Leaders in Nation Branding

To Access WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016©, please click here.


Every Nation Needs a Recognisable Brand

There are more than 214 countries and autonomous financial centres in the world that compete, sometimes quite fiercely, for trade and investment, industry and tourism, and regional and international influence.

Successful countries such as the United States, Germany and Japan have strong brands associated with high salience.   Over many years they have invested considerable effort, time and money to nurture positive and recognisable brand images.   Other countries have weak brands with low salience, as in the cases of Comoros, Cook Islands and Guinea-Bissau, for example.

Most countries aspire to a positive brand but countries are not corporations and brands cannot be creatively invented out of thin air.   They can, however, be strategically shaped and refocused by developing their salience in a skilful manner.   Throughout the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016©, we use the word "salience" to refer to a country's visibility or conspicuousness on the world stage.   A lack of salience severely impedes brand recognition and makes any effort to develop a positive brand image very expensive and time-consuming.



What is a Modern Nation Brand?

A country's modern-day brand has developed over an expanse of time as the sum total of the social and cultural changes it has undergone and the historical events it has experienced, none of which were planned with a modern nation branding campaign in mind.   Culture, religion, history, economics and contemporary politics all play crucial roles in defining a country's brand image.   Successful nation branding campaigns recognise this and play to a country's core strengths.

The great events of the last hundred years – the rise and fall of fascism and communism, two world wars, several catastrophic famines, and the winding up of European colonial empires – have left the world with a patchwork of country brand images.   Formerly strong countries such as Russia have high salience brands that are now negative, tainted or weakening.   Meanwhile, countries such as Myanmar, that have taken steps to improve their undesirable images, possess brands that are visibly improving.   In contrast, South Sudan, Timor-Leste and other new states have low salience and as yet enjoy very little brand recognition.   In an attempt to assert their independence and remodel their images, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other post-colonial states have adopted new names, a nation branding tactic often hampered by a failure to link the past with the present in a relevant and effective manner.

Low salience and the lack or wrong sort of brand recognition present formidable challenges to new and established states as they compete for export markets, foreign direct investment and influence in a globalised marketplace where a recognised brand image speaks louder than a thousand words.

Our Deep Experience of Nation Branding

WorldPR is an international public relations company with more than twenty-five years’ experience in the field of government and corporate communications.  

During that time, we have advised old and new countries from different regions of the world on their nation branding strategies, their relations with other governments and international organisations, and their efforts to promote and grow their economies by developing closer relations with neighbours and partners.

We have developed successful strategies involving specialist teams of consultants for a wide range of international campaigns.  These include general elections and referenda campaigns, bids to host international sporting competitions, and campaigns to secure membership of prestigious international and regional organisations such as the WTO, EU and OSCE.   In recent years, for example, we have successfully advised two governments on their strategy to win for their region a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.   Our mission in both cases involved orchestrating a multilingual communications campaign addressed to decision makers in 193 registered members of the United Nations.

Many of the campaigns we have worked on have incorporated specific branding objectives and our strategic approach has been adapted accordingly.



What is the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking©?

The WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking© has been developed over time as an internal, practical tool to help us measure where our clients stand with respect to their competitors on the issues that matter most to them: trade, foreign direct investment, tourism, regional influence and international media recognition.   Our approach makes sense to any government that understands the crucial link between its country's brand image and its ability to exert “soft power” on the world stage. (Click here to follow the discussion on our Facebook page.)

We base the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking© on publications that appear worldwide on the Internet.   This reflects our belief that, since the Internet is here to stay, countries need to come to terms with its content and the implications that content holds for their brand recognition.   This is because, in looking for information about a particular country, business or topic, people turn first to the Internet and, increasingly often, that is the only source they consult.  

This poses both challenges and opportunities for countries.   The WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking©is designed to help decision-makers and their communications strategists understand what those challenges are, how to address them, and how best to exploit the opportunities presented.   (For further information about our methodology please visit here. For a step-by-step guide to updating the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking© click here.

Latest Results:  Global Leadership Ranking 2016©

In constructing the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016©, we first ranked each country according to its salience in the sixteen major Western powers, which to many governments is the most important measure.  

Here we find that France, Canada and China have the highest brand recognition as measured by the number of Google hits they garner on websites originating in the major Western countries, just as they did on the previous two published editions of the ranking.   This year, however, Germany has moved up into fourth place, displacing Australia.  But if we limit the search to those “hits” generated in the past year only, Canada, India, China and Italy occupy the top four spots.  


