But I’ll warn you, it’s a lot of information, and you’ll have to wade through some sections knee-deep in self-congratulatory hype. So as a public service, I’ve distilled 10 aspects of the list that jump out for me (below).
(But first, a slightly bitchy side note to Interbrand: guys, if you’re going to release these three days early, please 1) skip the giant countdown clock , and 2) actually send notices to people that signed up. Okay, my chest is clear, on to…)
10 Highlights of the 2009 Best Global Brands
1) Coke is still it: Top five brands are unchanged
The top five brands on the list are exactly the same brands in the same order as last year, and although Microsoft and GE lost more value than most brands ever have, with the spread in value between the top four, those mega-brands don’t look likely to change anytime soon.
Nokia’s brand is losing steam however, while gaining ground behind it is Google (in a big way) and McDonald’s (growing, but more modestly).
2) Google is the big disruptor
The Google brand shouldered ahead of Toyota, Intel, and Disney, and now is very close to overtaking McDonalds. As a matter of fact, its brand value has almost doubled since 2007, when it was 20th in the rankings.
Think about that for a moment: “Google” has grown from geek-niche-buzzword to #7 brand in the world in just 10 years – growth rates we haven’t seen since, well, Microsoft pulled the same trick for the ten-odd years before that.
But now that Google is starting to look more and more like a big, aggressive company (because they are), can their brand sustain its quirky garage-band appeal? Already their “don’t be evil” internal mantra is attracting more cynicism than praise. And while Googlers are still innovating, and making a lot of feel-good noise with their open source projects, one wonders when critical mass and inertia kick in (see Microsoft?).
3) Other big winners this year
By dollar value gained, H&M, Ikea, and Amazon gained a solid amount of value this year.
But apart from the indominatable Google, Apple grew the most, adding an incredible $1.7 Billion in brand value. Apple is the darling of the branding industry of course and a favourite of mine (see my Steve Jobs tribute), with its creative energy and focus on human-friendly products and messaging, so it’s heartening to see that doing it right by your customers still pays off during a recession.
4) Surprise! Financial institutions are the biggest losers
Have you heard about this recession thing? Well, if you have, then it should come as no surprise that the industry hardest hit in the brand value bottom line was the same industry that imploded and begged for (and received) massive government bailouts.
American Express, Morgan Stanley, and HSBC all lost billions of dollars of brand value, while Citi and embattled Swiss giant UBS both lost half of their brand value in one year. Several others dropped right off the list, including Merryl Lynch, AIG, and ING. Could it be a coincidence that many of these losers also have meaningless nomonyms for names (see my definition here)? Probably just a coincidence, but their names certainly didn’t help them.
5) Automobile brands: losing value
Also not surprising, every automotive or motorized equipment manufacturer on the list except Ferrari lost a significant amount of brand value this year. Harley Davidson and Lexus lost the largest percentages.
But despite losses, a few brands managed to hold their own or gain ground. Apart from Ferrari, Audi managed to gain, while Ford kept its ranking – the only one of the “Big Three” American manufacturers to have a substantial corporate brand seems to have benefited from its perceived stability as well. Another star: Hyundai:
Hyundai boosted ad spending and aggressively promoted its Assurance program, which allows buyers who lose their jobs to return cars. Hyundai’s brand value slipped 5%, but it moved up three places to No. 69. – Business Week.
6) Food and clothing: the basics still sell when times are bad
The same pattern held true for clothing brands – although it must be said that the list is incredibly top-heavy with luxury brands – so Gucci, not GAP; Rolex over Timex. I suspect that this is because of a) the weighting given to “brand premium”, that is, the amount consumers are willing to spend over and above competitors, and b) the fact that lower-priced clothing brands for us mere mortals tend to be less global.
