Every year BrandZ, Interbrand and Brand Finance publish their lists of the most valuable brands in the world. Their methods of valuation vary – as do the valuation figures – but if you look across all three top 100 lists, 36 brands appear in all three, and there are 179 in total.
Two 2015 lists have appeared so far – and the following brands entered into the top 179: au (by KDDI), Boeing, Bradesco, NBC International, Alibaba Group, Costco, HDFC Bank, Testra.
These brands fell out of the 179:
Yahoo!, Tesco, Toshiba, UBS, Unitedhealth, Sberbank, MTS, MTN, Deutsche Bank.
Last year, I posted my most widely read article by far on what Apple’s brand stands for (see below). At that point in time, there had been no corporate declaration of brand strategy; you had to read between the lines. But this all changed last June, when Apple posted their ‘intention’ video.
For the first time Apple clearly stated what their brand was about:
We simplify, we perfect, we start over, until every thing we touch enhances each life it touches.
Last month, another video appeared, called Perspective, that harkens back to the iconic ‘Think Different’ campaign. Directed to employees, or prospective ones, it asks of them only to lift up humanity, break down barriers and heal the landscape. There’s a motivating, if somewhat daunting, job description. The text is below but it’s well worth a viewing.
Here to those who have always seen things differently.
The ones who follow a vision not a path.
Where others perceive first, first, first as valuable, you value the first thing that actually matters.
While others are distracted by the new, you focus on the significance of a whole new take.
Even before you could see how to change things, you never doubted we would change things together, and then we did change things together. Again and again and again.
Relentless optimism is what moves the world forward. So, keep seeing things differently.
Keep trusting there is always another way, a better way, a bigger way.
One that lifts up humanity, breaks down barriers and heals the landscape.
You are the difference between the world as it is and the better place it will become.
And different is the one thing about us that will always be the same.
In 2014, Apple is still the most valuable brand in the world, claiming the number 1 spot in Interbrand and BrandFinance’s rankings, and second only to Google in BrandZ. Since 2013 it has risen 7% in value (taking all valuations into account).
Their uninspiring mission statement has disappeared and in its place, ‘thinking differently, simplifying, perfecting, starting over, until every thing we touch enhances each life it touches’, is clearly a strategy paying dividends.
Posted March 2013:
Brand Finance launched their 2013 brand rankings last week, and Apple got the top spot. If you aggregate, and average, this with the BRANDZ and Interbrand valuations, this makes it the most valuable brand in the world. No surprise there. For years, people have been using Apple as the brand benchmark. But when you look at these ‘lessons from the leader’, there is a wide disparity of views on what is at the heart of the brand; what it stands for.
Consider these proclamations; “Apple’s brand promise is “we make it easier to love technology, so that you can experience the future.” “Apple has a stronger brand idea at the heart of the company … Apple’s dedication to ensuring that everything they do is about human technology and shaping technology to benefit human needs is very clear.” “The ingenious brand positioning of Apple is “the brand for the smart, independent, informally classy person…”
To try and avoid adding another unhelpful hypothesis to the mix, I have been looking at how Apple describes what they stand for – in their words. What is most interesting is the lack of anything that resembles a brand positioning/promise/purpose in their corporate materials. This in in contrast to the other corporate and consumer brands who appear in the ‘most valuable brands’ lists, most of whom have a statement out there in some shape or form (all of the 182 organizations that span the three lists have at least one way of describing what they stand for).
Apple do have a mission but this is more descriptive of what they do and make, rather than what they stand for.
“Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”
Contrast this to the clear articulation of purpose from other brands in the top 33, such as Nike, whose mission is ‘To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.’ Or Coca-Cola who aim, ‘To inspire moments of optimism and happiness.’
“Most of our competitors are interested in doing something different, or want to appear new – I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us – a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better.”
Tim Cook reiterated this in his December 2012 Businessweek interview, “the DNA of the company, the thing that makes our heart beat, is a maniacal focus on making the best products in the world. Not good products, or a lot of products, but the absolute best products in the world.” He goes on to say, “We’ll only do things where we can make a significant contribution. I don’t mean financially. I mean some significant contribution to the society at large. You know, we want to really enrich people’s lives at the end of the day, not just make money. Making money might be a byproduct, but it’s not our North Star.” An Apple employee friend of mine summarised this in a slightly different way, explaining that she sees the core idea of the brand as being encapsulated in the Steve-ism, “Insanely Great.”
