The World’s Perception of America

Strange as it may seem, nations themselves can be thought of as brands, meaning people form mental associations of nations that are equivalent to “brand” images. Firms marketing their products under the banner—the country of origin—of a particular nation are thus affected by how positive or negative that country’s image is. Many countries actively market themselves with the goal of forging favorable and strong associations in the minds of people around the world. Regardless of whether a country actively markets itself, however, people nevertheless form associations based on that county’s business climate, its international relations, its attractiveness as a tourist location, and so on.
A British market research firm has developed a Nations Brand Index (NBI) as a barometer of global opinion toward a large number of countries around the globe.25 Each business quarter the NBI researchers poll over 25,000 people around the world on their perceptions of over 35 countries. Survey respondents are asked questions about each country in six areas:

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1. Exports—their level of satisfaction with products and services produced in that country.

2. People—their thoughts and feelings about the people in the country based on questions such as “How much would you like to have a close friend from [name of country]?”

3. Governance—their perceptions of whether the country can be trusted to make responsible decisions and to uphold international peace and security.

4. Tourism—their perceptions of a country’s natural beauty and historical heritage and the likelihood of visiting the country if money were no obstacle.

5. Culture and Heritage—their perceptions of a country’s cultural heritage and feelings about its contemporary culture, such as its music, art and literature, sporting excellence, and film quality.

6. Immigration and Investment—their willingness to live and work in a country for an extended period and their perceptions of whether the country would be a good place to pursue further education.

A nation’s “brand” image is the sum of its scores on these six dimensions. The most recent NBI results ranks the top 40 countries.
In this version of the NBI, the United States is ranked seventh among the 40 countries evaluated. Although the United States performs very well in four (exports, cultural heritage, tourism, and investment and immigration) of the six dimensions, it suffers in the two remaining areas (people and governance). Outside the United States, the poor performance on the governance and people dimensions may be due to given the widespread opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. government’s record on treatment of enemy combatants (e.g., Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay), its saber-rattling posture toward Iran and North Korea, and so on.
A country’s image, like any brand image, is not immutable but can be changed by the actions of its leaders and its people. As noted previously, it is important as a matter of international relations and economics that a country have a positive image. Each of us has a role to play in this regard by the people we choose to lead us and by the behavior we display when traveling abroad.


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