7) Adobe: New kids on the branding block
Abode finally made the list after it “recorded record revenue and double-digit growth for the sixth consecutive year. They weren’t immune to the downturn (they lost money overall), but importantly from a brand perspective, they grew strongly in the consumer preference category. And their brand awareness continues to grow through the ubiquity of their consumer-facing products Flash, and the Acrobat / PDF line.
8 ) Brand USA – still the biggest brand builder
We were watching to see if the recession would dent the US dominance in global brands. With 52 brands on the 2o08 global 100, the Yanks are the uncontested branding champs, but those of us who were hoping for a moment of guilty schadenfreude were mostly disappointed that the US claims 51 – still a majority – of the 100.
Note to the rest of the planet: keep working.
9) No new countries
The names of countries in the Global branding club stayed exactly the same this year with only 9 brands coming from outside Europe and North America (Japan 7, Korea 2). Russia, China, India, Brazil, and the rest of the world have yet to break in. But of course, it’s only a matter of time.
10) Brand Canada: maintaining numbers, but losing ground
Both of our two Canadian contender brands Thomson Reuters and Blackberry grew this year, and both made gains in the rankings with Blackberry jumping 10 spots to number 63. But they weren’t joined by any other brands, and what’s worse, we slipped a rank in number of brands-per-capita when the UK added a brand and vaulted ahead of us. On that list, we were 10th; now we’re llth.
Thanks to you readers for all the re-tweets, price comments, and forwards on last week’s 10 Brand Strategy Lessons from the Princess Bride. It seems to have hit a nerve with branders across the board – from mental health charities to romance novelists (see the comments below). It also generated a lot of suggestions for quotes we missed. So, because we know a good thing when we see it, we present five more brand strategy lessons – and please feel free to suggest more.
Branding lesson 11: Go boldly into that fire swamp young pirate.
Buttercup: “We’ll never make it out alive” Westley: “Nonsense. You’re just saying that because no one ever has.”
David Harvey pointed out this one as one of his favourites – highlighting the importance of courage, audacity, persistence. All true, and “never-say-die” is one of the battle cries of successful brands.
But I’d like to add one more important quality to his list: constructive ignorance.
If you’ve never read Malcolm Gladwell’s David vs. Goliath article check it out. Among the many truths in it, you’ll learn that underdogs can win, and even most of the time if they defy the commonly understood conventions in their “fire swamp”. That is, it often helps to be ignorant of, or at least to consciously ignore, the accepted “truths” in your market. That’s where true strategic innovation comes from.
Oh, and a stout heart, a sharp sword, and dogged determination don’t hurt either.
Branding lesson 12: Avoid land wars in Asia
Vizzini: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But, only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line!” (he laughs, then suddenly falls over dead)
Vizzini was (dead) wrong about the Sicilian bit. But he’s right about the other bit. Getting yourself involved in a protracted “land war”, where your brand is going up against entrenched opponents who know the landscape better than you do is a poisoned chalice – particularly if they’re willing to outwork, outmanoeuvre, and outlast you.
I won’t make any reference to recent geopolitical examples. You can fill in the blanks for yourself there. But if you didn’t read the Gladwell article before, read it now about Lawrence of Arabia against the Ottoman turks.
Branding Lesson 13: Always answer customer wishes (but then show them a better way).
Westley: As you Wish!
Pop quiz: is this a) an answer to customer wishes, or b) a land war in Asia?
Jess Joss commented that “When branding for clients, I guess, we might have to add in the lesson encapsulated in the line: “As you wish.” True. Customer wishes need to be fulfilled.
On the surface, I might seem to be saying that “the customer is always right” here. But I’m not. Because they’re not. As a matter of fact, one of the ironies of traditional marketing research is that customers are often spectacularly wrong.
The New Coke debacle is the classic example of this. Executives at Coca-Cola weren’t guilty of not listening to customers. They actually talked to thousands of cola drinkers, and in blind taste tests, customers said they like the new formula much better.