Being better? Being great? Is that it?? I hear brand consultants shuddering at these words. Better is not a strategy… Better does not define HOW you are going to be different… But the notions of ‘insanely great’ and the description of their ‘maniacal focus’ add critical nuance to the idea of being the best, and hint at the role that values play in supporting a brand idea.
In 1982, Steve Jobs stated, “Marketing is about values.” And in their corporate materials, and in executive interviews, some values appear consistently. Simplicity. Innovation. Focus. Collaboration. Excellence. Courage. Self-honesty. Every detail matters. Creativity. Passion. In a 2009 earnings call, Tim Cook explains,
“We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.”
Last year, in his internal memo to employees following the US court win against Samsung, he reiterated the importance of values. “For us this lawsuit has always been about something much more important than patents or money. It’s about values. We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. And we do this to delight our customers… Today, values have won and I hope the whole world listens.”
In an effort to summarise what the Apple brand is about, I’d say that their purpose is “To make the best products in the world, to enrich customers’ lives” and they achieve this because they are truly driven by values of simplicity, innovation, focus, collaboration, excellence, courage, self-honesty, detail obsession, creativity and passion.
So perhaps there are some brands in the world that can get away ‘being better’ as a brand idea – if they have the culture, people, values, products or services, that back this up. But they are few and far between. Only one other brand in the top 33 pursues a similar strategy. Mercedes Benz launched a new ‘brand claim’ in 2012, The Best or Nothing, a principle from the company’s founding father Gottlieb Daimler. This is supported with some clear brand values of perfection, fascination and responsibility, and was accompanied with the guidance that, “The brand claim is linked strongly to the brand values: when summarizing what the brand stands for, we should use both.”
On balance, I would caution other organisations who are tempted to replicate this as a brand strategy (we are the better bank, the better energy company…). If you pursue this route, the pressure to be demonstrably, relentlessly, continuously better is a significant challenge – particularly when you have Apple and Mercedes as your brand benchmarks.
It’s been 25 years since Nike launched the renowned ‘Just Do It’ brand line, and their place as a global brand leader was reconfirmed this week as they came 24th in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands survey, showing a brand value increase of 13%. Earlier in the year, Fast Company crowned it the most innovative company of 2013. However, despite their 25 year dominance, other leading brands have only recently begun to emulate the imperative expressed in ‘Just Do It’.
‘Just Do It’ uses the imperative tense – ordering, commanding or instructing us to do something. It captures the spirit of Nike’s athletes, yet also speaks directly to Nike’s mission statement and the idea that there is an athlete in all of us. It challenges us, orders us, to ‘just do it’.
Of the 182 most valuable brands in the world, only 6% use the imperative tense in their encapsulation of what their brand stands for. But this is on the rise.
Close to half of the world’s most valuable brands who rebranded in 2012 and 2013 use the imperative to encapsulate what they stand for. Consider,
Gap – Be Bright
Pepsi – Live for Now
Ford – Go Further
Pizza Hut – Make it Great
Intel – Look Inside
HP – Make It Matter
The rise of ‘imperative rebrands’ is likely down to three things.
1. An increasing focus on the importance of employees as drivers of the brand and the customer experience.
Many of the brandlines above speak as powerfully to employees as they do to the end consumer. It’s clear that HP’s ‘Make It Matter’ is as much a rallying cry internally to drive much-needed innovation, as it is a mandate to their customers. As Ford indicated in their launch of Go Further,
The company is exhorting its 166,000 worldwide employees to “Go Further,” too, because executives believe that making Ford’s “internal brand” consistent with its new external messaging can create profound synergies that benefit the company in significant ways. “What we aim to do is inspire behavior,” Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of global communications, told me. “Go Further” is “more than an advertising tagline. We want to institutionalize it as part of our culture.”
