Latin America, and to most markets in the world, for that matter. But there are aspects of each country’s heritage and culture that are uniquely theirs, and these can be emphasized to shape a distinct country brand.
Brazil, for instance, has a diversity in its population that is unmatched in the region, which is linked to its history of immigration. Its cultural and natural diversity extends well beyond the Carnaval do Brasil and samba music. Mexico, meanwhile, has an association with North America thanks to its geography, and stability relative to many of its southern neighbors that can be underlined. Its culinary specialties are distinct in the region, and unique aspects of its Aztec and Mayan heritage can be areas of focus.
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.
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.
In Latin America, tourism is an important way for countries to highlight the ways in which they are distinct from other markets in the region. It encourages visitors to explore beyond the brochure shots of beaches or rainforest, and what else makes a country, its people and its culture special. All of this reflects on the brands that come from there.
Visitor numbers to Latin America are growing at a pace far faster than the global average, according to the World Tourism Organization. While the average annual increase in tourist arrivals is a little under 4 percent a year, South America is up 6 percent on average. Brazil and Argentina are growing at less than the regional average, but from the strongest starting position, while Peru is up 8.4 percent (2016), Colombia 11.4 percent and Chile a massive 26 percent. This represents a huge opportunity for these countries to develop their brands.
Spotlight on Argentina
Heritage and adventure at heart of country’s global image
In the 2018 Best Countries ranking, Argentina ranks 40th out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures. Argentina stands out for being a fun country, with great scenery and good weather. The food and its cultural attractions are among its strongest attributes in the minds of global consumers.
The birthplace of tango, Argentina has deep traditions in literature, theater, cinema, visual arts and music, along with a high literacy rate. It is a relatively young democracy, however, and has endured a turbulent history both before and since democracy was re-established in 1983. This has impacted on the country’s reputation abroad, particularly for stability and confidence in its institutions.
Argentina has risen two places in the Best Countries ranking in 2018. Scores below are out of a possible 10, and rankings show the country’s place on each attribute out of 80 countries.
Argentina’s strengths (ranking out of 80 countries):
#8 for adventure
#9 for having a pleasant climate
#10 for having great food
#11 for fun
#19 for being culturally accessible
Argentina’s weaknesses (ranking out of 80 countries):
#79 for income equality
#77 for transparent government practices
#76 for transparent business practices
#74 for well-distributed political power
#72 for being innovative
Argentina’s strengths have contributed to its sense of adventure, which has fueled a thriving tourism industry. 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, expectations of corruption are widespread, government practices are seen as opaque, and it’s a bureaucratic place to work. Argentina ranks 44th out of 80 countries as the best place to headquarter a corporation, and 43rd as the best place to start a business. Overall, it ranks only 68th out of 80 when it comes to being “open for business”.
Spotlight on Brazil
Adventure capital of the world
In the 2018 Best Countries ranking, Brazil ranks 29th out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures. Brazil is the continent’s biggest country and one of the world’s top tourist destinations thanks to its reputation for fun, dance, sport and celebration – as well as its diverse natural beauty. Consumers around the world rank it number one country in the world for adventure; it’s seen as a friendly, sexy place, with an appealing climate and, culturally, lots of going on.
Brazil’s rich natural resources have made it a major world economic power, yet repeated boom-bust economic cycles have damaged the country’s reputation internationally, so while it’s a large economy, it’s not viewed as particularly influential.
Brazil’s strengths (ranking out of 80 countries):
#1 for adventure
#2 for culturally significant entertainment
#5 for having a pleasant climate
#5 for scenery
#8 for cultural influence
Brazil’s weaknesses (ranking out of 80 countries):
#80 for transparent government practices
#80 for well-distributed political power
#79 for a well-developed public health system
#75 for being economically stable
#75 for a well-developed legal framework
Brazil’s image abroad is highly influenced by perceptions of its beach culture and fun-loving lifestyle. It’s a cultural and racial melting pot that has for centuries welcomed the world. The country is also confronting significant challenges, however, such as poverty, inequality, governance and the environment, and these are all reflected in the way consumers around the world view Brazil.
