Opinion

Good country branding can carry a nation through times of crisis

30 July, 2019 Share socially

In our 2014 study, we pointed to Extremism and Migration as dominant themes informing the future. Five years later, our latest FutureBrand Country Index reveals the impact of these themes on the perception of the UK. Grappling with populist factions, stinging headlines, and wavering public approval, our survey respondents perceived the UK in a much less favourable light across all meaningful measures. It has fallen by 7 places to 19 with only slight increases in a handful of categories, and an abysmal rating for Value for Money.

Despite its GDP strength, this traditional 'world power' is not winning on perception as respondents showed less emotional connection with it, and perhaps as a consequence they are less likely to live/ study in or visit Britain. Ongoing uncertainty over Brexit and the turmoil within the main Parliamentary parties has perhaps meant that the UK has taken its eye off the ball in recent years but our Index clearly indicates that it needs to reclaim lost ground in order to experience the benefits of a positive country brand perception.

Last week Boris Johnson was selected to lead the Tory party and consequently also became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Arguably a brand in himself, is he the man to reinvigorate the rather tarnished Brand Britain?

He is certainly on a mission and in his first ebullient speech on the steps of Downing Street he announced a renewed commitment to improving healthcare, social welfare, education and policing and signalled a desire for the UK to demonstrate environmental leadership on the world stage. So far, so expected. These are all areas which the UK performed poorly in and our 2019 study reveals how survey respondents perceive a country’s Environmental Friendliness (an attribute of Value System), the Quality of Life its people enjoy, and the Products & Services that country produces (Made In) have the greatest positive influence when it comes to the places where they choose to spend their time and money. Time will tell if Boris can finally make good on his promises. It will take meaningful action and considerable financial investment but judging him solely on his first statement as Prime Minister he could be heading in the correct direction.

On the other hand, our research found that a country’s polarizing politics and a low measure in Tolerance can negatively influence a country’s overall perception and degrade country brand strength. Mr Johnson is now tasked with steering the country through one of the most divisive issues it has ever faced and it will require a high level of political skill and guile to solve the Irish Backstop question, hold the Union together and maintain cordial relations with Europe. No small task. One of his first acts as PM is expected to be the launch of a public information blitz to target 27 million UK households and prepare them ahead of his expected No Deal proclamation around the EU exit date. And on tolerance? Well, Johnson's record is patchy to say the least.

Good country branding can carry a nation through times of crisis. In the coming months and years in order to succeed as a strong country brand, Britain will need to remove its Brexit blinkers and look beyond its shores to convince people - tourists, students, investors - that it is a country that looks after its citizens and is moving forward and not harking back to the 'glory days' of the last couple of centuries. Ranked in the top 10 for 'Historical Points of Interest' only, the UK is in grave danger of being seen as a 'has been' - a country preserved in amber.

At this crucial juncture Brand Britain needs to take stock and urgently consider how it wants to be perceived as its economic survival post Brexit now depends on it. A dose of optimism and blonde ambition can go a long way but can it go fast and far enough?

Download the FutureBrand Country Index 2019