Country brands steal advantage

11 November 2014

GLOBAL: Politicians can learn from marketers as a new study suggests country identity and reputation should be managed in the same way as a corporate or consumer brand.

FutureBrand, the brand consultancy arm of Interpublic Group, collected quantitative and qualitative data from 2,530 opinion formers and frequent international business or leisure travellers in 17 countries (including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, the US and the UK) to understand how strongly audiences perceive countries from levels of awareness to advocacy.

The report showed, said Tom Adams, global head of strategy at FutureBrand and co-author of the report, that "having a strong country brand brings measureable competitive advantage in terms of visitation, advocacy and investment, as well as consumer preference for products and services".

The key drivers of a 'country brand' included having a reputation for high quality products, a desire to visit or study in a country and perceptions of good infrastructure. And, significantly for marketers, twice as many people said they would buy products from a 'country brand' as would from a 'country'.

But only 22 of the 75 countries studied met FutureBrand's criteria for a 'country brand'. Leading the way was Japan, with Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Norway, the US, Australia, Denmark and Austria completing the top ten.

The differences between country brands and countries could be stark, with, for example, 70% of respondents believing that Germany has high quality products, compared to an average of 14% for those classified as 'countries'.

Country brands also tended to have most momentum in technology, innovation and sustainability, and to have expertise across categories – Japan was associated most strongly with technology for instance.

That association was further reflected in respondents' greater awareness of consumer brands that came from country brands. Japan, for example, elicited associations with Toyota, Nintendo, Honda, Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic.

"Country brand perception strength is as much about momentum in innovation, technology and the environment as it is political and economic significance," stated Christopher Nurko, global chairman of FutureBrand, "which hints at a shift in the drivers of country reputation shaping the future."

One leader who has already taken this on board is India's prime minister Narendra Modi. India came in the bottom quartile of FutureBrand's Country Brand Index, but, Modi campaigned on the concept of 'Brand India' in this year's Lok Sabha elections, promising a focus on the five Ts of talent, tradition, tourism, trade and technology.

Data sourced from FutureBrand, NDTV; additional content by Warc staff