Apple has overtaken Amazon and Googleto reclaim the title of the world’s most valuable brand for the first time since 2016, according to the latest report by Brand Finance – the world’s leading brand valuation consultancy. Apple has the success of its diversification strategy to thank for an impressive 87% brand value increase to US$263.4 billion and its position at the top of the Brand Finance Global 500 2021 ranking.
Under Tim Cook’s leadership, especially over the past five years, Apple began to focus on developing its growth strategies above and beyond the iPhone – which in 2020 accounted for half of sales versus two-thirds in 2015. The diversification policy has seen the brand expand into digital and subscription services, including the App Store, iCloud, Apple Podcasts, Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Arcade. On New Year’s Day alone, App Store customers spent US$540 million on digital goods and services.
Apple’s transformation and ability to reinvent itself time and time again is setting it apart from other hardware makers and has contributed to the brand becoming the first US company to reach a US$2 trillion market cap in August 2020. With rumours resurfacing that Apple’s hotly anticipated Titan electric vehicle foray is underway again, it seems that there is no limit to what the brand can turn its hand to.
David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:
“Steve Jobs’ legacy continues to flow through Apple, with innovation built into the brand’s DNA. As Apple reclaims the title of the world’s most valuable brand from Amazon five years since it last held the top spot, we are witnessing it Think Different once again. From Mac to iPod, to iPhone, to iPad, to Apple Watch, to subscription services, to infinity and beyond.”
Toyota takes podium spot
Automobile giant Toyota claims world’s most valuable auto brand title, overtaking iconic German marque Mercedes-Benz (down 10% to US$58.2 billion) and leading the way among the 34 Japanese entrants in the Brand Finance Global 500 2021 ranking.
Up by 2% to US$59.5 billion, and rising three spots to rank 12th globally across all sectors, Toyota’s brand value has been boosted by efforts to expand market offering through developing auto parts for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles amid a global shift to eco-friendly modes of transport. At the same time, Mercedes has seen the largest brand value drop among all auto manufacturers in the global ranking, struggling to formulate a coherent electric mobility strategy and communicate a sharp vision for its electric car models.
While it has been a difficult year for most traditional car marques in the Brand Finance Global 500 2021 ranking, as 4 in 5 have either depreciated in value or stagnated, Tesla races ahead of the crowd. Up 158% to US$32.0 billion, Tesla is the fastest-growing brand in the world this year. Emerging unscathed from the various controversies surrounding CEO, Elon Musk, Tesla’s market capitalisation has grown by an eyewatering US$500 billion over the last year, making it worth as much as the nine largest automobile manufacturers in the world combined.
The California-headquartered auto brand has also celebrated record numbers of sales this year, ramping up production of its Model Y car and expanding into new markets by opening a plant in Shanghai. As the world’s best-selling plug-in and battery electric passenger car manufacturer as well as a pioneer in using artificial intelligence in the automobile industry, Tesla has continued to strive for innovation and sustainability, developing more efficient battery cells.
E-commerce cashes in
Another testament to the role of technology in driving brand value, e-commerce brands are among those retailers to have thrived the most in the past year, with Rakuten (up 49% to US$7.7 billion) climbing 155 spots to claim 246th overall. Hailed as Japan’s answer to Amazon, Rakuten has overshadowed other online retailers domestically, becoming the top web brand in Japan by boosting SMBs and entrepreneurs through its ethos of exclusively facilitating third-party sellers.
Chinese Alibaba.com has also benefitted from the unprecedented surge in demand, as consumers turned to online shopping during the pandemic. The retail giant’s brand value has been boosted by an eyewatering 108% to US$39.2 billion, making it the second-fastest growing brand in the ranking behind Tesla. Alibaba subsidiaries, Taobao,up 44% to US$53.3 billion, and Tmall,up 60% to US$49.2 billion, have enjoyed parallel successes, their online business models providing ease of access and convenience for consumers.
Long haul problems for aviation
A clear impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, aerospace and airline brands account for six out of the ten fastest-falling brands in this year’s Brand Finance Global 500, including Boeing (down 40% to US$13.6 billion), American Airlines (down 40% to US$5.3 billion), United Airlines (down 39% to US$5.0 billion), Delta (down 38% to US$5.8 billion), Airbus (down 36% to US$9.1 billion), and Safran (down 32% to US$4.3 billion).