This raises interesting questions about the conditions that give rise to movement in the rankings.   For example, there is a clear link between current affairs and rank, as is evident when we compare the positions of Myanmar and Greece on the 2015 ranking with their positions on the 2016 ranking.   During the period covered by the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2015©, Myanmar was in political turmoil ahead of its November 2015 general election and Greece was teetering on the brink of economic meltdown as it struggled to address its ongoing financial crisis.   On the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016©, Myanmar ranks 111th in terms of the number of search hits generated in the past year, which is down 30 places from 2015.   Greece exhibits a similar pattern: it now ranks 39th, a downward shift of 18 places.   Although still facing political and economic challenges, both countries have moved beyond their respective crisis points and out of the media spotlight, which could account for the decreased attention they currently receive.  

As these two examples illustrate, salience can be caused by negative as well as positive factors, both of which impact brand recognition.

The WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016© also looks at five other high-priority measures of a country's economic status in the world.   These are perceptions of it among other countries within its trade group and closest trading partners, among investors in the world's largest financial centres, and among international tourists.   Finally, we measure a country's historical footprint, which is an important yardstick of a country’s modern-day salience.   Mozambique, New Zealand and Kenya currently rank at the top of their trade groups whereas the United States, China and France now hold the top three positions in the world's largest financial centres.   Whether measured in terms of number of visitors or tourism receipts, France, the USA, Spain and China still rank highest while Canada, India, and France leave the largest historical footprints.

An Analytical Tool to Better Understand Nation Brands

These are just a few relatively straight-forward examples that illustrate the range of fascinating insights offered by the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016©.   Taken together, the measures that constitute our ranking provide an immediate snapshot of a country's salience – or international brand visibility – among world governments, the public at large and specialised audiences such as investors, academics and journalists.   But there are also other kinds of insights to be gleaned from close analysis of the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016©.

The WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016© can also be used to identify transnational patterns and to explore more complex themes and issues of international interest.   For example, what insight does the ranking offer with regard to joining or leaving the EU?   Does Islamic State penetration impact a country's ranking?   Are political instability and corruption, conflict, shared regional interests, or uncontrollable events reflected in the rankings?   These are just a few of the many issues that could be explored using this set of rankings.


Relations with the EU

Analysts have proposed three models for the UK's post-Brexit trade arrangement with the EU represented by Norway, Canada, and Switzerland.   But where do these three countries stand in the rankings compared to Britain?   Data collected just prior to the June 2016 Brexit vote put the UK in 12th place on the Western Perception Index based on Internet interest over the past year and at 10th based on interest over all time, positions that have shifted little since we first published the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking© in 2013.   However, this year the UK dropped 19 places to the bottom of the EU group on the Trading Group Perception Index and 7 places to 24 on the Major Trading Partners Index but climbed 4 spots to 8 on the Investor Perception Index.  

Although current events and internal and external processes can influence these numbers in complicated ways, it is likely that these fluctuations are attributable in large part to the uncertainty engendered by the impending vote.   Despite that uncertainty, the UK continues to rank in the upper 5% on the Tourism Perception Index and the Historical Footprint Index.

Canada, which is a member of NAFTA, has been independently negotiating a comprehensive trade and economic agreement with the EU for the past seven years, a process not yet completed.   Despite the slow progress in that area, it consistently ranks at or very near the top on all the indices, with little change from year to year.

Norway is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA) and therefore participates in the EU single market.   Its position on the rankings has shifted more from year to year than Canada's. Norway currently ranks 47 on the Western Perception Index (past year only), which is down 15 places from 2015.   When one considers cumulative interest over time, it sits at 31.   That is up 7 places from 2015 and 30 from its 2013 rank of 61.   It has also risen from 3rd to 1st place in EFTA since 2013 and climbed 54 places to 26 on the Investor Perception index.   Over that same time period it has dropped back 16 places to 44 on the Major Trading Partners Index.   It currently ranks round the 50 mark on the Tourism Perception and Historical Footprint indices.

Switzerland's performance on the rankings is similar to Norway's.   While also a member of EFTA, Switzerland is not a member of the EEA and does not participate in the single market.   It accesses the EU market through a series of bilateral agreements.   At present, it ranks 32 on the Western Perception Index (past year only), which is down 8 places from from 2015, and stands at 2 in EFTA, which is where it was in 2013.   Like Norway, it has risen on the Investor Perception index but fallen on the Major Trading Partners Index over the past year.   It now stands at 20 on the Investor Perception Index, which is up 8 over 2015 and is down 4 places to 23 on the Major Trading Partners Index.   Although it has slipped 11 places to 47 on Historical Footprint Index since 2015, its rank on the Tourism Perception Index has been stable in the upper quartile.

Islamic State Penetration

The effect of Islamic State penetration on a country's standing also warrants close attention.   Islamic State currently stands at 107 on the Western Perception Index (interest over the past year), which is up 56 from 2015, when we began collecting data on the extremist sect.

