In January 2018, we wrote the original post about the three 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 were almost unanimous in that Apple, Google and Microsoft held the top three spots.
This was also the case in the 2017 Interbrand Best Global Brands ranking, but in 2018 there was one major change at the top. Although the brand value of the three aforementioned companies grew substantially – Google’s by 10% and Microsoft’s and Apple’s by 16% respectively, Amazon’s growth was even more spectacular. Its brand value increased by 56% compared to 2017 and as a result, it overtook Microsoft and currently holds third position in the ranking.
Interestingly, what makes these four brands stand out is not the distinctiveness of their positioning but its relevance combined with the unique product offering and the fact that they are amazing at execution (which are the key characteristics of a successful brand strategy; we wrote about it here).
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, including Xbox and Skype. 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 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 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 14 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”).
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.
For many years, Apple was a challenger brand on a mission to revolutionise 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.
To stay relevant, each of the three most valuable brands in the world has gone through significant changes in their approach to branding and communication. Microsoft has changed its mission and put more emphasis on the umbrella brand, Amazon shifted to a more emotive style of communication, Google launched more brand and marketing activities 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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