How do you measure the strength of a country’s ‘brand’?

October 27, 2012

A tourist-attracting, double-decker, open-air cable car rises above Lucerne, Switzerland. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages)

The latest annual report on "country brand index" has just been posted by the branding firm Future Brand, which says it quantifies the perceived brand value of nations by measuring rule of law, political freedoms, education quality, investment opportunities, workforce quality, and tourism, among others. There are many lenses through which to view a country's perceived worth, and the "brand" that's being measured here is clearly about international business investment opportunities. Here's the new ranking, which has Switzerland replacing Canada at the top:


(Source: Future Brands)

Switzerland ranks first on about half of the subcategories. The U.S., ranked eighth overall, leads the subcategories for shopping and nightlife. Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad told Vogue magazine last year that she wanted to help her country build a "brand essence," but does not appear to be succeeding: Syria is ranked 111th overall. 

What's interesting is the degree to which this ranking aligns with a ranking of countries by their stocks of foreign direct investment. FDI isn't the sole or necessarily even the primary goal of a country in building its "brand" abroad, but Future Brands does seem to be positioning foreign investment as a big reason for countries to care about their brands.

Here are the top national economies ranked by FDI, with their position on the brand ranking in parenthesis.

1) United States (8)
2) France (13)
3) Hong Kong (not ranked)
4) United Kingdom (11)
5) Belgium (31)
6) Germany (7)
7) China (66)
8) Spain (19)
9) Netherlands (18)
10) Switzerland (1)
11) Canada (2)
12) Australia (6)
13) Russia (83)
14) Singapore (14)
15) Brazil (28)
16) Italy (15)
17) Sweden (4)
18) Mexico (51)
19) Austria (17)
20) Ireland (21)
21) India (42)
22) Saudi Arabia (60)
23) Poland (75)
24) Norway (10)
25) South Africa (43)

The FDI ranking seems to most diverge from the brands ranking in the cases of big important economies with less than stellar international reputations, which perhaps suggests a bit of distance between how potential investors see a country's brand versus the metrics in Future Brand's Western-democracy-heavy study. If you're a brand consulting firm, you can't really tell your potential clients that Russia has a great national brand, even if it would seem to have found significant success in attracting foreign investment. Enormous natural gas reserves, for example, are probably going to attract foreign investment with or without an advertising campaign.

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Olga Khazan · October 26, 2012