Even though the world is getting flat, we cannot deny the fact that a country is still an important frame of reference that everyone can relate to. It cannot be simply summarised by an economic index, such as the GDP. Indeed, many aspects do need to be considered: social, political and cultural ones.
The country index published by FutureBrand, a global branding agency in Nov 2020, is a useful source to understand country brand with balanced views: Tourism, Heritage & Culture, Quality of Life, Business Potential, Value System, Made in (products)* are evaluated by 2,500 globally informed audience in this report.
Here are some key insights.
The year 2020
FutureBrand says that ‘2020 will go down as one of the most extraordinary years in modern history.’ It is the year of crisis and a devastating worldwide virus. More than ever, people talked about environmental issues, safety and security, and politics.
2020 will go down as one of the most extraordinary years in modern history
‘Resilience’ is the key attribute of the good brand this year. First of all, country brands are deeply resilient; it is less likely to be affected by temporary factors. Secondly, the ability to expect and respond to unseen challenges for brands is fundamental in the current contexts. If times were different, resilience might not have the same psychological closeness to our values. Interestingly, the research revealed that there are two dimensions of human personality — Plasticity and Stability —* as similar to brands and the year 2020 taught us the importance of taking the fine balances of two.
It is important to be reminded that a good brand is born out of and lives in a world where stakeholders exist. In other words, its relevance to the audience. Even if your brand is unique with cutting-edge technology, your brand might not be appreciated if it does not solve the issues and speak on behalf of them. We’ve seen many brands that started losing/ gaining connections with customers, as customers’ behaviour and values changed over the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability to respond to stakeholders more frequently and quickly — so-called agility — is another key attribute for brands in 2020.
Japan kept its position as number one, two years in a row in the FutureBrand country index in 2020. People used phrases for Japan, such as ‘culturally fascinating,’ ‘state of the art,’ ‘high tech’ and ‘successful.’ The categories that Japan scored high is aligned with these words: Heritage Art & Culture, Good infrastructure, Advanced technology, and Desirability for holiday.
Speaking of ‘Resilience,’ Japan has responded well in controlling COVID-19. Japan is one of the small nations that have been protecting both people’s health and the economy well*. In fact, Japan has been suffering many crises, in particular, natural ones, e.g., earthquakes, heavy rains, typhoons, including Typhoon Hagibis in 2019, in which damage exceeded ¥1.8 trillion. Despite these challenges to human life, society and economy, the nation has been finding a way to be stronger.
In addition, the balance of Resilience and Stability is just right. Similar to Switzerland (ranked #2) and Norway (ranked #3), Japan gained great recognition of stability and reliability. And, what makes Japan unique is its resonation to people: 45% of people are ‘passionate’ about Japan while ‘Admiration’ occupied the majority of people’s minds for Switzerland and Norway. ‘Passionate’ is more likely to call for action than ‘Admiration’ and that means more involvement with the brand rather than passively observing it. The contrast of cultural fascination and high-tech may be the reason why people visit and follow Japan.
The category that Japan needs to improve is the Value system. Gender equity in Japan is placed 121st out of the 153 countries in the WEF rankings in 2019,* even though the Japanese government has been addressing the issue, supporting the result. And it will take time to change it.
The above evaluation suggests that Japan continues investing in inbound tourism, rather than inviting people to live, i.e., immigration, which requires deep analysis. 31.9 million people visited Japan from overseas in 2019 (470% + vs 2009)*, and the Olympic games in 2021 and the World Expo in 2025 will be the following wind. What we would suggest Japan consider at this growing moment is sustainable tourism; to build a sustainable eco-system where our next generation can enjoy the beauty of Japanese culture, nature and history.
Comparisons between 2014 and 2020
UAE rose by ten places to number nine in 2020 from 2014. In light of resilience, UAE has showed great leadership in dealing with COVID-19 by applying strict and unbreakable rules and quick vaccine roll-out. It shows distinctiveness in Business potential and Tourism, which is supported by growing Cultural Significance and Sustainability & Environmental Friendliness, which has increased 6 points and 8 points, respectively, during the given period. It is the power centre in the Middle East.
UAE has historically excelled at understanding its offer and positioning in the world and taking actions to survive and thrive, i.e., resilience. Given that oil is not abundant, unlike its neighbour countries, since the 1980s, the UAE has established its usefulness for transit trading of goods and financial market. What supported the transformation of UAE is stability, including during the Gulf war and 9/11, when UAE showed the world that they are safe and stable compared to their competitors. And what will help develop further is its value system; as the secular state, the value system has already enabled them to lead the open market, interests to sustainability, and women's empowerment in the Middle East that will bring them a more competitive advantage.
Unlike LATAM, all African countries improved their rankings over the six years, including some by significant margins, e.g., Angola (out of ranking to #37), Algeria (out of ranking to #34) and Kenya (up 19 slots to #46). Angola ended the civil war in 2002 and has enjoyed political and social stability since then. It has great potential in both tourism (Angola enjoys very diverse natural landscapes and hold a wide variety of Angolan ethnic groups) and business potential (the second-largest oil exporter in Africa and huge hydroelectric potential).
In summary, Country Brand needs to be assessed with balanced factors — social, economic and cultural — as a brand is owned by people. They build confidence in investing their time and money, e.g., living, visiting, investing in and buying goods and services from the country, through associations created by digesting information of a country from varied aspects.
Peace is the foundation of the world, and it is ‘Stability’ for country brand. The year 2020 reminded us how resilience in politics could lead to stability in the economy, environment and health. Resilience is the passport to the next destination in the current world with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The fine balance of Resilience and Stability is the next layer of making a brand unique. Furthermore, a ‘Value system’ is crucial for the future, as this shows how people can absorb, react and flourish with new policies and society.
1. Six FutureBrand Country Index with sub categories
Tourism: Tourism Attractions, Value for Money, Desire, Resorts/Lodging, Food
Heritage & Culture: Heritage, Historical Points of Interest, Art & Culture, Natural Beauty
Quality of Life: Health & Education, Standard of Living; Safety & Security, Live/Study There
Business Potential: Good Infrastructure, Advanced Technology, Good for Business
Value System: Political Freedom, Environmental Friendliness, Tolerance
Made In: Authentic, Quality, Unique; Desire