Global perceptions of Germany have never been more positive. But attracting and retaining the world’s interest is as important as building a strong nation brand, says Samantha North.
Germany is no stranger to the global spotlight. Throughout the 20th century it was a major player in world affairs. After the wartime dust settled, a shattered Germany started the process of rebuilding itself. Despite the setbacks wrought by partition, Germany avoided sinking into anonymity.
After reunification the country's manufacturing sector went from strength to strength. As Germany gained fame for its exports, it also built the foundations for a robust and flourishing economy. Over the coming decades this helped Germany position itself as a major driving force within the European Union.
As its economy developed, Germany's reputation changed too. Once feared, it soon became respected for engineering prowess. Efficiency became a byword for Germany and soon filtered down to influence the world's perceptions of the nation.
But while Germany had become widely respected it was debatable how much it was actually liked. Associations with traits like punctuality, reliability and efficiency were good for business but did not necessarily position Germany as a friendly and welcoming country.
Over the next decades Germany enhanced its image and became known as a fair, stable and secure society. Successfully hosting the 2006 World Cup further boosted Brand Germany, showing the world that it knew how to have fun - notwithstanding the recent allegations regarding corruption during the bidding process.
A slight setback
When the Volkswagen emissions scandal hit the headlines in September 2015, some worried it would have a negative effect on Germany's reputation. But a nation with an already well-regarded brand can usually withstand an event like this.
Germany's stellar performance in various nation brand rankings is testament to its achievements. In 2013 it was ranked world's "most positively viewed nation" in the BBC's Country Ratings Poll. In the latest Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index, which surveys people's perceptions of 50 countries, Germany beat the US to take first place.
Brand rankings based on opinion are important. But they don't necessarily show people's active interest in a country. Assessing the world's levels of interest, and exactly what they are interested in, is potentially more useful to countries than simply knowing that the world has positive perceptions of them.
Digital tools provide an effective way to measure global interest in countries. Overhearing interesting news about countries often leads people to conduct an online search. The particular keywords used in the search are what reveal the precise nature of a country's appeal.
Does anyone care?
So is the world interested in Germany? Germany's performance in the 2015 Digital Country Index suggests yes, very much so. Created by Madrid-based firm Bloom Consulting, this new ranking measures global digital interest in countries, based on data pulled from millions of online search keywords. The Digital Country Index ranks countries in five dimensions that most influence a country's brand: tourism, talent, exports, investment, and national prominence.
Germany took fourth position overall and scored first place in Europe. This reflects Germany's overall appeal and positive global perceptions.
For talent, Germany ranks fourth in the world and top in Europe. This is probably a direct result of Germany's 2014 decision to abolish university tuition fees, attracting increased interest from potential foreign students.
Germany also performs strongly in the National Prominence dimension, which combines a range of online searches related to culture, society, sports, and governance.
Although China predictably tops the exports dimension, Germany reaches a very respectable fourth position globally, once again coming first among the European countries.
As 2015 draws to a close, TIME Magazine has selected Angela Merkel as its 'Person of the Year.' This is a testament not just to the chancellor's status as the world's most powerful female leader, but to the enduring global influence of Germany itself.
Influence aside, positive perceptions of countries are also key for their continuing success. But active interest is an equally important indicator, because it shows people's willingness and desire to engage with the country in question. Germany's strong nation brand is reflected in the ongoing global interest the country attracts, while cementing its role as a prominent actor both in Europe and across the world.
Samantha North is a freelance journalist and founder of PlacesBrands, a brand strategy and communication platform.