News & Views

Opinion / Brand Before Big Idea

by Contagious Contributor
Even the greatest advertising in the world won’t be as powerful as the right proposition. Millward Brown's Global BrandZ Director, Peter Walshe explains how brand trumps everything in the pursuit of growth

A decade’s worth of data never lies. It might be hard to find the meaning in the numbers but once you do they never lie.

That’s certainly true for the BrandZ Top 100 Global brands. This was the tenth year that we’ve ranked the world’s biggest brands, a decade in which the total value of the top 100 has increased from $1.4 trillion to $3.3 trillion – more than the GDP of the world’s fourth-largest economy, Germany.

Analysing the best performers reveals two clear facts. Those with the best propositions (those that consumers see as distinctive and unique) and the best communication have performed most powerfully.

That much is obvious but the key element behind this growth was the need for a strong core idea around the brand.

Brands that focus on a strong proposition have grown 76% over 10 years, even where they don’t have excellent advertising. Combine the two and you get a 168% boost to brand value. Brands such as Nike, BMW and American Express have these qualities.

By contrast, brands with strong advertising but not much of a brand-proposition story to tell appreciated only 27 percent in Brand Value. Brands that consumers said performed poorly both in brand proposition and advertising grew only 21 percent in 10 years. These numbers and the unique analysis behind them allow us to identify for the first time the true power of branding.

Great advertising is, by itself, insufficient and inefficient. It needs to be underpinned by broader, deeper strategic and creative definitions.

The critical element to this is difference, the ability to define yourself as something other than your competitors. Again looking at a decade’s worth of data shows the power of difference.

The Top 50 brands by difference have an average difference score of 139 – where 100 is an average brand – and grew 124% in brand value, while those in the bottom 50 (and remember these are also strong brands) scored just 96 in difference and boosted brand value just 24%.

The top-scoring brands on difference, such as Apple, BMW and Starbucks are also seen as creative, in control and trustworthy and these scores are most effective when difference needs to corresponds to the brand proposition. Brands need to be different with a purpose that’s inspiring and relevant to consumers.

This is not an argument against great advertising. It is abundantly clear from the data that great advertising contributes substantial value to brands.
However, the data shows that advertising drives Brand Value most effectively when it is deployed in conjunction with a strong brand proposition and identity.

With brand values running into billions of dollars, these percentage differences equate to highly significant sums.

Millward Brown has done this analysis at the request of The Partners/Lambie Nairn and their CEO Jim Prior has calculated that 10% of investment in brand proposition gives eight times the growth.

Given that the financial investment required to define a strong proposition and identity is, generally speaking, considerably less than the investment required to drive a strong presence in advertising media, it seems foolish that so many brands still fail to define their position as tightly as possible.