Nation Brands Index 2009: an analysis

Last Wednesday October 7, 2009, we informed about the Nation Brands Index 2009. The clear news was the stunning rise of the US nation brand and Barack Obama’s effect on Brand America. As we focused mainly on this unprecedented phenomenon, we left aside a more indepth analysis of this year’s Index as a whole, and particularly on the top-ten country brands. Now, three days later, it’s time for getting some perspective on the Nation Brands Index 2009 on a country-per-country basis.

Nation Brands Index 2009

1. United StatesFrom 7th in 2008 to 1st in 2009

Its improvement in rankings is astonishing, and there can only be one reason: Barack Obama’s election. Obama’s America is expected to mean a more responsible diplomacy, a consensus-driven foreign policy and a more conscious standing on environmental issues, all of which has been welcome by the world – thus affecting positively the United States’ position in the international stage.

With this rise, America has now been restored to its natural place, because polls show that there is a strong relationship between power in economics and powerful nation brands. As the world’s first economy, the United States’s standings (11th in 2007, 7th in 2008) were abnormally low. So it’s improvement on the 2009 ramkings is probably more about Bush leaving than Obama arriving to office. Additionally, the real change is not because of Obama himself, but because what his election says about Americans. Obama is seen mostly the same as in 2008; it’s the Americans as a people that are seen differently now. Less racist, less aggressive, less nationalist, less arrogant.

Lest we forget, there is the revivification of the ‘American Dream’, which is one of the main brand ingredients in Brand America, if not the real axis of the American national identity. The fact that a mestizo and the son of an African immigrant has had all the rights and freedoms to pursue and achieve his own goals in America is now as alive as ever before. There can’t be a more illustrative example of the American Dream in a country that prouds itself in allowing people to prosper by their own abilities only, regardless of origin, race, religion and sex.

2. France – Keeping the 2008 2nd place in 2009

France kept the 2nd spot for another year, which is no minor feat considering the increasing competence. France has continued scoring well in its traditional strengths (Culture, Tourism) and stayed pretty quiet on the other dimensions analyzed at the the Nation Brands Index 2009. Additionally, the economic crisis may have helped France too. As a classical antagonist to Anglo-Saxon harsh-styled capitalism, France’s remarkable good performance in getting through the meltdown has confirmed that the hybrid French economic model, a true cornerstone of Frenchness, probably works not as lively as the Anglo-Saxon one, but it panicks less and is more stable.

3. Germany – 1st in 2008, 3rd in 2009

Germany had the world’s most valued nation brand last year at the Nation Brands Index 2008, but it has lost its privileged spot to the trailblazing United States. It’s curios though that Germany has not been reallocated to the second slot before France, but behind it, so it means that the country has lost some competitive avantage to France too. In fact, Germany has lost some appeal in both Culture and Immigration/Investment, but the most worrying change, if anything worrying, is that it has lost 3 positions in the People dimension.

4. United Kingdom – 3rd in 2008, 4thd in 2009

The UK has lost one spot since 2008 but like Germany, that’s not because of worse performance, but because in moving to the first place, all other things equal, the US have made all other countries in the top-7 step back at least one spot. But, like Germany too, the UK has lost some appeal in Immigration/investment – the country is now a bit less attractive to move to or to invest in. Nothing to worry about though.

5. Japan – Keeping the 2008 5th place in 2009

Japan’s standing on the 5th position is somewhat misleading. Japan’s positions in all dimensions are all 8th or worse (with a descent to the 16th spot in Governance, between Spain and Italy), but on the other side it tops the Exports dimension ranking. With this fantastic strength in Exports, the country manages to get the 5th position, but the country’s too dependent on one single dimension. The homework for Japan is, no doubt, improving how the political system is perceived to work in the country.

6. Italy – Keeping the 2008 6th place in 2009

Italy keeps its position, which it’s great, but it also looks like the country has topped its own limits and won’t be able to improve that standing over the next years. Italy’s nation brand is mostly strong in things not related to future assets. Additionally, it has severe political issues like political bankrupcy, the persistent existance of the Mafia and now also the Italians’ own pessimism.

7. Canada – 4th in 2008, 7th in 2009

Canada is seen as an antagonist to the United States. When the US are seen as strong, bellicose and outspoken, Canada is seen as weak, peaceful and reserved. As they are on opposite arms of the bascule, when the United States improve their reputation, Canada feels it weakening. But Canada has not only lost positions to the US, but also to Japan and Italy, which have overpassed it. That’s a bit worrying – Canada should think about it.

8. Switzerland – 5th in 2008, 4th in 2009

Switzerland has gained one spot this year, thanks to improvement in Exports, People and Immigration/Investment, thus overcoming some minor negative evolution in Governance, Culture and Tourism. The country is pretty stable though, and unless the recurrent image crisis of Switzerland emerge again (Nazi ties, banking secrecy, disputed neutrality) the country can be satisfied: it has a formidable nation brand for such a small country.

9. Australia – 9th in 2008, 9th in 2009

Clearly the most consistent country in a year-over-year basis, Australia ranked 9th this year, the same position it held in 2008. Additionally, in 2009 the country kept its 2008 position in Exports, Governance, Culture, People and Immigration/Investment. Only in Tourism there was a minor difference, with the country losing one position.

10. Sweden – Spain (tie) – Sweden was 10th in 2008, Spain was 11th in 2008

With exactly the same punctuation, Sweden and Spain tie on the 10th spot, but for very different reasons though, as the two countries have their own strengths in different areas: Sweden wins Spain in Exports, in Governance and in Immigration/Investment, but Spain wins Sweden in Culture and in Tourism, but by larger distances, which explains the tie. On the People dimension they also virtually tie. Swedes are regarded as good-looking and attractive, and Spaniards as passionate, romantic and Mediterranean. They both have sex-appeal. Spaniards, however, are improving their rankings more than Swedes, and next year we could see Spain outplacing Sweden.