Although there are other processes at work in these countries that must be considered, Islamic State has recently made significant inroads in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria, among other countries.   The impact of this is evident in the rankings.   Libya and Syria have climbed 9 and 6 places, respectively, on the Western Perception Index (past year only).   This is undoubtedly due to the media attention focused on the conflict and the terrorist atrocities committed in those countries.   The other countries listed have slipped downward anywhere from 2 to 20 places.   The impact of Islamic State activity is even more pronounced on the Trading Group Perception, Major Trading Partners, and Investor Perception indices, which record significant drops from 2015. 



On the Major Trading Partners Index, Afghanistan has slipped 6 places, Algeria 9, Iraq 2, Libya 93, Tunisia 65 and Syria 4. Only Egypt recorded a climb on this measure.   On the Investor Perception Index, Afghanistan lost 16 places, Algeria 1, Egypt 12, Iraq 12, and Tunisia 33.   Libya climbed 9 places and Syria 4.   Predictably, all of those countries for which data are available fell sharply on the Tourism Perception Index and all except Libya and Syria moved downward on the Historical Footprint Index.   Libya climbed 22 place and Syria 90 places on this index, presumably due to public, governmental, and media interest generated by the ongoing conflict in those countries.

Some Other Interesting Correlations

There are other intriguing and suggestive correlations that stand out on the leadership ranking.   For example, countries in conflict with one another tend to rise and fall in tandem on the Western Perception Index.   Consider North and South Korea and the recent escalation of tensions between them.   While South Korea consistently ranks higher on all indices than North Korea, both countries rose significantly in the ranking between 2015 and 2016, a period of heightened tension, but had fallen significantly from 2013 to 2015, which was a less acrimonious period.

Countries tainted by corruption or political instability can be expected to jump up the Western Perception Index as public interest is piqued and the media attention focuses on them, but to lose standing on the trade and investment measures as trade partner and investor confidence is eroded.   This is true of South Africa, whose government has been embroiled in controversy over the past year.   South Africa rose sharply on the Western Perception Index but fell on the Major Trading Partners Index and Investor Perception Index, just as predicted.   Venezuela also rose on the Western Perception Index but fell on the Trading Group Perception and Major Trading Partners indices.   Tourists are understandably put off by political instability, as indicated by the downward movement of South Africa, Ukraine, Maldives, Venezuela and Greece on the Tourism Perception Index.  


Following this reasoning, one would expect the same pattern to hold for Brazil and Turkey, but it does not.   In the case of Brazil, the economic development and buzz surrounding the World Cup and Summer Olympics could easily have offset any impact from the economic crisis and Petrobras controversy.   In the case of Turkey, the West's courtship of Turkey to play key roles in the Syria conflict and EU migration crisis and Turkey's courtship of European governments, business, and tourists also have to be factored into the analysis.

The leadership ranking also highlights shared regional interests, as in the case Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which have been rising steadily together in the ranking.   Unexpected and uncontrollable events like the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia and the death of the hikers that led to the temporary curtailment of climbing on Mount Everest in Nepal can also influence a country's performance on the ranking.   All three of these countries show significant drops in their positions on the Western Perception Index and the Tourism Perception Index (data not available for Liberia).   They also exhibit a great deal of vacillation on the Trading Group Perception Index, the Major Trading Partners Index, and the Investors Perception Index, which would suggest that they have been going through a period of uncertainty and instability.

Serving the Needs of Government Communications Campaigns

While strictly speaking not scientific due to the challenges inherent in working with data derived from Google and other search-engines, we believe our unique approach offers a more accurate and objective understanding of a country's brand image than any upfront assessment of whether that image is "positive" or "negative".   Such determinations are by definition subjective and they frequently lead to simplistic or predictable results.  
We believe that achieving as reliable an international recognition measure as possible is the most effective starting point for any campaign to change or improve a country’s brand.   Our focus on taking an accurate measure of a country’s salience enables us to collect objective data irrespective of whether a country's brand image is positive or negative.   It thereby serves as a stable foundation upon which we may work with policymakers and government strategists to build a successful nation branding strategy with realistic objectives and concrete chances of success.

WorldPR’s Global Leadership Ranking©, published annually and freely available to analysts and academia, is a comprehensive tool that looks at all the sectors that matter to modern states while taking into account crucial historical and cultural factors at the core of a country’s character and, ultimately, its brand image.   Taken together, we believe our ranking’s constituent measures can help government strategists and their advisors assess the strength of their country's brand and make informed and precise decisions about how best to deploy their valuable resources to increase trade, foreign direct investment and tourism as well as to enhance their nation's influence on the international stage.

To access the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2016©, please click here.

The WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2015© in the Media:


To access the WorldPR Global Leadership Ranking 2015©, please click here.