• Transform magazine
  • March 31, 2020

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Global soft power report examines reputation, influence of nation brands

Photography by Fairlight Studios3.jpg

Soft power is not just a measure of reputation or influence, it is a type of currency between nations determining the roles each country can play in a globalised world.

At a summit in February, Brand Finance examined how the countries stack up in terms of soft power, influence, reputation and prominence while launching its first study into the topic, the ‘Global Soft Power Index.’

Brand Finance’s research states that soft power is “a nation’s ability to influence the preference and behaviours of various actors in the international arena through attraction or persuasion rather than coercion.” Using that as a foundation, it carried out extensive research to measure the soft power of 60 countries based on seven criteria.

The US and UK, coming in at first and third, respectively, provided an interesting insight in light of recent political currents taking place in both countries, says Brand Finance’s insight director Steven Thomson. “Good brands are really resilient. They might take a dent, but they bounce back. I think commercial companies can learn that if you think about soft power, it’s not about running a great ad campaign. Influence and power and reputation stems from all of these. Commercial companies are a step ahead in understanding that. It’s not just about running advertising; it’s about what you do.”

The US was the clear winner, outpacing its nearest opponent, Germany by more than five points. What was made apparent in the study, though, was the fact that though China and Russia took the fifth and 10th places, respectively, they demonstrate a gap between influence and reputation. Though they competed well in the influence ranking, their global reputations were middling. “The failure to marry up strong influence with positive reputation is what makes competing with the soft power elite difficult,” the report says.

Thomson agrees, highlighting a further challenge countries like Pakistan and Singapore face in terms of relevance. Singapore, as a well regarded, well governed state with a high standard of living has a positive reputation. But, “the problem is it’s not that relevant to other people” Thomson says. “It’s a small country. People have good opinions of it, but its influence and power is constrained by a lack of relevance.”

This is a challenge many countries might face. But they can learn from their counterparts in the commercial world, Thomson adds. Marketers understand that to be relevant, a company has to be in people’s lives. It has to get itself out there. In the same way that countries have to send its people and perspectives out into the world – like the stereotypical Australian backpacker or Canadian adventurer – in order to become more present and thus, more relevant, to the global community.

At the bottom of the rankings are Kazakhstan, Iraq and Myanmar, coming in at 58th, 59th and 60th. All three represent the problems posed to countries that have lost control of their own images. Iraq and Myanmar have faced years of conflict and political persecution, but retain strong cultural heritages that have an international impact in their spheres. Kazakhstan, however, suffers largely from a lack of familiarity. It has lost control of its ability to shape its image independent from other central Asian nations, the report alleges.

For the middle of the pack, soft power can take many shapes and forms. Switzerland’s economic strength, tourist appeal and iconic cultural products has made it a global soft power. Ireland, too, relies on its heritage, people and diaspora and its steady governance.

Former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon gave the keynote address. He discussed South Korea’s rise in soft power based on its cultural exports and popularity. He added more generally, “Soft power is an essential ingredient in international diplomacy. Additionally, soft power can help further the peace and development goals of the United Nations, particularly the UN SDGs (sustainable development goals), and reinforce global progress. In fact, the three pillars of the UN – peace and security, development, and human rights – are all in line with the same objectives of soft power and can help bring nations and peoples together through cooperation and partnership.”

The Global Soft Power Summit was held in London and Oxford in February. The Global Soft Power report can be found here.