Boeing’s woes continue as its brand value records yet another dent. The brand has spent much of the last two years in a state of crisis following the two fatal crashes that grounded its 737 Max in March 2019 and its problems have compounded further throughout the pandemic. With the partial return of the plane to operations in December 2020, the brand was hoping for a turbulence-free future to counter its significant losses and job cuts. However, as the brand hit the headlines once again with its 737-500 passenger plane crashing in Indonesia at the beginning of this year, it may not be the end of Boeing’s troubles.
David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:
“Few sectors have been as deeply affected by the pandemic as the aviation industries. These brands are no stranger to rough patches, from the 2001 terror attacks and the 2008 financial crisis, to more recently the growing spotlight on their contribution to the climate crisis. The road to recovery and hopes are pinned on the speedy and successful roll out of the vaccines to open borders and kick-start the global economy once again.”
Hotels check out of top 500
As holidays are cancelled and people are instructed to work from home, the hospitality sector has reached an almost complete standstill both from tourism, as well as corporate travel. The world’s most valuable hotel brand, Hilton,has seen a 30% drop in brand value to US$7.6 billion. While Hilton’s revenue has taken a significant hit since the outbreak of the pandemic, the brand is showing confidence in its growth strategy, announcing a further 17,400 rooms to its pipeline, bringing the total to over 400,000 new rooms planned – an uplift of 8% on the previous year. Hilton’s rival, Marriott, has dropped out of the ranking this year, after losing more than half of its brand value.
While hotels check out, online booking platforms are crashing too. Booking.com has recorded a 19% brand value loss to US$8.3 billion, simultaneously dropping 43 positions in the ranking from 177th to 220th. Airbnb is anotherdropout this year, after two-thirds of its brand value eroded.
WeChat overtakes Ferrari
Apart from calculating brand value, Brand Finance also determines the relative strength of brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating marketing investment, stakeholder equity, and business performance. Certified by ISO 20671, Brand Finance’s assessment of stakeholder equity incorporates original market research data from over 50,000 respondents in nearly 30 countries and across more than 20 sectors. According to these criteria, WeChat has usurped Ferrari to become the world’s strongest brand with a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score of 95.4 out of 100. The Chinese mobile app is one of merely 11 brands in the ranking to have been awarded the elite AAA+ brand strength rating.
Alongside revenue forecasts, brand strength is a crucial driver of brand value. As WeChat’s brand strength grew, its brand value also enjoyed a rapid boost, increasing by 25% to US$67.9 billion and jumping 9 spots on the ranking to enter the top 10 for the first time.
As one of China’s home-grown tech successes with very strong equity, WeChatenjoyed high scores in reputation and consideration among Chinese consumers, according to Brand Finance’s original market research. The brand has successfully implemented a broad and all-encompassing proposition, offering services from messaging and banking, to taxi services and online shopping – the all-in-one app has become essential to many users’ daily lives.
During the pandemic, WeChat ran several government-mandated health code apps to keep track of those travelling or in quarantine, providing access to real-time data on COVID-19, online consultations, and self-diagnosis services powered by artificial intelligence to over 300 million users.
Meet the world’s top Brand Guardians
This year’s top CEO in the Brand Finance Brand Guardianship Index is Mastercard’s Ajay Banga. Mr Banga announced his transition from CEO to executive chairman in 2020, rounding off a successful and decorated 10 years as CEO. Since taking the helm of Mastercard, Mr Banga has embraced technological innovation, ensuring the brand remained relevant despite a period of rapid change in financial services. Mr Banga also champions the idea of financial inclusion, and has leveraged his influence to build strategic partnerships with financial institutions worldwide to help fight poverty.
David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:
“COVID-19 has presented perhaps the greatest challenge to all CEOs this year. Leaders have had to both protect the financial interests of shareholders and protect their people from the very real threat to health and life posed by the pandemic. It has required resolve and vision to safeguard - and in some cases grow - one of these leaders’ most important assets, their company’s brand.”