A Country Is a Business With a Brand:

How Does YOURS Rate?

By Shlomo  Maital



    Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman, a NYT columnist, insists that “A country is not a company”  (HBR Jan-Feb 1996).  But in some ways a country is a business, and it does have a brand image.   The World Competitiveness Yearbook database, published by the Lausanne bizschool IMD, rates the brand image of countries yearly, asking experts whether the country’s image abroad discourages, or encourages, doing business in that country.  Here are the 2012 rankings, in order, for the top 15:

  Singapore, Chile, Switzerland, Qatar, Hong Kong, Sweden, Canada, UAE, Korea, New Zealand, Peru, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Finland and Denmark.   USA is #28, China #35, Israel (my country) is #37,  Russia is a dismal #53,  and the bottom of the table is occupied by (in order) Argentina, Greece and Venezuela (where Chavez just won re-election). 

  There are some surprises.   Singapore at #1 is no surprise;  Founding President Lee Kwan Yew had palm trees planted along the road from Changi Airport, in 1965-6, just to impress Intel senior executives so they would build a fab in Singapore.  That mindset still exists.  But look at Chile!  Chile’s market economy and rapid growth are attracting investment and entrepreneurs.  Look at Qatar!  This tiny country is aggressive in reinventing itself.  And Peru! 

    Ireland ranks poorly.  This is understandable, given Ireland’s massive debt and banking crisis. But Taoseach (PM) Enda Kenny is working to change Ireland’s brand image, and he even uses those very words.  Watch Ireland closely, as it struggles to rebrand itself – a much harder task than the initial branding, because changing a bad image is harder than building a positive one from scratch.  “Who is prepared to stand up and say, well, I’ll take the flak here because this is the right thing for the people and the country?”, says Kenny.  His approval rating is a dismal 36%, down from over 50% when his Fine Gael party defeated Fianna Fail and won election.  But he is tireless in remaking Ireland and its image, and his efforts are worth close study.