IT IS POSSIBLE NOT ONLY TO MEASURE THE VALUE OF JAPANESE BRANDS, BUT ALSO TO ASSESS THE STRENGTH OF BRAND JAPAN 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 VMLY&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 fifth year.
INNOVATION, TECHNOLOGICAL EXPERTISE, AND CULTURE AT THE HEART OF COUNTRY’S GLOBAL IMAGE
Japan has unique combination of strengths that set it apart on the global stage, helping it carve out a reputation as uniquely forward-looking and advanced even among major world powers. Whatever Japanese people may think of their own country – and indeed, there’s a vital debate going on within Japan right now about how society can become freer, stronger, and more open – the good news is that when it comes to Japan’s external perception among foreigners, there’s a strong reputation in place of entrepreneurship, dynamism, and quality. Japan seen as a progressive country where innovative and trend-setting ideas can come to life, and where deep traditions of art, food, and entertainment contribute to a refined quality of life. Japan is seen as a high-tech, forward-looking, and highly skilled society that is at the forefront of green innovation.
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.
The perceptions and performance of brands abroad feed back into the development of the country itself. Willingness to invest is closely linked to the strength of a country’s brand, and as local brands and businesses succeed, they generate economic growth as well as lending further positive associations to their country’s brand.
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 that directly affect brands. It was developed by WPP’s VMLY&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 2019 Best Countries ranking, Japan ranks 2nd out of 80 major markets around the world across all measures. It has moved up three positions in the past 12 months, taking the place of Canada as the world number two.
THE VIRTUOUS CYCLE EVERY BRAND HOPES FOR
JAPAN HAS COME TO REPRESENT THE QUALITY, INNOVATION, RELIABILITY, AND CREATIVITY THAT BRANDS LIKE SONY, TOYOTA, AND NINTENDO HAVE SHOWN THE WORLD THAT JAPAN CAN DELIVER.
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 France and Chanel; both represent elegance, glamour and prestige. Chanel is intrinsically French, and France is synonymous with Chanel. The same could be said Italy and Ferrari, or Japan and Sony. In each case, the brand and the country are part of a virtuous cycle, a symbiotic relationship. In Japan, brands like Lexus, Shiseido, and Comme des Garcons have shown the world that the Japanese products thrive at the intersection of technical innovation and cultural ingenuity.
Brands can both shape and be shaped by perceptions of their country of origin. Japan in the 1970s was known as an inexpensive 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. This is partly due to the ambassadorial role of some of China’s leading export brands, such as Haier, Huawei, and Alibaba.
The Best Countries 2019 ranking incorporates the views of more than 21,000 individuals surveyed in 36 countries in four regions: the Americas, Asia, Europe,
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 2019 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 nine categories, which are used to calculate the Best Countries ranking:
The 9 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 nine measures is given a weighting in its contribution to the total score for each country, as follows:
Adventure – 2% / Citizenship – 16% / Cultural Influence – 13% / Entrepreneurship – 18% / Heritage – 1% / Movers – 14% / Open for business – 11% / Power – 8% / Quality of Life – 17%
The weight of each category in the final index is determined by the strength of its correlation to per capita GDP (at purchasing power parity). 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, a momentum metric called “Movers” represents 14 percent of the index, and takes into account how different, distinctive, dynamic and unique a country is seen to be, as well as that country’s GDP growth.
To see the full Best Countries methodology, visit: https://www.usnews.com/ news/best-countries/articles/ methodology
https://www.usnews.com/ news/best-countries/articles/ methodologyをご覧ください。
THE BEST OF THE BEST
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 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.
A CLOSER LOOK AT BRAND JAPAN
IN THE PAST YEAR JAPAN MOVED UP THREE POSITIONS, FROM FIFTH TO SECOND, TAKING THE PLACE OF CANADA AND PUTTING THE COUNTRY WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE OF THE TOP SPOT
Keeping up with the neighbors?
Japan’s attributes correlate somewhat with fellow high-tech powerhouses like South Korea (their profiles are 70% the same) and Germany (68% correlation). But Japan’s combination of economic and cultural strengths makes it largely unique in Asia and beyond.
