Why the UK and US must fix their global brand reputations fast

05 November, 2019 Share socially

Despite being among the most diverse and democratic nations in the world, the brand image of both the US and the UK has taken a big hit recently. Both countries are now perceived as less inviting to tourists, visitors, students, and investors than they were five years ago, as people question the policies informing, and ultimately shaping, the value systems in these nations.

This is what the most recent edition of the FutureBrand Country Index is telling us, which sees the US slip five spots to number 12 and the UK fall seven spots to number 19. The Index itself re-orders the World Bank’s top 75 countries (by GDP) by how well they’re perceived in terms of an alternative set of factors, such as quality of life, tolerance, business potential, culture and tourism. Since our last Index in 2014, the US is now less favourable to visit and do business with while the UK has fallen in just about all of the variables that we measure. Both score disappointingly low on measures of tolerance.

This is no doubt a reflection of the polarising and divisive politics both nations have seen since our last Index and to some degree the results are not surprising in this regard. But before we get bogged down and distracted by the damaging effects of politics on a country brand, we must remember that it’s only one part of a much wider story.

Of course, political stability is very important to the health of a country brand. But, in a democracy, things go up and down and politics can get heated. If you’re looking to run a business or attract tourism and investment at the time of a political down-turn, then you need to ensure that your other attributes and assets are on the rise.

When we look at the top-ranking countries in the Index (Japan, Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavian countries) we see that they bolster political and economic stability with fostering, and crucially exporting, a culture that feeds the quality of life, purpose and experience of the country, which resonates with people around the world.

IKEA is one of the best examples of this. People’s impression of Sweden is built by IKEA and people’s impression of IKEA is built by Sweden. The two are intrinsically linked. Over the years they’ve evolved from being about meatballs and blue and yellow, to communicating how innately Scandinavian values impact on our daily lives, wherever we are in the world. They’ve built an exportable lifestyle that enhances our perspective of Sweden the country.

Why the UK and US must fix their global brand reputations fast

In the case of Japan, Muiji has done something similar. And most recently, Marie Kondo - Japan’s latest cultural export who has built her reputation on ideas of wellbeing and quality of life from the roots of Japanese culture.

The challenge for the UK and the US right now is to communicate attributes that build a narrative around the diverse cultural landscape of these nations, beyond the narrow field of political discourse.

One example already doing this for the US is Budweiser, a brand that plays a very strongly to traditional American cues and is unafraid to wrap itself in the stars and stripes at home, but is re-inventing itself in China as a more exclusive, premium offer with links to AI and technology. This needs to happen right the way across America’s rich culture.

Why the UK and US must fix their global brand reputations fast

The same goes for the UK, which remains one of the most creative and diverse places in the world, attributes that tourists and investors are enduringly keen to tap into. Yes, the uncertainty around Brexit could threaten the ease at which people outside the UK can experience the culture here. But in this case, the UK will need to find the best ways to link the timeless associations people have of Britain’s cultural heritage with modern-day experiences to continue to attract tourism and investment, whatever the outcome.

Why the UK and US must fix their global brand reputations fast

Ultimately, the strategy for shaping these country brands, and others around the world, is similar to how successful consumer and corporate brands are shaped: balancing purpose, what they stand for, with the experience that people have. Despite the political upheaval on both sides of the Atlantic of late, countries with such diverse cultures as the UK and US can never be defined by their politics alone. They stand for, and can offer, so much more and should draw on the great nostalgia people have for these country brands to bolster themselves during these politically divisive times.

Join us at the City Nation Place Global Forum for our Breakfast Briefing on 7 November where we will be discussing how to establish and reinforce the long term appeal, meaning and emotion of places, both large and small.

Download the FutureBrand Country Index report today.