Japan ranks first on Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index – but Sweden wins in sustainability.

The perception of your nation is the foundation on which you build your visitor, talent, or investment attraction strategies. Understanding how perceptions of your nation measure up against the rest of the world, therefore, can be an invaluable element in identifying both your strengths and the areas you wish to focus on.

Since 2008, the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index has measured the power and appeal of each country’s “brand image” by examining global perceptions of core aspects of a nation’s identity – and the 2023 ranking is now live. While there are no new entries into the top ten this year, Japan has ended Germany’s six-year reign at the top, knocking the country into second place.

The top-ten in the 2023 Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index are: 1) Japan, 2) Germany, 3) Canada, 4) UK, 5) Italy, 6) USA, 7) Switzerland, 8) France, 9) Australia, 10) Sweden

Table 1: The top ten from the 2023 Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index and the comparison between their placement on the 2022 edition.

However, the shake-up at the top of the ranking isn’t the only new thing in the 2023 Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index. For the first time, Ipsos have also included sustainability questions in the survey to understand how sustainability drivers were impacting the desire to visit or invest in a country and how different countries were perceived regarding their sustainability efforts – although measurement of these attributes does not contribute to the score calculations and rankings in this year’s core Nation Brands Index.

The growing demand for sustainability around the world

Last month, scientists at NASA announced that the summer of 2023 was the hottest since global records began. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in March 2023 warned that the Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade.

But what does this mean for nation brand teams?

According to Ipsos’s What Worries the World global monthly survey, concern about climate change varies by market but averages at 7th place worldwide. This places climate change below concerns like inflation, crime & violence, and poverty & social inequality. However, while climate change might rank lower than things perceived as more ‘immediate’ in their ability to affect quality of life, it’s undeniable that sustainability is gaining importance.

The tourism sector accounts for around a tenth of global greenhouse gas emissions, with a significant amount of this attributable to air travel. Research from Expedia suggests that 90% of consumers are looking for more sustainable options when travelling, and that nearly 70% would be willing to sacrifice convenience to be a more sustainable traveller. Booking.com’s 2023 Sustainable Travel Report reaffirms this intent, with 76% stating that they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12-months.

From an economic development perspective, sustainability is becoming a top priority for both businesses and employees. In the UK, for example, 54% of UK employees don’t want to work for a company where sustainability isn’t an organisational priority. This will only be exacerbated as more Gen Z employees enter the workforce; the same report highlights that sustainability is a key factor in deciding whether to work for a company for 61% of 25-34 year olds, in contrast to just 40% of over 55s.

From a corporate perspective, if we look to the leadership in companies, almost half of CEOs say increasing sustainability is one of their highest priorities – up 37% from the 2022 edition of IBM’s CEO study. On top of that, 60% agreed that leaders need to take responsibility for their business impact on the environment, and 52% for their business impact on communities.

Does sustainability affect where people visit and invest?

The research shows that the desire for sustainability is growing, but how does it factor into where people desire to visit and invest?

Despite the increasing demand for sustainable travel options, the 2023 Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index didn’t find that sustainability ranked highly as a driver of intent to visit a location. ‘Natural beauty’ was the runaway winner for this, with ‘work & live,’ ‘close friend,’ ‘safe,’ and ‘vibrant city life’ listed as the top five drivers.

However, sustainability-focused attributes were deemed important drivers behind the desire to invest in a place. ‘Responsible industries,’ ‘equality in society,’ and ‘affordable & clean energy’ all made it into the top ten drivers, ranking 3rd, 5th, and 10th respectively.

It seems likely that this difference is generated by the gap between what people view as their ‘norm’ versus a ‘once-in-a-while treat.’ People are increasingly making more sustainable choices in their everyday lives, and so perhaps this is why sustainability-focused factors play a greater role when looking towards longer-term decisions such as where to live, work, and invest rather than when selecting a destination for your week away.

The impact of sustainability on nation brand perceptions

While Ipsos didn’t include the new, sustainability dimensions in the final Nation Brands Index calculation, it’s interesting to see how the top ten match up against these dimensions.

Comparison of how the top-ten countries on the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index against five sustainability dimensions, showing that Sweden came 1st in four of the five dimensions, whilst the USA didn't rank above 20 in any of the five area.

Table 2: Comparison between the Top 10 countries from the 2023 Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index and how they performed against five sustainable dimensions.

The table above shows that whilst there’s no direct correlation between countries that are perceived to be more sustainable and the overall strength of their nation brand, many of the top ten have also performed strongly across sustainability-focused attributes too.

Five of the overall top ten nations [Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and Sweden] also rank in the top ten for all the sustainable attributes, and a further four [Japan, UK, Italy, and France] make the top 20 on all counts. In fact, the only top ten nation brand that doesn’t perform highly for sustainability is the United States of America, which performs toward the bottom of the top 25 on each sustainability-focused dimension.

How should place brand organisations respond to the call for greater sustainability?

We’ve already covered a number of statistics that show the growing demand for sustainability within travel and business, but several of the reports also highlighted another interesting fact: the desire is there, but people aren’t sure how to be more sustainable. An Ipsos study found that global travellers are very willing to adopt approachable strategies like using a reusable water bottle for example – 85% of people across 15 countries said they used a travel mug / water bottle on vacation either “every time”, “when they can” or “would be ready to do it.” The most popular sustainable thing travellers said they’d be open to adopting is picking accommodation with a green certification (43%). Actions that could cost tourists significant time and/or money were less attractive, however. The least popular sustainable travel option was volunteering with NGOs to join community tourism projects, which just over half (54%) of respondents said they either “would not want to” do or were “not concerned” with.

This gives city and nation brand organisations a unique opportunity to facilitate those looking for more sustainability. From signposting more sustainable travel experiences to providing the tools needed to help businesses decrease their environmental impact, destination marketing and investment promotion organisations should be looking at how they can create easier pathways to sustainable choices.

At a macro-level, we’re also seeing places make regulatory changes that will build towards a more sustainable future. France, for example, has banned short haul flights if the journey can be achieved in under 2.5 hours by train. The Netherlands have capped their airport capacities to minimise the environmental impact of air travel through their tourism. And as sustainability becomes more important in shaping the perceptions of nation brands, having a clear sustainable proposition – with demonstrable intent and actions taken against this proposition – will be more important than ever.

Ipsos' Jason McGrath will be reviewing the findings of the 2023 Ipsos-Anholt Nation Brands Index at City Nation Place Global next week. Find out more here.

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