JAPAN HAS SOME SIMILARITIES, FROM A PERCEPTUAL POINT OF VIEW, WITH COUNTRIES LIKE SOUTH KOREA AND GERMANY
Keeping up with the neighbors?
Japan is among the top ten countries in the world for entrepreneurship, cultural influence, dynamism, innovation, technological expertise, trendiness, and being “forward-looking.” This all adds up to a country that’s seen to represent the cutting edge of technology and culture. In short, Japan is seen as a place where excellence is valued, pursued, and achieved. It’s the kind of top-tier, prestigious reputation that one would expect for the country that produces some of the world’s favorite products, from cars and appliances to cartoons and video games – and shows that whatever anxieties the Japanese themselves might have about their future economic path, the country’s international reputation remains world-class. There is room, however, to tell a stronger story about the fun and sexy sides of Japanese culture, as well as to highlight the values of openness and equality inherent in the country’s plans to remain a dynamic world leader in the years to come. Japan has done great work to shed its prior reputation as confusing and forbidding to outsiders – an effort that should culminate in a jubilant Olympic game – but there’s still more that can be done to ensure that all aspects of Japanese culture are as beloved and well-understood as Japanese technology.
CHALLENGES FOR JAPANESE BRANDS
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.
What a brand represents in people’s minds can gradually change. China, Singapore, Japan, and Korea have shown how international perceptions of what their country represents can deliver a change in perceptions relatively quickly. When there is a concerted and sustained effort by government bodies in collaboration with the private sector, change can happen fast.
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 Japanese brands:
Japan is seen as a dynamic, progressive, educated, and forward-looking place, though not exceptionally fun or happy. This is despite Japan’s beloved gaming and cartoon industries, which have brought the values of joy and play to countless people worldwide. As such, consumers around the world perceive Japan’s cultural exports as joyful, but don’t have the same view into the roles joy and happiness play in Japan’s native culture – a perception that’s ripe for change as the Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Relatedly, many Japanese brands have turned to the passion and power of sport as a way to publicize their brands. Hosting the Olympics offers a great opportunities for Japanese brands to highlight positive attributes many already associate with their home country: strong infrastructure, dynamism, convenience, and reliability. In addition to underscoring Japan’s strengths at collective organization, however, brands might also consider ways to use sports to highlight more individual expressions of passion, fun, grit, and creativity – with a special focus on female athletes and unique personalities.
No one doubts Japan’s ability to produce and share great products with other countries. But one narrative that could be better emphasized is that Japan should receive and incorporate new ideas from abroad as just well as it exports such innovations. In other words, the challenge is to continue to show that Japan is not a closed-off place, but is rather an open, collaborative partner in the global flow of people, technology, and culture. Highlighting examples of cross-cultural collaboration would help boost perceptions that Japan is “Open for Business” and fully engaged with the world.
China, Singapore, Japan and South 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.
There are several strong ambassador brands for Japan. In the shopping sphere, Fast Retailing’s Uniqlo brand is beloved abroad for its intelligent fits, extremely good value, and incorporation of cutting-edge fabric technologies. These all virtues that fit perfectly with the innovation side of Brand Japan. But Uniqlo also stands out for its willingness to collaborate with outside experts and creatives like Christophe Lemaire, J.W. Anderson, Disney, KAWS, and Alexander Wang – which means that it also showcases the fun, trendy, and open-minded aspects of Brand Japan.
Similarly, Nintendo represents a uniquely Japanese fusion of fun and technological innovation – while luxury car brand Lexus marries aesthetic refinement with serious, brawny Japanese engineering. In these ways, Japanese ambassador brands manage to provide consumers worldwide with the technical innovation consumers have come to expect from Japan, while also providing a strong dose of beauty, imagination, and delight.
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.
Here, Japan is a strong performer. Its long-earned credibility in science, engineering, and culture has helped it secure top Origin Index rankings in the categories of technology and automobiles, with strong showings in many other product areas. This aligns closely with the country’s current profile of exports.
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 Japan, BAV has been tracking over a thousand brands on the same 75 brand associations, including 48 imagery dimensions, since 1993. The evolution of the brandscape in Japan 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 and 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:
Ryan Johnson, VP, BAV Group