The 'most hip' country in the world is...

New rankings by U.S. News & World Report measure the global 'brand' of 60 countries – in other words, how cool do people think these countries are? 

Jacky Naegelen/ Reuters/ File
Newly-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet at the World Climate Change Conference in Paris on November 30, 2015.

Canada, your time has come – almost.

The Great White North came in No. 2 in the inaugural "Best Countries Rankings" by U.S. News & World Report, released Wednesday amid an ongoing flood of adoring post-election attention for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his polite nation. But the country's seemingly newfound reputation for "hipness" wasn't enough to keep up with No. 1: Germany.

Despite the ongoing refugee crisis, which may have tested Germany more than any other country, the nation earned top marks for entrepreneurship and power, helping to drive Western Europe's largest country to the number one spot in the new rankings. Lower perception of Canada's "heritage" drove it to 2nd, the study's designers say. The United Kingdom and the United States came in third and fourth, respectively.

"There is singularly no one best country" BAV Consulting Chairman and CEO John Gerzema says in videos released with the rankings, although the report rather suggests the opposite. The catch: The U.S. News rankings, prepared in partnership with the Wharton School of Business and BAV Consulting, are based on reputation, not hard facts. In other words, which country do people think is the best?

But, to the study's authors, that's the point.

"The perception of a nation's brand has a direct influence on its economy," says Wharton Professor David Reibstein, a market expert who helped design the survey used to create the country rankings. "It matters what others think about us. Our actions, visible on a global scale, have economic consequences far beyond the direct cost of those actions," he writes in an accompanying article, "Why Countries Need to Sell Themselves." 

The study batched respondents from 36 countries into groups: 8,092 "informed elites," 4,513 "business decision-makers," and 6,381 members of "the general public," as U.S. News calls them. Each respondent rated a random subset of the 60 total countries, and was asked to give them scores on about half of the 65 attributes "relevant to the success of a modern nation." Countries were removed from that list if a respondent said they were unfamiliar with them.

Those 65 attributes were then boiled down to nine categories: Adventure, Citizenship, Cultural Influence, Entrepreneurship, Heritage, Movers, Open for Business, Power and Quality of Life. The weight of each sub-ranking was determined by correlating it to gross domestic product purchasing power parity per capita, with more closely-correlated categories getting more weight. Entrepreneurship and Quality of Life, for example, each determined about 17 percent of a country's total score, while a sense of Adventure earned 3 percent ("friendly, fun, pleasant climate, scenic, sexy").

That's why Germany's rather abysmal Adventure score (45th overall, out of 60) couldn't keep it off the winner's pedestal. Americans were deemed roughly twice as adventurous (although nothing compared to Brazil which got a perfect 10), but No. 1 in throwing their weight around ("Power," including military strength and economic influence). 

In some ways, the results could be heartening, even for countries that didn't make the top ten. 

"The nature of power is changing in the 21st century," Gerzema says in one of the many videos released with the results. "We live in a social, open and interdependent world, and in this world what we saw that people valued more were things like global citizenship, quality of life, and innovation that was creating inclusive prosperity for more people." 

"We believe you need to open the aperture on GDP," he adds, saying that "gross domestic purpose" should matter just as much. (An idea Bhutan embraced with its "Gross National Happiness" index, which surely doesn't hurt its pricey but environmentally-friendly tourism, either.) 

Readers who want to tailor rankings to their own definition of "purpose" or "happiness" can use U.S. News's additional "Best Of" lists, which consider where it is best to raise a child, to be "forward-looking," to start a business, and more. Denmark, for example, is declared the best country for women, based on scores in perceived concern for human rights, gender equality, income equality, safety, and progressiveness.

Coming from a publication whose "Best College" rankings are often blamed for aggravating US admissions-mania, and for emphasizing numerical scores over personal fit, the rankings may prompt eye-rolls. For others, perhaps, a bit of soul-searching: Americans, for example, seemed rather surprised that they weren't No. 1, given that many publications covering the report put that in their headlines. (If the US want to step it up, it could try improving its poorly-ranked food and income equality.) 

Personal branding writer William Arruda urges Forbes readers to ask themselves three questions: What makes me great? What makes me unique? What makes me compelling?

U.S. News hopes "thought leaders" and "decision makers" interested in bringing business to their countries will do the same, it seems. 

"The world is globalizing at an increasingly rapid rate, and people have choices. How do they make those choices? They need hard information," U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly tells readers, inviting readers to check out the trove of data – and debate if statistics, or stereotypes, are more at play. 

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