Measuring soft power

David Haigh, Chairman & CEO, Brand Finance

Next to exchange of best practice among peers, in this complex and ever-evolving world of place branding there is one thing we can rely on with full certainty – that measurement is the key to management. This fundamental principle has underpinned our work of measuring stakeholder perceptions and brand value for nearly 30 years.

Our journey began with a singular focus: the importance of intellectually rigorous brand measurement – hence our key role in developing the industry standards on brand evaluation ISO 20671 and brand valuation ISO 10668. Applying the same logic as to corporate or product brands, we recognized that to effectively manage and enhance a place brand, one must first understand it. Over the years, Brand Finance has amassed expertise which has empowered many strategically aware place brand leaders to rise above the challenges they face. Just like learning from best practice, discovering the insights that measurement offers facilitates a more impactful strategic management of place brands.

Put simply, understanding your place brand is the key to maximizing performance. Robust and regular measurement of stakeholder perceptions and financial value unlocks a whole new level of place brand management. For instance:

  • Analysing perceptions data allows you to quantify return on investment from marketing communications campaigns;
  • conducting drivers analysis can be instrumental in identifying strategic priorities for future activities and building consensus within your organization;
  • tracking place brand value is useful when setting royalty rates and developing a commercially viable licensing program;
  • performing a brand valuation can also help communicate the added value of your work as place brand leaders to key stakeholders, such as politicians and investors who hold the purse strings.

As testament to our commitment to methodological transparency and technical professionalization of the field, we have also been sharing our research through public studies measuring place brand success. We started off 20 years ago with the Brand Finance Nation Brands study into the strength and value of the world’s top nation brands. Then 5 years ago – out of a rigorous consultation with over 50 academics and practitioners of place branding – came the Global Soft Power Index, delving deeper into perceptions of nation brands and their Soft Power. Since its inception, it has become the industry’s most comprehensive research study, which in 2024 will rank all 193 member states of the United Nations for the first time, thanks to an unprecedented survey of 150,000+ respondents across 100+ markets.

Soft Power, the intangible force that shapes a place's impact on the international stage, relies on brand perceptions, which build reputation and influence. It is the lever that places pull to attract investments, foster trade, entice talent, and allure tourists. Yet, until recently, it has remained a nebulous concept, difficult to grasp and quantify.

The Global Soft Power Index is the first study to not only measure Soft Power based on a perceptions survey, but also to cover practically the whole world in terms of both brands ranked and markets surveyed. It leverages the diversity of perspectives and experiences that our global reach affords, ensuring that the data we collect and analyse is not just credible but also comprehensive.

We are excited to be replicating this model to rank the world’s best city brands in our Brand Finance City Index – published for the first time in 2023 – and to extend this study in the years to come to cover more city brands in regional rankings across all continents.

As we embark on this new phase of our journey, we invite you to join us and our keynote speaker – Sir John Major, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – at the upcoming Global Soft Power Summit on 28th and 29th February 2024 in London or online. In its 5th year, it is a pivotal event in the place branding calendar, where we reveal the findings of the next iteration of the Global Soft Power Index. This time, we will focus specifically on the role of Soft Power in attracting investment, trade, talent, and tourism, identifying the best nations across these four fields, thanks to new additional research conducted especially for this occasion.

Through client and partner-led workshops on day one, and panel discussions with place brand leaders from around the world on day two, the Summit will be the perfect platform not only to reveal place brand measurement insights from our research, but also to share best practice among place brand leaders, whether from nations, regions, or cities.

I hope the Global Soft Power Summit 2024 will bring us all together, just like the City Nation Place conferences!

Want to find out more? Get in touch with Brand Finance at and check out our Soft Power Zone here to find latest thinking and insights on how place branding and soft power intersect to the benefit of your city or nation.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.