The NBI study looks at six key areas: Governance, People, Business, Tourism, Culture and Talent Magnet. The latter gauges a country's ability to attract talented people for studies, research and jobs.
The most interesting and dramatic change in the latest study is the greatly improved image of the USA, which has risen from seventh place to become the world's most attractive brand – an effect of the favourable view taken of President Obama. Such major changes in the way people perceive other countries are rare, and reflect the fact that the USA is a superpower whose policies have a worldwide impact.
Rankings in the NBI study
(Previous year's rankings in brackets)
1. USA (7)
2. France (2)
3. Germany (1)
4. UK (3)
6. Italy (6)
7. Canada (4)
8. Switzerland (8)
9. Australia (9)
10. Sweden (10) and Spain (10)
For its size, modern Sweden occupies a strong position as a forward-looking, open country with a deep global commitment. However, it now faces a definite challenge. To a great extent, the country is living on past glories – our image abroad is outdated. People still tend to associate us with Palme, Abba, Bergman and Hammarskjöld. There's nothing wrong with that, but contemporary Sweden definitely has other attractions as well, not least in the music, design and fashion fields.
An outdated image of Sweden risks becoming uninteresting, and our past achievements fade as new generations arrive. We find that Sweden's reputation is slowly but surely weakening in regions where our image used to be very strong.
Swedish culture unknown – but rich in potential
Although “Millennium fever” is spreading around the world, Swedish culture is still the area in which we come off worst. Our principal handicap is that we are not thought to possess any interesting cultural heritage. We do better in terms of modern culture, but there, too, we are invisible in today's world, with a few exceptions.
Sweden lacks a postcard motif
Sweden is also losing ground in terms of how we are perceived as a tourist destination. This is somewhat ironic, since the Swedish tourist industry is flourishing due to a rising influx of tourists from countries around us. In many parts of the world, people still think of Sweden as cold and dark, and we lack an instantly recognizable postcard motif such as the Eiffel Tower or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that could put us on the map as a place to visit.
Strong Swedish values
Sweden's particular strength is governance. Sweden is seen as the home of a successful welfare model and a country that stands up for values like democracy and human rights and that takes its share of responsibility for global issues such as security and sustainability. Sweden is also looked upon as one of the countries to have emerged strongest from the global economic crisis.
No longer the environmental leader
However, we find that Sweden has forfeited its top place in the environment category. This is troubling, since a country's ability to establish and retain an environmentally friendly profile is becoming increasingly important for its attractiveness in general. The few countries that are perceived as “green nations” are also considered more attractive as trade partners or as tourism or study destinations, and find it easier to make their voices heard in the international arena.
With the growing importance of sustainability as a global issue, competition in this sphere has become fiercer – more and more countries are investing heavily and joining the front runners. In previous studies, Sweden ranked first in the world in the environment category. This time, we have been overtaken by competitors such as Germany, Canada and Switzerland.
A relevant question is whether Sweden will be able to maintain its position as a country perceived as a relevant actor in global politics, an environmental model and a source of innovation that makes life better and safer for everyone. In many respects, Sweden is well equipped. We have the tools that should enable us to exploit the situation. But if we are to succeed, we must be able to put across how contemporary Sweden is relevant for today's global citizens and talents.
Sweden's image needs updating and Sweden needs to become more widely known – not least in new markets such as Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Brief summary of Sweden's NBI ranking
• Overall standing: Joint 10th place
• Best category: 3rd place for Governance
• Best issues: 2nd place for “Open, tolerant society”* and “Behaves responsibly to help reduce world poverty”*
• Worst category: 14th place for Tourism and Culture
• Worst issue: 21st place for “This country is rich in historical buildings and monuments”*
• Most favourably disposed countries: Germany and France, followed by Poland and China
• Least favourably disposed countries: India and Egypt
Report on Sweden's image 2010
The Swedish Institute's mission is to work proactively with Sweden's image abroad. The aim is to create interest, awareness, confidence and demand, and to establish relations, networks and partnerships around the world. For us, the key task is to constantly analyse Sweden's position in the international environment – to determine how the country is perceived and to maintain a close understanding of our target groups abroad. This enables us to detect and interpret trends and shifts in the world at an early stage. You can read more about Sweden's position worldwide in the SI report on Sweden's international image, due to be published in April. The 2010 edition includes a new report on Sweden's image in Africa.
Liselott Bergman, Brand Analysis Manager, Swedish Institute
*Statements that the respondents in the NBI study have to rank according to how well they suit the different countries.