Recession: The Mother of Invention?There are no hard and fast rules for a company looking to maintain its brand in a slow economy. Some brands hunker down and put new ventures on hold. Others see opportunity in hardship, moving into new product areas and expanding their lines to capture more of a shrinking market. Others view financial pressures as an opportunity to redefine the brand and its relationship to consumers.
Regardless of strategy, the 20 brands on this ranking reflect the brands that showed the most year-on-year growth in Millward Brown Optimor’s fifth annual BrandZ ranking of the world’s most valuable brands. They represent some of the largest companies in the world, and the smallest multinationals, proving that size in no way limits--or guarantees--a company’s potential for growth.
Sometimes, particularly bad performance in the previous year accounts for much of a brand’s improvement, but coming out of a bad year requires innovation and good management, just as coming from a year of good sales does. As such, these brands’ achievements shouldn’t be trivialized.
Photo Credit: n0nick
Beer and Tech: The Recipe for SuccessThe brands listed here are compared based on “brand value,” the metric Millward Brown Optimor uses to measure account revenue, market share, customer relations, and growth potential. Each brand belongs to a multinational company, and their strategies for success are as different as a computer from beer.
Among the top 20 most improved brands in the world, 10 are in the technology category (including Amazon.com, technically a retailer), four are banks or financial institutions, and three are beers. This reflects those categories’ success as a whole, which were the only three of four to see increase in brand value this past year. Financial institutions as a group saw a 12% increase in brand value, with beer at 10%, and technology brands at 6%.
In the top 20, increases in brand value went from 20% to a whopping 80%, and all were in competitive sectors. Success seemed tied to advertising and customer loyalty. During a recession, however, the end justifies the means even more since brands are put on the chopping block when consumers stop spending.
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Business Names Make or Break a Company
20th Most Improved Brand: T-Mobile
Brand Value ($Million): 13,010Change: 20%
It was a good year for telecommunications companies like T-Mobile, with powerful smartphones causing mobile usage rates to skyrocket in 2009.
Better mobile browsing and faster networks allowed T-Mobile to sell more tiered data plans, and the company’s successful social-marketing initiatives fed customer loyalty in the UK and around the world. Recent approval of a merger between T-Mobile and Orange in the UK, as well as rumors the company will be the first besides AT&T to offer the iPhone in the U.S. mean T-Mobile will likely continue its success streak in 2010.
Photo Credit: T-Mobile
19th Most Improved Brand: Budweiser
Brand Value ($Million): 15,991Change: 20%
The “King of Beers” saw a 20 percent jump in brand value over the past year, thanks to a slew of new niche products such as the 55-calorie Budweiser Select and Budweiser American Ale, a darker beer that looks to capture some of the market for craft beers in the U.S. Beer drinking was up last year thanks to the recession, with more people drinking it at home rather than spending money at bars.
In any case, the brand famous for its addictive commercials (does anyone need to be reminded of the “whassup” phenomenon?) was a major sponsor of this year’s FIFA World Cup, whose viewership increased 41% from 2006.
Photo Credit: Budweiser
18th Most Improved Brand: Evian
Brand Value ($Million): 907Change: 21%
French mineral water company Evian made significant gains in 2009 thanks to its international presence (52% of its sales revenue came from emerging markets in 2009) and an ambitious advertising campaign that has set records, won awards, and generated a reservoir of secondary press for the brand. The campaign, known as the Evian Roller Babies, used computer animation to show infants performing roller skating tricks to a hip-hop soundtrack of the Sugarhill Gang’s famous song, “Rapper’s Delight."
Highlighting the power of mineral water to “support your body’s youth,” the campaign went viral, earning it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as one the most-viewed viral ads ever, with over 45 million internet views. Surely the brand will leverage this visibility for a solid performance in 2010.
Photo Credit: Evian
17th Most Improved Brand: Corona
Brand Value ($Million): 5,196Change: 21%
Despite competition from Bud Light Lime, the Mexican beer brand Corona benefited from a weak dollar in 2009 to increase its market share and post a 21 percent increase in brand value. Sold in over 150 countries, the lager embodies a fun-loving Mexican culture that young men everywhere seem to connect with.
Its presence at sporting events - usually during summer to reinforce its tropical image - is set to increase this year as a deal with the ATP promises to give Corona a higher profile at tennis events around the globe.
Photo Credit: Corona
16th Most Improved Brand: Gatorade
Brand Value ($Million): 2,935Change: 22%
The recession was hard on Gatorade, a sports drink that costs significantly more than traditional sodas. Instead of competing with the major soft drinks though, Pepsi decided to re-brand itsline of sports drinks to emphasize its athletic credentials.