2. The understanding that successful marketing today needs to encourage deep consumer engagement with the brand.
The imperative tense asks you actively do something – to get involved.
3. The need for brevity.
In the increasingly cluttered and splintered media world we live in, brands struggle to get their brand ideas across. Ford’s long form of their brand idea is “we go further so you can”: more polite but less directly engaging and memorable. The imperative tense uses the verb’s short infinitive form (make, look, go) – and that may make the brand idea more memorable.
The downside of this approach is that we may not like brands to command or instruct us to do something. When Smirnoff told us to ‘Be There,’ some may have responded with an equally direct two word response… This may have been partly why, after 3 years of using the phrase, they walked away from ‘Be There’ when they broke a new global campaign last year, to adopt a new line, ‘Yours for the Making’.
Brands need some credibility as an arbiter of cool, or to have garnered a great deal of respect, to talk to us in the imperative – so perhaps it is only the brand leaders who can get away with it, since we already feel like we know them and value their opinion. Friends can talk to us this way; but not strangers. New brands should beware of this approach – it may backfire.
IBM, Intel and Coca-Cola. Three brands that won Grand Prix and Special Awards at Cannes Lions last week, that also appear in all of the world’s most valuable brand rankings. What can we learn from this juxtaposition of creativity and value?
Stay simple and stay the course.
You can associate all of these brands with one word that defines what they stand for.
Coke: Happiness. IBM: Smarter. Intel: Inside.
While all three expand on these notions when they articulate the core of what they stand for (Coke’s purpose is ‘to inspire moments of optimism and happiness’, IBM are ‘driven by the idea of building a smarter planet’, Intel invite us to ‘Look Inside’), they consistently, relentlessly, creatively, use the ideas and literal words of ‘happiness’, ‘smarter’ and ‘inside’ in their marketing efforts, as exemplified in IBM’s Grand Prix-winning ‘Ads with a purpose’.
(Even their advertising is smarter, and asks for smarter ideas to help to build smarter cities).
What they also do is stay the course. They have built brands from these simple core ideas for years. IBM established the Smarter Planet initiative in 2008. Coke have talked about happiness for decades, and explicitly unveiled their ‘Open Happiness’ global campaign in 2009. The ‘Intel Inside’ cooperative marketing program (and associated branding) launched in 1991. Their multiple Grand Prix Cannes Lions wins for ‘The Beauty Inside’ last week celebrated the ideal that – with humans and computers alike – it’s what’s inside that counts.
Although Intel wavered in 2009 (they rebranded around the idea of Sponsors of Tomorrow (which was geared to last for three to five years and serve as an overarching theme for all of the company’s branding efforts)), they (re)launched a new brand ‘theme’ of ‘Look Inside’ this year. As Deborah Conrad, vice president and chief marketing officer at Intel stated,“ ‘Sponsors of tomorrow’ didn’t leverage our heritage as much as ‘Look inside’ does. ‘Look inside’ is a call to action, and ‘Intel inside’ says, ‘Hey, here I am.’ ”.
Whilst it’s very difficult to ‘own’ a simple idea, there’s money (and possible glory) in trying to do so. A spate of one word rebrands in 2012 suggests that other brands aspire to a similar goal. Pepsi: Now; Jaguar: Alive; BMW: Joy: Mahindra Group: Rise; Commbank: Can…It will be interesting to see whether they can stay the course, and climb the value rankings.
These leading brands outperformed the stock market benchmark by a wide margin of 35%.
But what does it take to lead in the market? Where do leaders look for inspiration and benchmarking?
Laterally, of course. Leading brands don’t look at direct competitors to understand how to win in their market: you can’t break away from a category by looking within it. Instead, they look outside their market to brands that are outperforming in other categories.
But don’t take my word for it. As my blog title suggests, I obviously think this way. Consider instead the behaviour of Sue Shim, CMO of Samsung:
When asked about companies that Samsung wants to benchmark … the CMO admitted she is spending more time studying best practices at Western companies. “In terms of brand strategies, Samsung should learn from many cases; and so I am studying some brands that saw a large and effective rise in value.’’
