B School for Public Policy
Improving Economic Prosperity through Nation Branding
Seminar by Professor David Reibstein
It is well known that companies care deeply about their brands—and with good reason: a respected name attracts customers, solidifies their loyalty, and brings in higher returns. The idea of brand identity extends beyond the corporate world, though. Countries are also brands, and a country’s brand, like a corporate brand, is economically powerful. A positive country brand brings money and economic growth to it through tourism, foreign direct investment, and foreign trade; conversely, a negative country brand is economically costly. In this seminar, Professor David Reibstein from the Wharton School, who collaborates with U.S. News & World Report in developing the Best Countries Rankings, examined nation branding as it applies to the U.S., and presented information on why a country should care about their brand globally and the role that public policy plays in shaping and communicating that brand to the world.
What is a Brand?
A brand is an amalgamation of perceptions, experiences, and feelings that consumers have about an organization or company and the services or products it offers. A company’s brand is not necessarily objective or accurate and can be influenced by uncontrollable forces but it is an important factor in how individuals perceive, respond to, and interact with an entity. Therefore, successful companies invest a lot of resources into managing their brand, nurturing positive consumer perceptions, and correcting misperceptions.
The value of a nation’s brand can be correlated to factors that contribute to economic prosperity or GDP per capita. For instance, a nation’s brand impacts tourism, foreign direct investment, and foreign trade.
“Best Countries” Study
Professor David Reibstein’s Best Countries study, done in partnership with U.S. News and World Report and WPP, was first conducted in 2015, with the report released at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The study has been repeated annually, with results from the first three years currently available on the “Best Countries” website: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries
The report and rankings are based on how global perceptions define countries in terms of a number of qualitative characteristics, impressions that have the potential to drive trade, travel, and investment and directly affect national economies. The report covers perceptions of 80 nations, based on a survey of over 21,000 people across the globe. Each country was scored on 65 different attributes. Attributes were grouped into nine sub-rankings that rolled into the Best Countries ranking. (See callout box for a listing.)
The U.S. continues to be seen as the world’s most dominant economic and military power, with a cultural imprint that spans the world. But the data suggest that since 2016, global perceptions of the U.S. have been changing. The country is viewed to be less progressive and trustworthy, and more politically unpredictable, than before.
The U.S. ranked #8 overall in the 2018 Best Countries report–down from #7 in 2017 and #4 in 2016. The sub-rankings for the U.S. in 2018 were as follows:
Policy and Brand Management
There are policy actions that legislators can take that will directly impact that brand and the economy. If a country wants to improve their brand, they can use the Best Countries data to assess what dimensions they perform poorly on and what dimensions they want to change. Through strategic policy decisions and good communication, governments can improve the perception of their country and, thus, improve their economy.