The way a country is perceived makes a critical difference to the success of its business, investment, and tourism efforts, as well as its diplomatic and cultural relations with other nations. Those who choose to ignore this fact face a loss of “market share” in these fiercely competitive international fields. For example, in ten years following the 9/11 terror attacks and in absence of efforts to promote the country brand, the United States’ share in global revenues from tourism dwindled from 17.3% to 11.2% in 2010[i], a loss of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs for the national economy.
Benchmarking country reputation and figuring priority themes
In our experience, the biggest challenge to addressing the reputational weaknesses of nations is a lack of knowledge on what should be prioritized, and as a result communication budgets are spread too thin on topics and in markets that are not most relevant for progress. The first step in developing a strong nation brand is discovery of where the country stands in its current image and momentum.
Place-branding research such as Anholt-GfK Nation Brand Index (NBI) serves precisely this purpose, benchmarking the country reputation and helping identify current barriers to building a strong, attractive nation brand and priorities and themes to address in brand communications to the outside world. For a nation to successfully differentiate and communicate its value on the global scene, understanding gaps in knowledge and misconceptions about its brand promise and identity is the most critical first step.
Let’s discuss a couple of NBI findings to illustrate these points.
Case of Saudi Arabia: The land of unknown
The case of Saudi Arabia confirms an old axiom that lack of familiarity often breeds negativity. The country consistently ranks among the bottom ten nations ranked in NBI and it is also year to year found among the least familiar to the global public. Interestingly, those who have visited the country rank it much more favorably than those who have not. By the same token, a more positive outlook on Saudi Arabia comes from Egypt and India, countries with the strongest working ties with it. By contrast, when it comes to views on Saudi Arabia, Americans are among the least familiar with and most negatively inclined towards the country.
Among key drivers of its favorability are views on Saudi Arabia as a technologically progressive country. According to NBI, the country is well-known as an oil producer, recognized for its affluence, yet its culture and people receive almost no credit from the global public. Amazingly, a country that is a birth place of Islam and replete with unique historical sites is virtually unknown for its heritage to the rest of the world.
Case of Turkey: Turbulent year and reputational challenges
The need to address short-term reputational impacts on first priority basis is well illustrated by the case of Turkey. Based on NBI data, this country was making good progress in recent years in building a strong nation brand, getting wide recognition in particular for its cultural heritage and the welcoming nature of its people.
In the past twelve months however, Turkey’s reputation has suffered, in the wake of an attempted coup d’état and government measures that followed. Assessments of Turkey’s Governance have declined most dramatically — by over three and a half points, with its ranking dropping from #35 in 2015 to #43. Perceptions of the Turkish government’s honesty and competency, as well as the country’s commitment to peace and security, have turned much more negative.
Now, Turkey ties with Kenya at #47 for its government’s honesty and competence, and ranks #48 for its commitment to ensuring peace and security, ahead of only Nigeria and Iran. The NBI findings suggest that addressing these weaknesses of Turkey’s reputation is the most immediate task for its brand champions.
As with product brands and probably even more so given their greater complexity, market intelligence is crucial for informing the nation brands’ development plans, promotional activities, and strategic messaging. Benchmarking the reputation of a country informs on its global value while identifying possible areas of improvement that can open the door for business, investment and tourism opportunities.
Vadim Volos is the Global Director of Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index. To share your thoughts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
[i] New York Times, April 2, 2012