A Wharton professor helped create the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Countries list for the seventh year in a row.
David Reibstein — a marketing professor at Wharton — collaborated with undergraduate students at Penn, BrandAsset Valuator Group, and the U.S. News & World Report to create the Best Countries project, which evaluates countries around the world in a variety of categories. Switzerland ranked as the world’s best country overall this year, followed by Germany and Canada respectively.
The project, which was first launched in 2016, has been spearheaded throughout by Reibstein. Along with providing overall rankings, the list also ranked 85 countries in subsections such as Adventure and Quality of Life.
Reibstein said that he first conceived the idea of ranking countries around the world while analyzing connections between brand power and the brand’s country of origin. This analysis led him to explore the concept of a country’s own brand. According to U.S. News, the goal of the project is to help citizens and country leaders understand how their nation is perceived globally.
“I think this [project] is reflective,” Reibstein said. “It’s reflective of what causes tourism and foreign direct investment, and it’s reflective of foreign trade."
Wharton undergraduates who participated in the project were tasked with data analysis and external communication.
2022 College graduate Candice Li joined the project as Reibstein’s research assistant during her first two years at Penn. Her main responsibility was conducting data analysis on survey responses. She also had the opportunity to participate in international outreach for the countries ranked on the list.
“One of the biggest projects that we worked on was with the government of Chile,” Li said. “We focused on understanding how different demographics perceive Chile, so for that, I did a lot of slicing up the data.”
According to Michael Sussman, the current CPO of BAV, the group worked on the “physicality” of this project — designing the survey and questions, performing outreach, and working with suppliers to get to survey respondents. It also participated in designing the research methodology.
Sussman has been involved with the BAV group for 25 years. He joined the Best Countries project in 2018, and has been incorporating questions about consumer products and commercial influence into the research methodology.
“I just think it’s a great partnership because sometimes the best work comes from, you know, smart minds that don’t have egos and just want to do good work. No one’s winning anything here, right?” Sussman said.
The 85 nations on the Best Countries list were required to pass criteria related to national GDP, FDI, and international tourism, and also had to be ranked within the top 100 of the United Nation’s Human Development Index. They were ranked based on their scores in 73 country metrics, which were determined based on survey responses provided by a mix of the general population, business decision-makers, and informed elites in 36 countries.
The research methodology behind the rankings is being continuously developed at Wharton, Reibstein said.
“The rankings and the waves of the different dimensions that go into these rankings continue to evolve,” Reibstein said. “Some of the questions that underlie the data need to evolve."
The Best Countries project also includes analyses focusing on specific countries and events. Last week, Reibstein published an article analyzing the impact of Russia invading Ukraine and how the perception of both countries has been subsequently affected. Sussman is currently working on a piece focused on the branding influence within and outside of Canada.
As the Best Countries project moves towards its eighth publication, Reibstein emphasized the importance of country branding and marketing.
“Every country should have a chief marketing officer,” Reibstein said. “Perceptions of a country affect the economy of the country.”