Winter Issue of 2017

Measuring Country Image in 4D

Leaders around the world are increasingly concerned about their country’s esteem abroad. The country’s image can be measured in the following four dimensions: functional, normative, aesthetic and emotional.

Dr. Alexander Buhmann, assistant professor, BI Norwegian Business School

1. The functional country image dimension, the beliefs regarding the competitiveness of a country, is specified with reference to Smith’s attributes of national economy and political organization. It consists of beliefs regarding the state of the economy and national businesses, the competitiveness of a country’s products and services, its labor markets and educational system, the competencies and effectiveness of the political system as well as the country’s performance in research and technology.

2. The normative country image dimension comprises beliefs regarding the integrity of a country and is specified in relation to Smith’s country attribute of norms and values. This dimension consists of specific judgments regarding both the social and the ecological responsibility of a country.

3. The aesthetic country image dimension, which covers beliefs regarding the aesthetic qualities of a country, is specified by drawing on Smith’s attributes of public culture, traditions and territory. It comprises judgments regarding the attractiveness of a country’s culture and traditions as well as the beauty of its landscapes and scenery.

4. Finally, the emotional country image dimension, which constitutes the affective component of the country image construct, consists of general feelings of liking and fascination for a country. It can be thought of as an outcome or result of the cognitive beliefs that people hold about a country.

Figure 1: The four-dimensional “4D Model” of the Country Image4D Model of Country Image

Today, rankings of countries are widespread in the media; from the world’s most reputable countries, happiest countries, most ethical countries, to the best country to live in.

Norway had an exceptional image year in 2017. It was ranked number one in the world for happiness by Sustainable Development Solutions Networks, knocking 3-time winner Denmark off the top spot, and it was also sixth on Reputation Institute’s ranking of the world’s most reputable countries. It is easy to take these rankings lightly or to denigrate them if your country doesn’t perform as well as you believe it should, but that would be a mistake.


The role of country image is of major interest not only for those working in international relations, international marketing, trade, or tourism. As the conditions of a globalized world and modern media societies change and develop, a country’s image is becoming more important. The impact of a country images is seen through:

  • Level of exports
  • Foreign direct investment
  • Stability of international relations
  • Prosperity of national tourist industries
  • Attractiveness of domestic labor markets and education systems
  • Degree of a country’s political and economic influence


As a result, leaders around the world are increasingly concerned about their country’s esteem abroad. This has led to many countries establishing image and communication management practices in governmental agencies/ departments.

One such example is the Storting-mandated Brand Norway (Merkevaren Norge) located at Innovation Norway. The Storting gave as reason for the establishment of the office: Pro- grams for profiling and reputation building will help to make Norwegian business and technology better known abroad and help foreign business to invest and establish new business in Norway. Additionally, “the brand Norway will ensure that we attract capital, knowledge, talents and tourists to Norway.”


Marketing and social psychology have devoted considerable empirical attention to under- standing what makes up country image and its effects. Additionally, as we have seen, there is a widespread use of measures, indices, and rankings for country image, brand, and reputation. These include popular aggregated indices such as the Nation Brands Index, Best Country Score, or Country RepTrak.

National governments and their affiliated agencies regularly apply empirical instruments in assessing and monitoring their country’s image. They need valid and reliable observations in the form of countable results that can be used in their decision-making regarding strategic positioning.


However, sound conceptual models and appropriate measurement instruments to analyze and compare the makeup and effects of country images in different groups and contexts are rare. Many indices are convoluted, often nontransparent (because they are proprietary) and often fail to give a balanced overall view of the country image. Additionally, most existing models lack theoretical foundations, cannot be applied to different countries or used for comparative analyses of country images in different groups, often fail to comprehensively capture all relevant dimensions, and do not clarify the internal structure of the construct.

A comprehensive and research-based model is needed to explain what constitutes the broad concept of country image and its different dimensions. It is also necessary in order to understand how the different dimensions of image interrelate and affect each other, and how they may ultimately lead to enabling behaviors such as investment, consumption, political support, or travel and cultural exchange.

As an attitudinal construct, country image can be seen as comprising a cognitive component (specific beliefs about a country) and an affective/emotional component (general feelings about a country). In his seminal book The Ethnic Origins of Nations, Anthony D. Smith describes countries as named human collectives consisting of a distinct territory or ‘homeland’, common history and traditions, a domestic economy, a public culture, a set of common norms and values as well as a sovereign political organization or state.


When combining Smith’s model with a com- mon differentiation of image dimensions used in reputation management, the country image can be defined as consisting of four different but closely interrelated dimensions: functional, normative, aesthetic and emotional. We call this new model the four-dimensional or 4D Model of the Country Image.

The complete model with the dimensions are shown in figure 1.


The 4D Model of the Country Image, which has been applied in numerous survey-based studies, provides a new comprehensive and research-based framework for country image analyses. The resulting statistical analyses show how functional, normative, and aesthetic beliefs about a country affect the formation of the emotional country image dimension—showing the country’s “ability to attract”.

Furthermore, we see how the emotional dimension of the country image mediates the effect of the cognitive dimensions on people’s behavior. For example, how the country image of Norway and its individual dimensions’ influence people’s intentions to buy Norwegian products, to politically support it, to invest in its firms, or to travel to Norway. Such analyses can enrich insights and monitoring and help improve the development and evaluation of nation branding and international communication strategies.


  • Buhmann, A. (2016). Measuring Country Image: Theory, Method, and Effects. Wiesba- den: Springer VS.
  • Buhmann, A., & Ingenhoff,D. (2015). The 4D-Model of the country image. An integrative approach from the perspective of communication management. International Communication Gazette, 77(1), 102-124.
  • Smith,A. D. (1987). The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Blackwell, Oxford.