Allegations of corruption have dogged a range of institutions, and corruption is blamed for costing the country billions of dollars. In a country with a poor reputation for the distribution of political power, a lack of income equality and concerns about safety and access to public services, perceptions of funding gaps due to corruption dominate domestic debate and affect Brazil’s reputation more widely.
In this context, although Brazil is a large economy it is not seen as particularly business-friendly. It ranks 18th out of 80 countries as a good place to invest, and 18th best country in which to start a business, but only 51st as an ideal business headquarters. Brazil is seen as well connected to the rest of the world, and somewhat more entrepreneurial than its neighbors, but concerns about a lack of innovation, skills and education among the workforce tarnish its appeal.
Spotlight on Chile
Low-key public profile centers on natural beauty
While many of its Latin American neighbors put in an outstanding performance on some measures and a poor one in others, perceptions of Chile are more evenly balanced. Chile ranks near the middle of the field of 80 countries in the Best Countries survey on a broad range of attributes.
The country’s unique geography, taking in the long western coastline of the country, plays a key role in how it is seen abroad – a place of dramatic landscapes, which have inspired Chile’s notable arts scene. It has a strong reputation for music, dance and literature, particularly poetry.
Chile gained independence from Spain in the early 19th century, and has a longer history of democracy than many Latin American countries. However, the rule of General Augusto Pinochet from the early 1970s to 1990 has left deep scars, both on its population and impressions of the country from outside.
Since democracy and an independent judiciary were restored, Chile has worked hard on improving the lives of the poorest Chileans, and on opening up trade with the rest of the world.
Chile’s strengths (ranking out of 80 countries):
#18 for having great food
#19 for having a pleasant climate
#22 for adventure
#27 for affordability
#27 for being family friendly
Chile’s weaknesses (ranking out of 80 countries):
#78 for technological expertise
#75 for income equality
#72 for being politically influential
#71 for being individualistic
#70 for being economically influential
Chile’s open market economy focuses on its natural resources – mining, agriculture and fishing – and on trade with the world. Compared to the rest of Latin America, Chile ranks favorably in human development and income. International institutions laud Chile’s government for reducing the number of poor, but also note that income inequality is still quite high, in part due to unequal access to quality education. This, coupled with heavy bureaucracy and a lack of government transparency and innovation, dampen Chile’s performance as a business destination. Yet, with an “open for business” ranking of 37 out of 80 countries, Chile scores significantly better than its larger neighbors, Argentina and Brazil.
Spotlight on Colombia
Recovery from dark days leads to rise up the rankings
Colombia’s reputation internationally has, since the 1960s, been dominated by the successive governments’’ conflict with leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups, most notably the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The illegal drug trade heavily funded that conflict and became a large part of what Colombia was known for abroad. The government reached a peace deal with the FARC in 2016 – not without some controversy – but the effect on the country has been positive, as has the shift in how Colombia is perceived.
While safety remains a major concern for consumers around the world – the country ranks 76th for safety out of 80 countries measured – it is seen as a great destination for adventure, with good weather, great food and fun. While Colombia’s cultural influence is still fairly low by world standards (50th out of 80), Colombians like to boast that more poets than soldiers have occupied the president’s office. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature underscored the central role the written word plays in the country’s arts.
Colombia’s strengths (ranking out of 80 countries):
#17 for having a pleasant climate
#19 for adventure
#23 for having great food
#25 for cheap manufacturing costs
#25 for being fun
Colombia’s weaknesses (ranking out of 80 countries):
#79 for being trustworthy
#76 for safety
#74 for having a good job market
#72 for being progressive
#68 for having strong international alliances
Colombia is classified as an upper middle-income economy and is one of Latin America’s largest economies. Like many of its neighbors, it has rich natural resources that fuel its economy, and cheap manufacturing costs attract investment. It is perceived internationally, however, as being highly corrupt and bureaucratic, with a lack of transparency in government practices.
While unemployment has been declining, it is still high compared to other countries in the region, leading to significant wealth gaps among the population and high levels of poverty. This, together with poor access to health and education services in the eyes of global consumers, leads to generally negative perceptions of Colombia as a place to do business. The country ranks 62nd out of 80 countries on the “open for business” measure.