Or Sandrine Huijgen, Heineken’s global communication manager:
At no point does she mention competitors, instead regarding the likes of Nike, Apple, Old Spice, BMW and Chanel as Heineken’s bedfellows. “These all have, for very different reasons, a very strong consumer-brand relationship. We want consumers to love Heineken, but we’re not there, yet.”
Or Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.’s global marketing chief:
[Ford] closely studied global brand campaigns used by companies such as McDonalds and Nike to see how they work.
Or AT&T’s, Paul Roth, president of retail sales and service:
“Our starting point wasn’t, who is the best retailer?” Roth says, “but who has the best customer service?” Roth and his team spent time with Harley Davidson, Ritz Carlton, Starbucks and Nordstrom to see what they could learn. “Our business has nothing to do with coffee or motorcycles. We were trying to understand how to build that type of customer loyalty.”
Or Karen Quintos, CMO of Dell, talking about Interbrand’s top 100.
We use Best Global Brands as a benchmark and look to others on the list as a source of inspiration and creativity. They motivate us to continually improve.
Or Deborah S. Conrad, corporate vice president and CMO for Intel:
I’ve been learning a lot from the automotive industry, from companies like Toyota and BMW, and that’s because I see a lot of parallels between cars and computers. I see that a computer is becoming an emotional and style decision. It’s not just about performance anymore…. I look also at consumer electronics, at companies such as Sony, Samsung and LG. Only a few years ago those companies were making products that weren’t all that exciting. The TV, until recently, was lackluster. But now it’s exotic, and it’s generating excitement. With both cars and TVs, companies struggle to keep the details simple and understandable yet exciting.
But looking laterally isn’t just about understanding how to execute. It needs to start much earlier – with an understanding of who else is in your ideaspace and how to effectively compete against them, as Coke do.
Which brands are your lateral benchmarks?
If you’re struggling, a look at the world’s top 33 brands might be a good starting point.
“Love: it’s the most powerful thing on the planet.” So proclaim Johnson & Johnson in their first corporate marketing campaign in a decade, ‘For All You Love’, that migrated to television this week. But few leading brands actually focus on the idea of love as their brand idea. Powerful it may be, but popular (as a brand idea) it isn’t.
This might be changing, however. The Cornetto brand is experience a major rebranding effort this year – with a refreshed identity that launched in April, a repositioning from ice cream to snack brand, and the launch last week of a global initiative called ‘Cupidity’, featuring 8 lovers, and four short films inspired by insights from teenagers about love.
Their CMO explained that their brand DNA has always revolved around the idea of love, and the new campaign introduces a strapline of ‘Enjoy the ride, love the ending’.
Both J&J and Cornetto could look to Tiffany & Co as the quintessential love brand. It took them until 2011 to explicitly articulate that they are ‘the ultimate expression of love’, with the launch of their “What Makes Love True” brand story effort.
Since then their brand value has risen 15%, according to Interbrand, and they reentered the Brand Finance top 500. No doubt Cornetto and Johnson & Johnson will be looking for a similar uplift, but time will tell whether their brands have the same credibility, and can differentiate in an increasingly crowded love space.
My bet is that there is room for Cornetto to claim ‘teen love’ and for Tiffany to stand for ‘true love’ but that J&J may struggle to build a sustainable ‘love’ association, particularly given that their brand idea is fundamentally more about ‘caring’. Michael Sneed, the company’s vice president for global corporate affairs, said the goal of the campaign was “to continue to reconnect with all of the people who come into contact with J.& J. in their daily lives”, and that “People want to understand what’s behind the brand.” Although they do make a link, that “love is the reason you care”, building a deeper association with the explicit idea of caring, given their credo and history, may have served them better. As written in Forbes today, J&J need to talk about their walk, and their ‘walk’, reputation and purpose, despite the product and quality issues they have faced since 2009, has always been about caring.
Passionate about understanding and defining what brands stand for, Brand Lateral aims to bring a more expansive, rigorous and competitive perspective to conversations on brand strategy.
I work for clients and agencies to create brands that stand apart from the competition and lead in the mind and the market.
My blog tells the stories of how brands are defining what they stand for; looking across categories and countries to focus on the spectrum of brand ideas and how they are being brought to life.