The G-Series was marketed as a three-step hydration and recovery program, with adrink to consume before exercise, one during, and another one after. In 2010, the brand inaugurated the Gatorade Performance Center website, a platform that tracks workouts and offers advice from trainers and coaches. Appealing to athletes seems to have worked, as sales improved in 2010 and many sponsored athletes are backing the brand.
Photo Credit: Gatorade
15th Most Improved Brand: Skol
Brand Value ($Million): 2,722Change: 22%
The merger of Anheuser-Busch and InBev in 2008 shook up the beer industry worldwide, and brands on every continent expected to benefit from the merger of the Brazilian and American distributors.
Skol, the most popular beer among Brazilian Gen Yers, was InBev’s most successful product in the world’s fourth-largest beer market.
Brazilians drink 10.3 billion liters of beer a year, putting it just behind Germany’s 10.7 billion liters.
The brand, with its racy ad campaigns featuring scantily-clad women, equates itself with a different outlook, claiming if past visionaries had been Skol drinkers, the world would be a sexier place.
Photo Credit: Skol
14th Most Improved Brand: O2
Brand Value ($Million): 10,593Change: 23%
A British-based subsidiary of Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, O2 established itself as a pan-European brand with a strong presence throughout the EU. Its line of smartphones appealed to customers in many countries, and 2009 saw an increase in subscribers of over 1 million in the UK and 1.5 million in Germany.
These additional handsets meant lots of new data transmission, which gave the O2 a significant revenue boost as well and helped it post a 23% increase in brand value this year.
While subscriber numbers are promising, revenue per customer has been declining for O2 and will need to increase if 2010 is to be another big growth year.
Photo Credit: O2
13th Most Improved Brand: HSBC
Brand Value ($Million): 23,408Change: 23%
Known as “the world’s local bank," HSBC burnished its credentials last year by not accepting a government bailout, despite being at the time the second-largest subprime lender in the U.S. with HSBC Finance. The bank quickly took a stand however, closing its mortgage lending business in the U.S. and ardently speaking against predatory lending.
Although its revenue was down over $100 billion in 2009, the Hong-Kong based bank posted a 23% increase in brand value, in large part due to its huge international presence in Asia and South America.
The continued recession will make 2010 another difficult year, but one the brand is well-positioned to survive.
Photo Credit: HSBC
12th Most Improved Brand: Goldman Sachs
Brand Value ($Million): 9,283Change: 25%
This one won't make taxpayers happy, but 2009 was a record year for Goldman Sachs. The financial firm rebounded from the economic crisis, thanks to a substantial bailout from the U.S. government, and posted a record profit of $13.4 billion while showing welcome restraint in allocating those profits to employee bonuses.
This year might be different for on both fronts, however, since the SEC charged Goldman with fraud last April. That decision could unleash a barrage of cases against Goldman over shadowy financial tools they used to generate huge profits before the financial meltdown set the global economy adrift in 2008.
Photo Credit: Goldman Sachs
11th Most Improved Brand: Amazon
Brand Value ($Million): 27,459Change: 29%
Founded in 1994, Amazon was one of the first companies to use the Internet to change the way we live and do business.
With quick and cheap shipping of nearly every book in print, Amazon revolutionized bookselling. Sixteen years later, it's still growing, with a 29% increase in brand value.
The 2009 acquisition of online shoe retailer Zappos has been successful, and its Kindle e-reader has cornered the e-book market. The Kindle's sales even outpace those of paper books on the site.
Perhaps the biggest contribution to Amazon’s growth, however, is the company’s increasing presence in the retail market, with more products than just books and CDs. According to the report, general merchandise sales grew by 54% in 2009. Traditional retailers beware.
Photo Credit: Amazon
10th Most Improved Brand: Sony
Brand Value ($Million): 8,147Change: 30%
With a 30% increase in brand value, Sony’s success brought it back into the Brandz Top 100 this year, thanks in large part to its dismal performance in 2008.
That year saw the company post its first net loss in 14 years, causing a major restructuring that included closing down plants and firing thousands of its workers.
While it has an established presence in a number of markets, it faces fierce competition across the board.Its Bravia flat-screen televisions has intense competition from Samsung; the PlayStation game console lost ground to Microsoft’s XBox and the Nintendo Wii; and the Sony Reader e-ink tablet and media player haven’t come close to Amazon's Kindle's success.
With 2010 showing strong performance for the company’s mobile operations, Sony should hope to improve its standing in the many consumer markets it has a stake in, including the new 3D television market that could (finally) take off this year.
Photo Credit: Sony
9th Most Improved Brand: IBM
Brand Value ($Million): 86,383Change: 30%
Though they're less visible than the consumer market, business-to-business dealings in information systems did wonders for IBM’s bottom line.
The company, which dominates the B2B market, enjoyed a record pre-tax income of $18.1 billion in 2009, and will continue its focus on its corporate clients in the future.
