What are we measuring in nation branding?

Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index published its 2014 results a couple of days ago. I guess it is that time of the year that scholars start sharing their views on the issue. Nick Cull recently did so on CPD Blog, and let me chime in as well.

This year’s report backs up my two biggest concerns about the index:

1- Are we measuring perception or performance (or exposure)?

2- What do the rankings actually mean?

What if Germany scored 8 goals against Brazil?

What if Germany scored 8 goals against Brazil?

The picture gives away the result. According to the 2014 results of NBI, Germany ranks #1, taking the place of the US for the first time since 2009. Prior to President Obama, US was still in top 1o, though in the lower part of the list. This year, however, the American brand is overshadowed by the success of Germany. As the press release by GfK argues, this change was partially due to large gain in ‘sports excellence’. Even though, the index does not suggest that Germany’s rise was based on the World Cup (Germany has been constantly ranked #2 for the last four years), scoring 7 goals against Brazil has non-soccer impacts.

Thus my first question – what are we measuring? Are we measuring the performance of a brand? The answer is probably no. We do not look at what the countries are doing in terms of their brands. We are looking at how the survey respondents rank countries on separate subjects.

Are we measuring perception? Now, Germany’s recent success – I would argue – challenges the assumption that we are measuring perception. The survey was influenced by a short-term event, which did not necessarily change the perception of Germany. Let me put it this way – Germany did not need to win the 2014 Fifa World Cup to be considered as having “sports excellence”. We are all quite familiar with Germany’s success in soccer. No sane squad has ever wanted to play Germany ‘every week’. The perception has always been there. Germany plays good soccer (makes good cars, obeys rules, and German trains arrive on time). The perception did not necessarily change since 2013 (or 1990s).

So, why did Germany rank #1 and why was its sports excellence named as a factor? Because Germany gained exposure. It was a reminder to most of us. Especially in countries where the game is called football and not soccer, the World Cup result brought Germany back into our minds. I would argue Germany’s relatively “higher” scores in other areas can also be explained by exposure. Germany became a country we talked about. Our ideas did not change about the country, we just started talking about it.

The answer to my question #1 seems to be “NBI is measuring short-term public reaction which is very susceptible to mega events and/or other news agenda items”.  This argument also sheds light on why US and Russia lost face. The countries did not do anything that was against our perceptions – but they were on the news, we were reminded about their behavioral patterns.

The argument is quite interesting given the fact that it contradicts with Simon Anholt’s writings on the role of communication in nation branding. Nation brands indeed cannot be solely created by communication campaigns but I guess NBI can be manipulated by agenda-setting.

The second issue I raise is about the rankings themselves. Now that the US ranks #2, can the American citizens blame Obama? Does this mean tourists are going to go to Germany instead of the US this year? Should we all invest on German firms? It sounds like it is “bad” to lose your #1 spot after five years but why? What is going to happen? To this day, I have no idea.

Long story short, I still have several problems with the way we measure nation brands. It looks like NBI results portray a popular public opinion at a time segment (i.e. if you do your survey just after the World Cup, people will be talking about Germany. I mean, the Brazil game was just amazing) and not necessarily the perception or the performance of brand. Moreover, its ranking system is not an appropriate way to summarize its results as the rankings do not convey any meaning.




3 thoughts on “What are we measuring in nation branding?

  1. Robert Govers says:

    Nice reflection Efe, but it seems to me that the results for Brazil contradict your answer to the first question (i.e. NBI measures exposure). See: https://twitter.com/SimonAnholt/status/533173416506183680/photo/1

    I also tend to believe that people might have in fact changed their minds slightly about Germany because of the World Cup (it was a different Germany than we are used to) and Russia because of Ukraine (if not, Russia should have improved its score because of the Olympics exposure). Sure, all this is mediated by the media, but it tells stories about the actual behavior of these countries; not their propaganda.

    One point is very valid though: we can’t be sure if these changes are sustainable or event driven, but the index is much less volatile than the East-West Communications media index which actually measures exposure.

    • Efe says:

      Thank you for the comments. I think the change in Brazil is closer to US and Russia right now. The exposure reminded us that the recent development jump had its social implications.

      I agree that we get the news / behaviors of countries rather than what they wish us to hear (their propaganda) and indeed the index is less volatile than any media index, including the East-West Communications. I think NBI’s volatility is not necessarily because of its theoretical composition but it is an implementation issue.

      I mean, Germany is not a “media friendly” country. It is a steady country. You always hear about Germany but its coverage does not increase or decrease because of controversial policies or popular events – except, of course, 2014 World Cup. When people were asked about their views about different countries in July 2014, World Cup reminded them that Germany was one of the plausible examples. I wonder whether the results would have been the same if the survey were to be carried out in May or December 2014,

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