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Nations as brands: Why global perception matters

In today’s world, places are getting increasingly accessible, and global citizens have a vast array of choices where to do business and work, and where to spend their leisure time. Digital technologies and modern consumer goods and services are everywhere, regardless of nations’ cultures, religion, and level of development, bridging the gap in hospitality offerings and business environments across the world.

Reputation a key differentiator for nations and cities

As a result, competition among nations and cities for business investments and tourism revenues is heating up, and this is a trend for years to come. In this context, reputation has turned into a key differentiator for nations and cities.

The global public admires “made-in-USA” products, American strength in science and technology, and the nation’s creative energy, yet the US struggles to win the world’s recognition for its governance, a reputation asset in which Canada and Switzerland are perceived best. Tourism attractiveness is a key differentiator for Italy and France, while Germany needs to do more to promote its natural beauty. Los Angeles, New York, and Berlin are not recognized for their welcoming people, as opposed to Sydney, Toronto, and Amsterdam.

Current events do not define nations’ reputations in the long run, yet their short-term impact can be quite profound. For example, in 2016, a very turbulent year, USA and the UK have suffered large decreases in positive global perception. Our Nation Brand Index’s (NBI) creator Simon Anholt comments: “It is a country’s perceived impact on the world that affects its global reputation, far more than its assets or achievements – and this is what we are seeing here. Those countries that are perceived as being world influencers are suffering following a year of ongoing international conflict and humanitarian issues.”

Leading nations held most accountable for domestic and global problems

The souring global mood about leading nations reflects a world beset by conflicts and socio-economic uncertainties. This proves a trend we have seen in the NBI data before: that leading nations are held most accountable for domestic and global problems and they suffer reputation losses in tough years.

But at the same time, leading nation brands are resilient as they have reputation capital to spare. At least in the past year, the leaders held their top positions despite score drops. The world still gives them credit, although with much greater skepticism.  Hence, USA managed to retain the top position in the NBI rating in 2016, followed by Germany and the UK which barely edged Canada, ranked fourth.

Spotlight on the US

Leading the Nation Brand Index at number one, the US scored strongly in the categories of Exports (#1 worldwide), Culture (#2), Immigration & Investment (#2), Tourism (#3), and People (#5), but struggled on the Governance metric, where the US ranks 19th – down one place from 2015. Note that the data were collected before the recent US presidential election and its contentious aftermath, the events to watch for impact on the US Governance image in 2017.

Spotlight on a hot-button issue: Immigration

In NBI, Investment and Immigration metrics measure the power to attract people to live, work or study in each country and how people perceive a country’s quality of life and business environment.

Combined, these metrics put Canada in the top spot for its Investment and Immigration attractiveness, followed by the US and Germany. Canada performs strongly on all Investment and Immigration metrics, except as a desired destination for studying, on which the US is a clear leader. But the US lags in how it is perceived globally on social equality.


Brand image and reputation go a long way for consumers. To be successful in the business world, companies must create and maintain a positive image and reputation, especially during times of social conflict. The same is true for nations. Those with more favorable branding open their doors to expanded opportunities around tourism, imports and exports, and investment.

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