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Improving country reputation: Better to be great in many areas, or the best in one?

This blog was cowritten by Vadim Volos and Kristin Pondel of Social and Strategic Research at GfK.

How the global public views a country strongly influences the success of its business, investment, and tourism efforts – as well as its diplomatic and cultural relations with other nations – and inattention to public perception risks diminished international “market share” for countries.

With a new set of leading nations emerging in the 2017 Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index that includes an overhaul in the rankings within the top-10 nations, it begs the question: which quality better secures a leading nation’s standing in the global public’s eyes – deepening appreciation for a signature strength or maintaining a well-rounded image?

This year’s top-ranked nation, Germany, and Japan, ranked joint 4th overall this year, demonstrate each of these qualities.

Case of Germany: Showing strength on multiple dimensions

Germany earns the top-spot among the nations overall this year. Facilitating the country’s rise in the rankings is the well-rounded nature of its reputation. Germany’s reputation derives its strength from multiple dimensions. In fact, Germany boasts top-five finishes on five out of six dimensions underpinning overall country reputation (Germany is 3rd on Exports, 4th on Governance, 4th on Culture, 4th on People, and joint 2nd on Immigration and Investment). This is most top-five finishes of any nation, making Germany’s reputation the most-balanced of all nations.

As a result, Germany depends on its strong finishes on each of these dimensions to elevate it to the top of the leaderboard, rather than resting on a 1st-place finish on any single dimension.

Case of Japan: Owning a single, signature strength

Unlike other top-ranked nations, Japan draws its reputational strength from a single source. The global public believes that Japan’s Exports are without parallel, awarding the country with a 1st-place ranking this year. Japan’s climb in the rankings (from 7th to 4th) includes broadening appreciation for its Exports since 2016, when it ranked 2nd behind the U.S. This year marks the first time Japan finds itself within the top-five nations since 2011.

Exports clearly stand out as Japan’s reputational anchor. In the last five years, Japan has never earned a top-five spot on any of the other Nation Brand Index (NBI) dimensions. Nor has Japan managed to place among the top-five nations overall without being anything less than the global best on the Exports dimension. But, when a country’s image is not stanchioned by other strengths, even marginal changes in perception of its strongest category can have an impact on its overall standing. If Japan were to develop a greater global appreciation for the other dimensions of reputation, it would help insulate the country’s reputation against small changes on a single dimension.

Conclusion

A robust, well-rounded reputation is the key to safeguarding or improving a nation’s overall reputation. More often than not, leading nations lead on multiple dimensions. Consistency in its image is crucial – seldom does a signature strength lift a nation’s reputation into the top overall. Furthermore, relying on a single strength can create volatility in a nation’s reputation year after year.

Vadim Volos is the Global Director of Social and Strategic Research at GfK. He can be reached at vadim.volos@gfk.comKristin Pondel is a Research Director of Social and Strategic Research at GfK. She can be reached at kristin.pondel@gfk.com.

Read our 2017 Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Report for more information

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