Building Brands by Toppling Walls

Kantar Brandz Top 100 report shows our changing world

In November 1991, the Berlin Wall was torn down to worldwide rejoicing. Columnists wrote thought pieces about ‘the end of history’. The Cold War, they said, was over. It was an historic moment.

And yet…what changed? After a brief thaw, we reverted to a relationship of fear, suspicion and frosty diplomacy.

Meanwhile in 1994, a guy called Jeff Bezos started an online bookselling business. At the time, few even knew what ‘online’ meant. The internet was in its infancy. Books were sold in bricks and mortar bookshops. But 25 years later, Amazon has become the world’s most valuable brand.

When you look at those brand rankings you see history written in them. Our changing lives are reflected more faithfully in the services we pay for than in the treaties and the politicians that dominate the news. 2019 marks the first time that Amazon has reached No.1 in the World’s Most Valuable Brands ranking, displacing Apple, Google and Microsoft to 2nd, 3rd and 4th places respectively. Of those brands, only Microsoft was a major player twenty years ago.

Consider too, that the highest-ranked car brand, Toyota, is down at No. 41 in the top 100. Or that Uber, at 53, is a more valuable brand than either Mercedes-Benz or BMW. Or that Shell, the top-ranked energy company, languishes at 65. The biggest gains go to the disruptors.

You need a vision about where your brand could be tomorrow, not where it operates right now

Key to Amazon’s success – and that of Apple, Google, et al – is that instead of operating within a category they’ve become broad-based ecosystems. Amazon delivers a friction-free customer experience across multiple product categories (though you can still buy books from them, too). Apple sells services, not just phones, tablets and Macs.

Top risers within the 100 include Instagram, Lululemon, Uber and Netflix. The top twenty risers come from ten different market sectors, so there’s scope for disruptors to thrive in every market. Meanwhile, the Top 10 in Brand Contribution (where it’s the influence of the brand alone that’s measured) include three luxury brands; Chanel, Gucci and Hermès.

Some of the fast risers may yet be fast fallers. Even the mighty Facebook has seen a small drop in brand value as consumers become aware of privacy concerns. But the picture the Brandz 100 paints is of a world where old certainties and boundaries no longer operate. Even the brand categories are no longer fixed; as we move towards electrification, brands like Shell will become energy providers, not just ‘oil and gas’ companies.

For marketers, there’s a clear lesson. You need a vision about where your brand could be tomorrow, not where it operates right now. Even if it means tearing down a few walls to get there.