I'm in Italy this week for the launch of the Italian edition of Competitive Identity, and have been wondering what I can tell the Italians about the international image and reputation of their country.
Not a lot, is the simple answer: Italy has the seventh best national image in the world, according to the Nation Brands Index, coming top for tourism and second for culture. Its ranking is only let down by rather poor scores for business and governance, as you might expect. Italy's image is, in fact, virtually the opposite of Germany's: very strong on the 'soft' side where Germany is weak (people, landscape, culture, fashion and food brands) and weak on the 'hard' side where Germany is strong (governance, economy, engineering brands). It occurs to me that a merger between the two would probably create the strongest all-round national image on the planet...
And yet there is a worrying undercurrent when you look more closely at Italy's rankings over the last two-and-a-half years: not only is it the most volatile of any Top 10 country in the Index, but it is also in steady decline. Italy's rankings have dropped by 2.3% since the questionnaire of the Nation Brands Index was stabilised in the last quarter of 2005 - which may not sound much, but at this rate Italy will have a weaker image than Mexico in ten years' time.
Italy's decline looks gentle but in fact it is the third steepest of any country in the Index, apart from China (which I have written about before), Hungary (I don't know why - any suggestions?) and South Korea (which, tragically, is often confused by respondents with North Korea, so one can't give its results too much credence).
In an age when it seems that every government is frantic to understand and manage its national image and compete more effectively in the global marketplace, Italy's leaders seem happy to sit back and wait.
Perhaps such a wealth of landscape, culture, cuisine, history and world-famous brands creates a certain complacency. But there are competitors creeping up on all sides, and one can't help wondering just how long that bed of laurels will remain so comfortable.