“Always Coca-Cola” – a brand promise made… and kept
For some, this year’s Interbrand Best Global Brands rankings come as no surprise. Apart from a slight reshuffling, the top five brands remain unchanged.
As the best global brand for the eighth year in a row, CocaCola is keeping its brand promise to consumers. IBM takes over the No. 2 position from Microsoft, which now ranks third. General Electric (GE) and Nokia rank fourth and fifth respectively.
Although there aren’t any South African brands in Interbrand’s top 100 ranking, the top 10 have on average been around for 84 years, said Interbrand South Africa’s chairman Jeremy Sampson at a recent forum event hosted by the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).
The important thing is that these companies are holding up and retaining their huge brand values in turbulent markets, said Sampson.
Protecting and growing a brand is becoming increasingly important. “It is a business’s most valuable asset. And, during times of economic uncertainty it is far less volatile than other assets,” he said.
Strong brands grow in weak economies, because they accrue future demand and customer loyalty. But, irrespective of whether the times are good or bad, Sampson said, the key to success is understanding how your brand creates value.
For example, top search engine Google, now in tenth position, is 2008’s biggest climber. The brand is now valued at US$25 590 million, up 43% from last year.
“Google is no longer just an internet brand. It is the internet,” said Sampson. Almost all of Google’s revenues come from advertising on its search result pages.
Innovations, like Google Earth and Google Mobile make the brand an increasingly important part of our daily lives.
But, in the ever changing landscape of privacy and copyright law, Google has its critics. The company is increasingly tested against its unofficial corporate motto: “Don’t be evil.”
The value of green continues to shade brand performance, as companies evaluate the environmental, social and financial impacts of their sustainability initiatives.
Companies like GE (4) and BP (84) moved up the ranking by making substantial investments in sustainable business practices. BP is also the leader in working towards greener energy and investing in sustainable energy sources.
Sampson said sustainability efforts should be consistent with a brand’s positioning, create value for the business and do the right thing for the planet.
2008’s biggest loser, Ford, continues to struggle, after investing heavily in the rapidly shrinking big truck market.
“Despite changing its product portfolio, consumers are still not convinced that Ford does more than manufacture big gas guzzlers,” said Sampson.
“Although Ford now produces smaller vehicles in the US, it needs to communicate with customers and employees to re-establish its reputation,” said Sampson.
Changing its image won’t happen overnight. “Negative media coverage on the company’s performance also undermines internal and external confidence in the brand.”
He said people have emotional relationships with brands. If something goes slightly wrong with one of our favourite brands, we give it a second chance. But, if we don’t have a relationship with a brand, we won’t, because we have alternatives.
“Brand value is about creating, managing and measuring brand value across every aspect of the business,” said Sampson. “In driving brand value, the brand should be at the core of the business. It becomes the uniting force in everything you do and say.”
He said you optimise a brand’s performance by only spending money on the things that will drive demand and create value.
Sampson said many of the major brands weren’t thought of as brands originally. They came about through professional management, marketing, and through investment, which is not necessarily synonymous with advertising.
He said ten years ago 90% of companies’ marketing and advertising spend went to “above the line” advertising. That’s dropped to way below 50%. Many of the world’s biggest brands, like Starbucks, don’t advertise at all.
Sampson said, in future, companies will increasingly use mobile texting or SMS and the Internet. Apart from being cheaper, these media channels are more targeted, more precise and more controllable than traditional marketing and advertising channels.
“The world is in turmoil. You need to be a solid brand for your customers so that their world makes a little more sense,” said Santie Botha, marketing officer at mobile network provider MTN, which has been around for 14 years.
“You need to think big, think fast and think ahead. Ideas are no one’s monopoly,” she said.
Successful brands understand their markets and, therefore, constantly reinvent themselves. That’s why MTN (which sees itself as a truly “glocal” company) employs local people, who understand the market, but also have international experience.
Commenting on how to get the elusive Generation Y’s attention, Botha said it is about addiction; hooking into people’s passions and getting into their bloodstreams.
Botha said Generation Y is about four things: