Article by Iain McDonald – Founder / Exec Creative Director at Amnesia Razorfish. (@eunmac)
Each year Millward Brown puts out it’s index of the top 100 brands every year (here). I’m going to offer a different opinion (and yes, it’s only my opinion) on why I think it’s a load of old-school corporate phooey which is sending a financially skewed perspective on the value of brand compared to the modern consumer REAL thoughts about brands.
Note: I take the point that not all brands in this list are consumer facing per-se, but when publishing a list of the “Most Valuable Global Brands” I believe the word ‘value’ and ‘brand’ needs to take a deeper dive into broader consumer data and well beyond “highest margins and the most recognisable logo”.
In my humble opinion the power of a brand should mostly be judged by how well it is able to reach, interact with and influence a consumer, in particular with regards to their decision making process (which has a lot to do with ‘Trust’). It’s a big subject area and worth a lot of $ when you look at the $ad spend invested by these brands. Millward Brown have their ‘formula in a bottle’ to compare brand power but I believe the only place this list belongs is in a Sunday-Financial-Pullout-Section and that it is not indicative of a modern day ‘powerful consumer brand’ particularly in today’s digital world.
As a footnote I should say that my core interest lies in understanding the ever-evolving ‘digital’ consumer, (which of course is now an every day consumer too). I spend most of my day listening, observing (some might say spying), engaging in real conversations as well as looking at a lot of quant data and an array of third party research. I’m of the school of thought that you can define a brand by what consumers actually think and feel about a brand – I do not believe a brand is always what the CMO says the brand is so when I see a list like the one above it makes me squirm slightly. I’ll tell you why in a second.
Firstly I do recommend reading the full PDF of Millward Brown’s Top 100 Brands (here) and come to your own conclusion – hey… you may just love it and agree with their definition of ‘brand power’ 100%. That’s ok by me – I’m just offering another way of looking at things.
The first problem for me is right here below an excerpt from their report:
The secret ingredient is WPP’s BrandZ
database, based on an annual quantitative
brand equity study in which consumers and
business customers familiar with a category
Since BrandZ’s inception over 10 years
ago, more than one million consumers and
business-to-business customers across
31 countries have shared their opinions
about thousands of brands. It is the most
comprehensive, global, and consistent study
of brand equity.”
As you can see the above plays a critical part within the formula below used to calculate the list.
So why do I have an issue with this? For a start I’m not a big fan of anything that tells me they have “secret ingredients”… especially when I believe the raw data is available elsewhere in digital channels already and in much larger quantities. Secondly I do not believe the final list reflects the actual brand sentiment or evidence that can be seen daily by the interactions consumers have in the digital landscape, which as a source of information offers a lot more qual and quant data than any one study a single company can undertake to produce in a ‘comprehensive study’.
Search Trends – An alternative way to measure Brand Power
When you have enough data, the signal usually rises above the noise. Search trend data (which Google makes available here) gives us some critical insight into ‘real’ Brand Power pull and arguably the biggest source of data available on a brand. In this instance if a brand is unable to PULL its consumers into active search through it’s spend on marketing, comms, PR, CRM, new product innovation etc then there is probably an issue in here that needs to be addressed. I know some will question if search is relevant to all brands, but I would argue that even with ‘low interest categories’ the global data is there. Example: Here’s Wrigley’s in amongst the category mix for Chewing Gum and Bubble Gum over the last 4.5 yrs.
The argument against the top 100 brand power list:
Let’s take some of these brands in the top 100 and look at search trend data from the last 5+ years in Google as well as the last 12 months. (Note: I’ve chosen unique brand keywords to look to keep the data more ‘pure/clean’ for my examples). Given that the growth of the Internet during this period you would expect to see a brand in good health showing positive results in search and an upwards curve. This is NOT the case with many of the brands listed in Milward Brown’s top 100. In fact IBM (#4 on the list) has seen a steady decline in search traffic, yet it is listed as being 20% more valuable than the previous year. Sure – they are not focussing efforts on the consumer these days, but that to me means they are not as powerful as a global brand as I see it. IBM belongs in a list which talks to corporate, finance, and niche brand power and does not belong at #4 on a list which defines Global Brand Value/Power. To the image below – in general when it comes to consumer facing brands my own opinion is that when search data trends down it usually represents negative brand health.
In fact many other brands in the list (and yes, I include Porsche in here) are flat-lining which in real terms represents a relative decline given the growing internet usage and penetration occurring. (Please note I’m keeping data simple here and concentrating on Search – I have actually taken time to look at plenty of Buzz/Social media trends and available traffic data as well and most trending data is in line with search data).
Going Up or Down?
Millward Brown states that Vodafone’s brand value is up 45%, IKEA is DOWN 21% (at #95 in the table) and Tesco is down 1%. (Strange?! IKEA attracts double the search volume of Tesco but is ranked 74 places behind on the list which begs the question: Does Tesco’s financial performance really make it that much more powerful as a brand?). In fact all of these three brands are seeing marginally positive search growth when adjusting for seasonal trends and economic factors so I would suggest a positive brand increase overall for all three.
I’m the Chairman of IBM what do I do?
Now, I’m sure Millward Brown’s report probably makes a few CEO’s feel a little better about their business (and no doubt helps WPP’s advertising empire too), but personally I cannot agree with these results as a definitive list of modern day brand power. The reality is that the consumer of 10 years ago does not exist anymore. Today’s consumer connects, shares, evaluates in entirely different ways which of course is another blog post for another day. If you are the Chairman of IBM and you’re reading this, then my advice, “It’s time for you to rethink your brand strategy – your consumer has shifted and you as a brand haven’t moved and are certainly not moving with them at the moment” and if you think that the only people you need to impress with your brand is the CTO, CMO, CEO and CFO then I would beg to differ.
So… what are the most powerful brands?
As a start point I believe the most powerful brands are the ones which consumers trust the most, identify with and feel comfortable enough to share with others. Yes of course financial stability is important and plays a big part when it comes to “Trust” which is possibly the single most important word when it comes to Brand Power.
I find it amazing that there was no section in this report on ‘digital brands’ especially when you look at the search data below… now you start to get an idea of how BIG these new digital brands are in peoples lives. Facebook has actually outpaced Google in search trends by almost 3:1. YouTube is the worlds second biggest search engine, and ranks higher than Google itself in trends.
On the chart above none of the top 100 brands make a dent on Google, and even Microsoft looks small next to that. I could go on and on… but I’ve probably made my point and this is supposed to be a blog post not a thesis.
– The top 100 brands in Millward Brown’s list do not match available trend data on brands from independent sources such as Google, Blogpulse, Alexa etc.
– Digital Brands like Facebook clearly belong in any Power Brand list if sheer volume of interaction plays a part in establishing the power of a modern brand.
– IBM and many other brands on this list that were given positive brand health in 2009 by MB are in fact declining (from a consumer perspective).
– Big brands are still not investing enough in digital as a channel as a proportion of overall marketing spend.
– Traditional agencies still selling too many brands ‘the old way’ – not investing in digital relationships with their customers.
– Reports of this kind should include public sources of data. Why not include search data, twitter mentions, blog posts and semantic data in forming these kind of studies?
– Brand Power should not be based so heavily on financial data. Some of the biggest brands are also the most complained about brands.
– Lack of competition in a category yielding financial success should not be mistaken for positive brand sentiment.
Article by Iain McDonald – Founder / Exec Creative Director at Amnesia Razorfish. (@eunmac) – feel free to drop me a comment!