The 15 Leading Country Brands Of The Future

The United States and Europe might dominate people’s perceptions of the world’s best nations right now, but a new crop of countries is on the rise.

We spend a lot of time looking at country rankings—everything from the best places in the world to be a woman to the worst countries for food security. These realities on the ground all feed into overall perception—or branding—of countries. If perception is favorable, that can translate into investments as well as commercial and economic development. And that, if done right, can lead to better lives for all citizens.

For the past eight years, international brand and design consultancy FutureBrand has released the Country Brand Index (CBI), an in-depth study of country brands and perceptions that surveys 3,600 business and leisure travelers across 18 countries as well as selected experts. The survey takes into account a number of "image attributions," including perceptions of political freedom, environmental friendliness, food, the investment climate, and safety.

This year, the study came with a twist. In addition to looking at the top country brands—a list filled with the usual suspects, like Switzerland, Japan, the U.S., and Germany—FutureBrand created a new list. The Future 15 features countries on the rise, countries that are polishing their brands and emerging across six key future drivers: governance (the government’s ability to protect people, having a solid legal framework), investment, human capital (strength, productivity, health, and happiness of citizens), growth, sustainability (financial management, resource dependence, and sticking to international norms), and the ever-elusive influence (economic, political, and cultural).

The top-ranked country in the Future 15, the United Arab Emirates (see full list in the right hand image), is benefiting from increasingly positive perceptions about its financial stability, educational system, overall happiness of its citizens, and commitment to growth through investments in infrastructure and research and development. "There’s lots of inward investment, and people around the world are starting to see that quality of life is good," says Daniel Rosentreter, the chief strategy officer of North America at FutureBrand.

The UAE is large and wealthy enough that it could soon enter the top 20 country brands list (it’s currently at number 23). But it needs to be careful: The country’s unbalanced wealth investment—see Dubai and Abu Dhabi—set it back.

Chile, the second-ranked country, is admired as a model in the region for its lack of corruption and solid infrastructure. But it too has weaknesses: reliance on its natural resources (like copper) and a relatively small population.

Somewhat surprisingly, Kazakhstan made it into the top 15, after a successful takeover of the country brand by Sacha Baron Cohen and his character Borat, a clueless fake Kazakh journalist. "That woke the country up. If you want to be competitive, you have to put effort in managing your country brand or other people will manage it for you," says Christopher Nurko, Global Chairman of FutureBrand Worldwide (doing something about the country’s dictator’s horrible human rights and press freedom record might help, too).

And while countries like India and China certainly deserve to be in the Future 15, they’ll have trouble ascending to the top without addressing perceptions (and realities) of human rights, political corruption, and quality of life issues.

You might notice that African countries are conspicuously absent on both the top 25 and Future 15 lists. Many African countries have resources (agricultural and otherwise) as well as potential for growth. The problem comes from lingering—often outdated—perceptions of corruption, disease, and war. Most people associate Rwanda with the genocide in 1994 that killed approximately 800,000 people—not its strength as a country. This perception persists even though the country today is experiencing real economic growth and significant reductions in poverty. "It’s an issue of communicating and aligning that vision," says Nurko. That these issues don’t cling to non-African countries with bad records and leadership (ahem, Kazakhstan) is something that should make the 3,600 business and leisure travelers take a long look in the mirror.

Heavyweights with entrenched positive perceptions (most of the top 10 countries) probably won’t fall off the top 25 list anytime soon. But there is still room for other countries, large and small, to wiggle their way in with a little work—most of which involves treating their citizens and the environment better. Sounds like a plan.

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  • Rodolfo Orlando Duriez

    I'm surprised South Korea does not make it onto the list, especially in the future top 15. 

  • Smoke

    It is deffinetly not ridiculous to place Iceland and Estonia. Although its even more than absurd to mention Russia...

  • Martin

    Interesting that legal framework is important perhaps the researchers missed these


    It has been 5 long months since our children and many other loved ones died in a needless fire at Villagio. An avoidable tragedy that shouldn't have happened. And a response to the disaster that has made it worse.

    We still have the same questions. And every day we wait to get answers. And every day our pain is greater. 

    We have followed the Qatari judicial system. At every hearing, we as families are in attendance. Our Government's and our Embassy representatives are in attendance. The media is in attendance. 

    Yet, after three initial hearings a number of defendants have still to show us as victims, and the State of Qatar as the prosecutors, the decency to attend court and face judgment. 

    As the victims we have shown more respect to the legal system than many of the defendants. It is also shocking to us that the Qatari defendants are the ones who have shown the most disrespect to both our children and the court. 

    This is made worse by one defendant, who we once trusted with the lives of our children and some once considered a friend, is still to appear at court. Does she not have any humanity?

    This is unacceptable. It is hurtful to us. It is making our grief and pain worse. It is making us question the legitimacy of the system that we have been asked to depend on to get answers. 

    We cannot understand how one defendant has not been found and made to attend court. These defendants were bailed by the authorities on the condition they attend the court hearing. People know where she is. It is not difficult to issue a summons.

    The world is watching this legal process. The world is asking questions. The world is waiting to see Qatari justice stand up for those innocents that died so cruelly. It is time now for those answers.

    This isn't just about getting justice for all of those who died - our children, the teachers, and the rescuers. This trial is also important for the country. The trial is important for all citizens, residents and visitors to the country. It is essential that everyone learns what happened, what went wrong and more importantly to make sure it doesn't happen again.

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  • Paul Bates

    Best Man-read the article...Russia does not fit the criteria.

    The survey takes into account a number of "image attributions," including perceptions of political freedom, environmental friendliness, food, the investment climate, and safety.

  • Guest

    ... Then the article is about nothing... Russia has a fantastic potential. That's ridiculous that Iceland or Estonia are almost in the list of the Leading Country Brands.... the article is for National Geographic, not for Fact Company. 

  • Best Man

    Everybody knows Russia.

    UAE is known to some. So why is UAE  on the list and Russia is not ?