Brands not only assert themselves in times of change, they also help to shape it: In its report “Best Global Brands 2021”, Interbrand points to the growing responsibility of globally active brands.
By Thomas Wagner
The challenges, as the brand consultancy Interbrand knows, have not diminished in 2021: “We are at a global inflection point for economies, societies, governments, environments, and people. At the intersection of all these problems is the climate crisis – an existential threat that will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations. If we settle back into pre-pandemic trends of unrestricted, unsustainable growth, the climate crisis will have unimaginable effects on us all. This much we know. The radical question for brands – including Interbrand – is, what can we do?”
Brands, as Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2021 report suggests, are not only doing surprisingly well in the market in the current difficult times. Against the backdrop of the diagnosed profound global change, which affects the economy and technology, but also social structures and processes, global brands not only embody growth, but also stability. Thus, despite the Corona pandemic and the climate crisis last year, the Best Global Brands 2021 recorded the largest brand growth since the first publication of the Best Global Brands in 2000. The total value of the top one hundred brands increased from $2,326,491 million in 2020 to $2,667,524 million in 2021, a 15% increase.
Technology brands continue to lead the list
As far as the ranking in detail is concerned, there is no change among the top10 compared to the previous year. Apple maintains first place with a brand value of USD 408.251 million and an increase of 26% compared to 2020, followed by Amazon (USD 249.249 million, up 24%), Microsoft (USD 210.191 million, up 27%), Google (USD 196.811 million, up 19%) and Samsung (USD 74.635 million, up 20%). Technology brands thus continue to dominate the ranking. Coca-Cola, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, McDonalds and Disney follow in fifth to tenth place.
After Tesla made it back into the Top100 in 2020, the electric carmaker climbs from 40th to 14th place with a growth increase of 184%. The e-mobility brand thus achieves a unique improvement in the history of the Best Global Brands and leaves the other “rapid risers” such as Salesforce (rank 38, +37%), Adobe (rank 21, +36%) and Paypal (rank 42, +36%) behind. The only new entrant this year is Sephora, giving the LVMH Group five consumer brands: Louis Vuitton (13), Dior (77), Tiffany & Co (92), Hennessy (95) and Sephora (100). In 2021, only 15 brands have lost value in the ranking; in 2020 it was 54. Canon recorded a drop of 14%, Kellogg’s and Zara both a drop of 9%.
The German brands
The eleven German brands in the ranking can report clear growth in 2021. Allianz (rank 34, up 17%) and Adidas (rank 49, up 11%) grew by double digits, SAP (20) and DHL (80) by 7% each, Siemens (60) by 5%. In terms of growth, in the automotive sector Volkswagen (47th) is the winner with a plus of 9%, followed by Audi (46th, plus 8%), BMW (12th, plus 5%) and Mini (96th, plus 5%), Porsche (58th, plus 4%) and Mercedes-Benz (8th, plus 3%). Despite Tesla’s exorbitant growth and the associated signal in the direction of e-mobility, the significantly larger German automotive groups seem to have successfully tackled the upcoming change process.
Taking the lead
For Charles Trevail, Global CEO Interbrand, there is much to suggest at first glance that “market dynamics are returning to a semblance of normality”. For example, the average increase in brand value of the Best Global Brands in 2021 was 10%, compared to 1.3% in 2020. But something else seems to be more important than the growth figures: Based on the 2021 data, it could be shown that the Best Global Brands should not only be consumption drivers, but also catalysts of possibility. In “Acts of Leadership”, they take on a leadership role beyond their immediate product category “confront the biggest challenges we face”. The main issue is whether and how “best brands are providing systemic solutions to systemic problems”. If this succeeds, the “most inspiring brands” will become true “platforms of the possible”.
Unfortunately, the derivation of a change that is recognised as necessary on the basis of a historical example from the fine arts – the painting of impressionism – is completely unsuccessful. Nevertheless, it seems plausible that it is currently important to consider brands as part of the solution, to view them anew as a “connective tissue between business and society, investors and people, profit and purpose, leaders and constituents, present consumption and future resources.”
Presence, trust and affinity
According to Interbrand, 80% of consumers want to create change but don’t know how. “In order to influence behaviours beyond sheer consumption, brands must be relevant, along three dimensions – presence, trust and affinity. They must be present – part of the conversations that are important to their audiences and their ethos; they must create affinity by playing a meaningful role in customers’ and constituents’ lives by taking clear stances on the principles and priorities that are key to them; and they must engender trust – the confidence that a brand will not just deliver on a promise, but behave with their constituents’ interests in mind.”
Leadership creates engagement, engagement creates relevance
The data showed that the most influential brands in the world suggested a clear sequence: leadership creates engagement and engagement creates relevance. At a time when trust in institutions, government and society at large is in crisis, brands need to be understood “as acts of leadership”, he said. “Businesses that want to be relevant must fill in the void.” They must be “leaders at the forefront of transformation” that “transcends their categories, sectors and traditional approach”. This is the only way to seize the opportunity to have a say in what a post-pandemic world can look like.
Direction, Agility and Participation
Three factors could be identified that particularly contribute to the success of the brands:
(1) „Direction“: These brands provide a clear brand promise, an unambiguously formulated ambition and a concrete plan for the holistic implementation of the brand strategy.
(2) „Agility“: These brands are able to quickly adapt to emerging opportunities and challenges to meet customer expectations.
(3) „Participation“: These brands actively engage with their customers and provide space to actively shape the brand experience.
Setting a clear direction, staying agile, involving staff and customers – those who use these key factors are likely to be rewarded with success in the future.
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