But just as Buttercup couldn’t truly love Westley until she saw him as more than a farm boy, smart branders understand that meeting customer wishes involves more than hearing what they say; it’s about the art of figuring out what they really wish – that is, meeting their expectations consistently (i.e. keep the old Coke), plus surprising and delighting them with new adventures they never dared to expect (maybe test the new formula as a line extension in smaller markets?).
Branding Lesson 14: What to do if you weren’t hired for your brains.
Vizzini: Am I going mad, or did the word “think” escape your lips? You were not hired for your brains, you hippopotamic land mass.
And speaking of giants, my point about this line spoken to the character of Fezzik – played by the late great Andre the Giant – is pretty simple. If any client, customer, or boss calls you a “hippopotamic land mass”, and tells you not to use your brains in your work: just fire them.
Branding Lesson 15: Take a deep breath and turn around.
Westley: (as Buttercup is about to plunge the dagger into her heart) There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. ‘Twould be a pity to damage yours.
There are about a dozen ways I could get into trouble with this last one, so I’ll be brief: don’t skewer your brand equity by panicking when things seem to be going badly (see the New Coke example above). Take that moment to look around instead. You might find your true love there behind you – who isn’t “all dead” after all.
Thanks for all the suggestions. If we get a few more, I’m sure we’d have enough material for another post. But only if you think we should dear readers: “As you wish”
At last week’s Beg to DIFFER Boot Camp, information pills we discussed the history of the word “branding” – as in the ancient practice of marking a cow with a red hot iron. But if the idea of cattle-marking seems trivial and simplistic to you, look that’s only because you’re not a cowboy. So listen up cowpoke: here’s the cow-dirt on branding: it’s not about the cows.
Branding: lots of heat; but how much light?
The word “brand” has always taken a lot of heat. But especially in the last decade, healing it seems like the word has become a target for heat as much as a tool for channeling it.
Critic Naomi Klein in her classic book No Logo and branding industry iconoclast Jonathon Salem Baskin in his recent book Branding Only Works on Catttle are just two examples of how the term the term “branding” has been attacked in recent years. The latter in particular poses an incendiary thesis right in the title of his book. Now, full disclosure, I’ve only just ordered a copy of the book, but from reviews (like these from The Economist or by uberblogger Chris Brogan), from the writer’s own blog Dimbulb, and from a chapter posted online I get the sense his title is just playfully singeing the brand that feeds him, but I’ll let you know after I’ve read it (please feel free to comment if you have).
Now back to the range
But as discussed in the video below, the term has never been just about the tool, or about the cow that is its involuntary recipient. It’s not even about the mechanics of applying the mark (heat brand, restrain cow, burn cow, repeat) – although those are all important nuances.
Like all human tools, you can only understand the brand if you understand the human need that it serves. So you need to understand the context, in this case the branding system that the tool operates within.
So what’s a brand for?
Branding is about helping human beings (cowboys and ranch-owners) do three things:
Track down things that are relevant to them (Eg. their cows);
Sort them out from all the similar-looking stuff (Eg. find their cows in a mixed herd); and
Maintain and enrich relationships between people (Eg. not getting shot or needing to shoot anyone else)
And guess what? Those are the same things your brand is supposed to be doing.
So think about it sherriff: are you focusing on the branding iron or the relationships it is supposed to foster?
A country can be a great brand. But it isn’t an accident. It takes careful work, pill discipline, and an attention to detail – think of a fine Rolex or Tag Heuer watch. Switzerland is tiny, but by carefully tuning and refining the little gears that run their brand image, they’re ensuring they’ll be winners for generations to come.
3. Trust: the logo is just the tip of the Matterhorn
Trust is not spoken. It must be earned through consistent behaviour over time. You can’t just stick a Swiss flag on your product – even if you’re a Swiss company. The Swiss have very stringent rules and a continuing debate around what high level of quality constitutes “Swissness”. Which leads to better products and more trust, and more value for the Swiss trademark. It’s all tied together.
