News & Views

Relentlessly Relevant Brands / By Peter Walshe

by Contagious Contributor


Coinciding with the release of Millward Brown's BrandZ Ranking of the 100 Most Valuable Global Brands, Peter Walshe, Global BrandZ Director, explains why a ruthless attention to relevance will boost a brand's strength

Brands that build positive customer sentiment by being 'meaningfully different' from the competition are able to capture five times more volume, command a 13% price premium, and are four times more likely to grow their value share than those that don't, according to research from Millward Brown

Being meaningfully different is what gives a brand its relevance in the eyes of consumers. It involves delivering a brand promise that meets their expectations and needs, being unique in a positive way, and staying ahead of the curve in setting trends. Brands that can do this are more appealing, and generate the greatest contribution to driving current and future sales. 

Such ruthless attention to becoming - and staying - relevant to consumers is evident in the results of some of the Most Valuable Global Brands in this year's BrandZ Top100 ranking.  

Apple is still the number one brand, despite a big drop in share price and rumours that it isn't innovating fast enough, which slowed its value growth to 1%. Brand is Apple's secret weapon. It remains deeply relevant to its fan base, and the 'love' that this California-based technology giant generates keeps it in the top spot with a strong brand contribution.

Even when the financial performance of a company takes a deep dive, if it has, like Apple, a high brand contribution- the proportion of value generated by the brand's ability to create loyalty - the business can still boom. Based on the opinions of existing and potential customers, brand contribution is less volatile than investor sentiment: Apple's brand contribution, for example, is still 18% greater than that of its nearest rival in the smartphone market, Samsung, which grew its brand value by 51% on the previous year.

Luxury brands Gucci and Burberry also both showed an increase in brand contribution, having comprehensively met the needs of consumers who are ready to spend on luxuries again, but spend wisely by investing in classic pieces. 

Gucci has revamped outlets to enhance the consumer experience, while, recognising that consumers are often researching online before they buy, also building a strong online presence. It also announced its first mobile app, further increasing the brand's accessibility. Gucci increased in value by 48%. Burberry excels at emphasising its heritage and developing compelling and authentic brand stories. It has also made a huge investment in building its brand over the last year, expanding into new products, categories and territories, and merging in-store and digital retail capabilities.

Strong, relevant brands also help companies bounce back from reputational damage.Toyota has overtaken BMW to become the world's most valuable car brand once again, increasing its value by 12%, after its brand helped it recover from a number of product recall crises. The Toyota brand is very clearly defined from a consumer perspective - people believe it offers them something that other car brands don't. It is incredibly trusted, and considered to provide excellent value. A positive consumer experience has built a core of loyal customers who recommend the brand to others; this is what helps brands maintain their strength in the face of adversity. 

Brands need to continually renew themselves to remain in contention over a number of years. The enduring success of IBM, which is the most valuable B2B brand in the world, is testament to a leadership philosophy that has always been based on being meaningfully different. The brand has enjoyed many golden moments - from developing artificial intelligence in 1956, to creating the industry standard for personal computing in the eighties - but it has never stood still. It continually reinvents itself to stay relevant to the needs of the day, and its 'Smarter Planet' positioning is in perfect harmony with the spirit of the time. IBM achieved an 80% revenue increase in 2012 from its SmartCloud solution, which combines the trend for cloud computing with the need of its business clients to innovate as well as cut costs. 

Google, which has leapfrogged IBM to become the second most valuable brand in the world across all categories, keeps diversifying its platforms - extending its brand into new services and products to increase its relevance to consumers. It has grown from just a search engine to become an integrated provider of news, social media (Google+) and communications (Gmail).

A deeply relevant brand is a strong brand - and a strong brand is a valuable asset to a business, as a source of sustainable competitive advantage and value growth. It's no coincidence that the brands which rose furthest up the BrandZ Top 100 ranking this year, including Prada (63% value increase), Zara (60%), Gucci (48%) and Amazon (34%), all scored higher than average on the attributes of 'meaningful' and 'different'. They all strive to understand consumers' needs, and constantly refocus and reinvent themselves to stay relevant and set themselves apart from the competition. 

Peter Walshe, Global BrandZ Director, Millward Brown
Access the full report here