In January 2018, we wrote the first version of this post, analysing the positioning of the most valuable brands in the world. The estimates of how much various brands are worth differ, depending on who has carried out the calculation (read here where these differences come from). However, at the time of our article, the most popular rankings of the world’s most valuable brands, including the 2017 Interbrand Best Global Brands ranking, were almost unanimous: Apple, Google and Microsoft held the top three spots, followed by Coca-Cola.
As of 2022, according to the latest Interbrand Best Global Brands ranking (published at the end of 2021), things look a bit different at the top.
The increase in brand value of the tech companies has been spectacular.
Google has increased by almost 40% (vs. 2017), which although remarkable, is significantly lower, when compared to the other top companies. As a result, it dropped from the second to the fourth position in the ranking.
Apple’s brand value has risen by 120% which allowed the company to keep its number one spot.
Microsoft was the second fastest growing brand, with a 160% boost in value, giving it the third place.
The brand that has soared the most is Amazon. Amazon, within a few years, has almost quadrupled its brand value and, consequently, has become the second most valuable brand in the world, according to the Interbrand ranking.
In the meantime, Coca-Cola’s brand value has declined by almost 18% since 2017.
Interestingly, what makes these four brands stand out is not the uniqueness of their positioning but its relevance in combination with a company’s product offering, high marketing spend, and the strength of their capabilities at executing the strategy (which are the key characteristics of a successful brand strategy. We wrote about it here).
With its diverse portfolio of products (search, Maps, Chrome etc.), Google helps people learn more about the world around them and enables them to find any information they need. Even though the brand is neither a creator nor a publisher of these pieces of information, because of its ability to understand the searcher’s intentions and distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources of data, Google in a way has become a trusted source of information itself and as such is by many associated with wisdom and knowledge. Google sees its mission as making a positive impact on people’s lives by organizing the world’s information and making it easily accessible.
Not everyone remembers today that in the past Google was reluctant to promote its brand and rarely advertised. This changed a few years ago, when the company realised that people wouldn’t find out about their products without effective marketing communication.
Microsoft’s brand and communications strategy has changed noticeably since the appointment of Satya Nadella as the new CEO in 2014. The company introduced a new mission statement, “Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more”, to give a sense of unity to its separate business entities.
Additionally, Microsoft placed a stronger emphasis on communicating the overarching brand to make sure that people associate Microsoft with some of its famous products. Before that, Microsoft had been known for its product-centred communication. It rarely promoted its master-brand and was more concerned with explaining the features of its advertised products. Now, it focuses on consumer benefits and brand-building activities instead. Microsoft has also changed its tone of voice, stopped using corporate jargon and started adopting a more human and emotional style.
Amazon sees itself as “a company of pioneers”, “inventing on behalf of customers”. It constantly tests unknown waters and enters new categories – from fashion and groceries to consumer electronics and streaming services. Amazon admits that it’s aware that not all its ventures will be successful but believes the effort is worth it for those that are. Jeff Bezos, the company’s executive chairman and former president and CEO, said: “Our passion for pioneering will drive us to explore narrow passages, and, unavoidably, many will turn out to be blind alleys. But – with a bit of good fortune – there will also be a few that open up into broad avenues.”
The Amazon brand represents an extreme version of the customer-centric approach. It’s based on three rational benefits: the widest selection of products, the lowest prices and the convenience of delivery. These benefits have been part of the brand’s DNA for years and the company’s senior management takes them very seriously. Since Amazon began entering new categories, it has been competing with companies whose brand and communication strategies are different from its own in that the emotional component plays a much bigger role. As a result, Amazon has moved towards a more emotive approach and made its communication warmer and more human.
Amazon is also well-known as an employer brand and has a strong employer value proposition (EVP). The EVP is based on the 16 famous leadership principles which are at the core of the company’s culture (e.g., “Bias for Action”, “Deliver Results” or “Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit”).
For many years, Apple was a challenger brand on a mission to revolutionize the personal computer market. Although Apple’s core belief (“people with passion can change the world for the better“) hasn’t changed, its communication strategy and messaging have. Apple outgrew the challenger’s role, expanded its product portfolio significantly and became one of the market leaders. As a result, the brand had to apply a more mainstream approach to its communication: it moved from symbolism to more literal messaging and from image-driven communication to product campaigns showcasing the benefits of Apple flagship products. It’s also apparent that the recent Apple’s ads build a warmer image of the brand and are more human and humorous, than they were in the past, when their tone of voice was more uplifting and aspirational.
Apple’s approach to communication is unique in a few respects. First, the company builds a premium image of its brand in an unprecedentedly consistent way – it doesn’t offer any discounts and never leads its communication with the price message. It is famous for its secretive culture, which is especially apparent in how it launches new products and services – always creating a sense of mystery leading to a big revelation. Another unusual strategy the company applies is consciously building the distance between its brand and consumers (more in line with the approach employed by luxury brands rather than tech companies) – Apple’s presence on social media is limited as it prefers to communicate via big, above the line campaigns (often using celebrity endorsement) and tightly controlled PR activities.
To stay relevant, each of the four most valuable brands in the world has gone through significant changes in their approach to branding and communication. Google has launched more brand and marketing activities, Microsoft changed its mission and put more emphasis on the umbrella brand, Amazon shifted to a more emotive style of communication, and Apple took on a more mainstream approach and began focusing in communication on its flagship products rather than the overarching Apple brand.
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Magda Adamska is the founder of BrandStruck.
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