A great country brand is adaptable, sturdy, and practical. In the case of brand Switzerland, they are building their brand built around three key tools (“pillars” of their brand platform):
1) Reality – the country’s real strengths and limitations, both in the sense of real business assets and liabilities, but also in terms of physical location, historical facts, shifting allegiances, and other tangible influences.
2) Existing perceptions – how the country is perceived abroad – for better and worse. The smart brander draws on positive themes that already exist in the minds of outsiders that only have to be tweaked, not created from scratch.
3) Intangibles – positive, but subjective, forces driving the country’s brand like a track record of innovation; internal attitudes to themselves (and to change); and all the other internal brands that are already successfully trumpeting the idea of the country in the marketplace.
5. Apply the same logic to your brand.
Read those 3 pillars again, and insert “company” or “charity” or “government service” where it says “country”. Then check out the brand manual linked above.
So ask yourself:How are you doing?
Is your brand running like a Swiss watch, as trusted as a Swiss Bank, as mouth-watering as fine chocolate, or are you just yodelling your customers’ time away on a mountaintop?
A Twitter conversation last night instigated by Olivier Blanchard and carried on ad nauseum elsewhere, sales reminded me of a long-time guilty pleasure: Nutella. Just typing the word makes me salivate – and I have to restrain myself from running upstairs to slather some of that rich hazelnutty goodness on melba toast. And apparently I’m not alone: in additon to Twitter fetishists, Nutella has 3.5 million fans on Facebook.
So why all the nuts?
I didn’t grow up with Nutella. As a Dutch-Canadian kid, if we wanted chocolate on bread, by golly, we just put chocolate on bread. “Hagelslag” (pronounce the g as if you are lightly hacking up a small furball) or “chocolate hail” or just “sprinkles” were always available at my Oma’s house. My first Nutella purchase came as a student, when my room-mate had to have it in the house, and I in turn have had my own jar on the shelf ever since. And now, although we don’t let the kids have it (far too precious), my pregnant wife is currently making sure we stay stocked up.
But I wasn’t conscious of where it comes from (Italy), or its fascinating history, which Wikipedia has done a much better job of than I could manage in a blog post. Basically, it comes from a war-time innovation by Pietro Ferrero to produce a cheaper alternative to chocolate using cocoa and the hazelnuts that were plentiful in that region. Nutella in its present form emerged in 1964, with 179,000 tons produced in Italy every year.
Building a fan base
But I can’t remember seing an ad for Nutella, and can’t recall a single in-store promotion or Point-of Purchase display. It was always just there on the shelf alongside the Peanut Butter, calling “Dennis! DEEEENNNNISS!”. <more saliva> But I digress.
Apparently Ferrero does do some advertising – particularly in Europe, as in this nicely toned French ad that promises that Nutella will give you the energy of a child. But according to this site, Ferrerro USA only spent $300,000 on advertising in 2008.
It’s interesting that the positioning is built around “energy” and “youthfulness” rather than being explicitly “healthy”. In Canada, Nutella labels feature a boy kicking a soccer ball to highlight their support for amateur soccer, while in Italy, the connection with futbol was made even clearer in one commemorative package (right).
The secret to Nutella’s long term success seems to be consistency, living up to the promise by just being there, and by the affectionate devotion of its fans who carry a craving for that taste well into their adult lives. And not just consumption, but even geeky fixation.
Just do a quick YouTube search on Nutella, and you’ll find hundreds of fans geeking out on all aspects of the product. Check out this clip from a German television show that compares the consistency of French Nutella with German Nutella in agonizing (and entertaining) detail. But note that when they actually call Ferrero in this clip, the brand-er doesn’t do much to help the geeks in question with their free advertising.
So the question for you DIFFER brand geeks: what should Ferrero be doing to capitalize on all these nuts who obviously want to help them spread the love? Social Media campaigns? More traditional media advertising? Just staying out of the way? Looking for your comments as always.