Canada loses top spot to Switzerland in country ranking index

People enjoy the view from Vogelberg mountain during sunny autumn weather some 30 kilometres south of Basel, S …Canada has slipped off its perch as the No. 1 "brand" in the world, yielding top spot to Switzerland in FutureBrand's eighth annual country brand index report.

Canada had held top spot for the last two years in the consulting firm's comprehensive analysis of dozens of countries based on a detailed survey of 3,600 business people, travel experts and opinion leaders.

But FutureBrand chairman Chris Nurko wrote that Switzerland's "modern efficiency and safety" make it appealing to outsiders and it is "a model of economic and commercial stability at the heart not only of Europe but also global politics and affairs."

A strong country brand is more than the sum of its attributes, FutureBrand says. It must make people's lives better.

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"FutureBrand assesses the strength of a country brand in much the same way as any other brand, measuring awareness, familiarity, preference, consideration, advocacy and active decisions to visit or interact with a place," the company says.

"But the most important factors — the aspects that truly differentiate a country brand — are its associations and attributes across five key dimensions: value system, quality of life, good for business, heritage and culture and tourism."

In the 2012-13 report, Switzerland finished first in three of the five categories, while ranking fourth in tourism and in heritage and culture.

Last year's report noted Canada was tops "despite its lack of leading rankings in any one dimension — proving that consistency is more important than specialty focus."

"But Canada's strength depends on more than just consistency: the nation actively manages its country brand to constantly improve performance," the 2011-12 report said.

So what happened this year? Canada slipped to sixth from fifth in the value-system category, which includes things like environmental friendliness, freedom of speech and political freedom.

It maintained its third-place ranking on quality of life and actually improved three spots (to seventh) as a country that's good for business. It also climbed to 10th from 15th in the heritage and culture category and moved up seven places (to sixth) on the tourism ranking.

But Switzerland's top marks were hard to beat.

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"Switzerland epitomizes the enduring country brand, with a favorable economic climate supported by a strong culture and set of values," the report said. "Understanding the dynamics behind Switzerland's success will help ensure its longevity and perhaps that of other nations."

The news wasn't so good for the United States, which continued its slide down the rankings to eighth place (from sixth last year) after finishing first in 2009, thanks largely to optimism surrounding the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president.

America's best score was in tourism (fifth), but it was 14th in value system, 15th in quality of life, eighth in good for business and 31st in heritage and culture.

The "Obama Effect" has worn off and in the face of ongoing fiscal crises in the United States and Europe, and "the influence and normative values of the West are beginning to lose clout with a global audience," the report said.

"Now, on the cusp of the 2012 presidential election, citizens across the country and around the globe wait to see the political, social and cultural direction of America's future."

The Top 10: Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, the U.S., Finland and Norway.