Spotlight on Mexico
Reforms add business appeal to country’s cultural charms
Mexico’s rich heritage and the sense of adventure it evokes in consumers worldwide are its strongest distinguishing factors in the Best Countries ranking. It’s seen as a lively, fun place to be, with good weather and scenery, as well as a rich history, many cultural attractions, and outstanding food.
World Bank data shows that starting a business in Mexico now takes just eight days, thanks to a range of business registration reforms that have led to a rise in people setting up on their own. Access to credit is also high by regional standards. High levels of violent crime are a very real problem in many parts of Mexico, however, and it is seen as one of the least-safe countries in the world.
Mexico’s strengths (ranking out of 80 countries):
#3 for having great food
#4 for fun
#5 for heritage
#9 for adventure
#12 for having a rich history
Mexico’s weaknesses (ranking out of 80 countries):
#76 for income equality
#76 for transparent government practices
#75 for being health-conscious
#75 for a well-developed public education system
#73 for well-distributed political power
Mexico faces a range of domestic challenges, including low wages, income inequality and a lack of job opportunities. There are extremes of wealth and poverty, which lead to Mexico ranking 42nd out of 80 countries for quality of life. A lack of access to public education and good health services are also factors here. Kidnapping and killings linked to drug cartels are a major problem, and poor perceptions of public safety in the Best Countries ranking reflect this.
Spotlight on Peru
Impressions of Peru paint picture of scenic land of opportunity
International perceptions of Peru are dominated by its natural diversity, rich history, and its cultural attractions. The ancient empire of the Incas was centered in Peru, leaving remnants of an expansive kingdom in its wake. It is home to the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, instantly recognizable around the world and a strong magnet for tourism to Peru. This all contributes to Peru’s position in 19th place in the world in the Best Countries ranking for heritage.
An unrelated area in which Peru also excels is as a place that’s perceived as being “open for business”, ranking 23rd in the world out of 80 countries. What sets Peru apart from many of its Latin American neighbors here is a relatively low expectation of corruption, less red tape than in nearby countries, and cheap manufacturing costs. A lack of government transparency remains a problem, however, as it does elsewhere in the region.
Peru’s strengths (ranking out of 80 countries):
#9 for being affordable
#17 for being scenic
#19 for heritage
#19 for momentum
#19 for having a rich history
Peru’s weaknesses (ranking out of 80 countries):
#74 for innovation
#72 for having a skilled labor force
#71 for well-developed infrastructure
#69 for being economically influential
#67 for entrepreneurship
While Peru has much in its favor, like many countries in the region it also faces sizeable challenges. Peru rivals Colombia for cocaine production, and the narcotics trade is linked to organized crime, illegal mining and concerns over citizens’ safety. And, while poverty levels have been drastically reduced over the past 20 years, they are still high by world standards, particularly in rural areas.
A lack of quality infrastructure and economic stability, coupled with poor access to good public health and education, put Peru’s quality of life in the lower half of the 80 markets ranked in Best Countries. These factors, along with a lack of technological expertise and skills in the labor market, also lead to a poor ranking for entrepreneurship.
Opportunities for Latin American 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 guide can be applied to brands from countries around the region:
* Several countries in the region are perceived as fun, friendly and adventurous places. Brands that adopt a warm yet energetic tone will feel authentic to consumers around the world, even if they don’t specifically reference their country of origin.
* Brands can play on the strengths already associated with their country, but should look beyond stock images, especially those that apply to more than one market. Look for country-specific or even region-specific links with nature or history, rather than generic connections.
* A rich cultural heritage naturally leads to consumer expectations of creativity, which can be a plus for brands in design-related categories. This applies not just to apparel and accessories, but other categories in which looking good is an advantage.
* Don’t shy away from promoting a brand’s country of origin, even if it’s in a category not naturally associated with the country’s strengths. A technology brand, for instance, can talk about how it’s helped overcome a uniquely Peruvian or Mexican problem that has wider applications.
* Consider linking associations people already have with a country – food or a particular landmark – with some they might not be aware of. International consumers know that no country is just a beach or a jungle, but they often have few other reference points.
*Authenticity needs to be at the heart of a country brand, and brands’ associations with their country of origin. Messaging can deviate from what people already think and feel about a country, but only to the extent that it still feels real and believable.