With its new “Smarter Planet” marketing initiative, the company is marketing itself as the company of the future, using its information management tools to design smart energy grids, municipal water systems, traffic and congestion management systems, disease pandemic response, and many others.
Some might call it ambitious, but if IBM can’t use its supercomputers to solve society’s problems, few others will step up and do it.
Photo Credit: IBM
8th Most Improved Brand: Apple
Brand Value ($Million): 83,153Change: 32%
Not enough can be said about Apple’s unique relationship with its die-hard customers.
With its innovations in product design, the company has positioned itself as the protector of customers’ desire for powerful-but-simple, easy to use products that help them manage their lives.
With the iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad, Apple has established itself as the dominant player in the tech industry, and the 32% increase in brand value it saw over the last year shows it has no intention of slowing down.
iPhone sales doubled in 2009 and the company sold over 3 million iPads less than three months after its launch.
With early adopters like these, it’s anyone’s guess when, or even whether Apple’s growth will ever slow down.
Photo Credit: Apple
7th Most Improved Brand: Verizon WirelessBrand Value ($Million): 24,675Change: 39%
Though it doesn’t carry the iPhone (yet), the largest 3G network in America, Verizon Wireless, capitalized on this advantage to increase revenue from data transmission by 25% last year.
Its partnership with Google in introducing Android-enabled phones made it competitive in the market for next-generation handsets, and its customer base grew accordingly, giving Verizon the largest number of subscribers in the country.
With a new Droid phone out to compete with the iPhone 4, the battle for smartphone dominance has just begun.
Photo Credit: Verizon Wireless
6th Most Improved Brand: HP
Brand Value ($Million): 39,717Change: 48%
An almost 50% increase in brand value for a company known pretty much just for its printers is nothing to scoff at. Hewlett-Packard had a good year, thanks in part to its 2008 acquisition of Electronic Data Systems, which it rebranded in 2009 as HP Enterprise Services.
The move reflected HP’s focus on the business-to-business market, as the acquisition gave it a presence in 48 countries and decades of experience in information systems management.
In the consumer market, HP will use Annie Liebovitz and Dr. Dre as the celebrity faces of its new ad campaign, hinting that the company's not ready to abandon the consumer electronics side of the business any time soon.
Photo Credit: HP
5th Most Improved Brand: VisaBrand Value ($Million): 24,883Change: 52%
Spending may be down in this recession, but using your debit card certainly isn't, as Visa (as well as its rival MasterCard) saw over 50% increase in brand value.
Consumers wanting to avoid increasing their credit card debt used their debit cards instead for purchases both big and small, and Visa collected the fees.
The story looks to be the same in 2010, because the company already posted significant increases in revenue this year.
Photo Credit: Visa
4th Most Improved Brand: Next
Brand Value ($Million): 2,569Change: 54%
While the apparel industry suffered an overall decline in brand value of 4 percent in 2009, the UK’s “next” managed to increase its brand value by 54%.
A dismal 2008 hinted that the only way to go was up, but management rose to the challenge by expanding online sales to countries like the U.S., which have no brick-and-mortar stores.
With the recession likely to keep clothing sales down, Next will need to continue coming up with ideas to expand its business.
Photo Credit: Next
3rd Most Improved Brand: MasterCard
Brand Value ($Million): 11,659Change: 57%
Besting its rival Visa by five percent, MasterCard saw its performance in 2009 generate an increase in brand value by 57%, making it the third most improved global brand on the list.
It also benefited from consumers’ increased use of their debit cards in the recession, which has carried over into 2010. This year also looks to mark a significant attempt at comprehensive financial reform in the United States though, which could potentially eat into MasterCard’s (and Visa’s) performance.
Photo Credit: MasterCard
2nd Most Improved Brand: Baidu
Brand Value ($Million): 9,356Change: 62%
Despite the fanfare surrounding Google’s problems with the Chinese government this year, rival Chinese search engine Baidu continues to dominate the internet search in that country.
Google’s problems certainly helped Baidu which, unlike Google, isn't shy about censoring its own content to stay in the state’s favor.
Indeed, the site commands 70% of China’s search revenue compared with Google’s 24%, and plans to expand it by embedding its search box on Chinese mobile phones.
Strong sales figures for 2010 reveal Google has plenty of ground to make up if hopes to establish search dominance in China.
Photo Credit: Baidu
Most Improved Brand: SamsungBrand Value ($Million): 11,351Change: 80%
Well, with recession keeping families in front of their television sets, it's only logical that TV manufacturers would benefit.
As the world’s largest LCD maker, Samsung posted record profits in 2009, coming out of the year with a 90% gain on the previous year’s profits.
What to do with all that money? Well if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: Samsung will be redoubling its investments in semiconductors and flat-screen televisions to ensure it remains the top of the line.
Photo Credit: Samsung