Despite the past year's economic doldrums, the value of the world's top 100 brands still rose by 4%, to $2.04tn, according to the BrandZ Global Brands study. This brings the total increase in the value of those brands making up the top 100 over the past five years to 40%.
According to the findings of the study - revealed exclusively by Marketing - strong brands continue to outperform the stock market.
Financial directors may be left un-moved by glib statements from the advertising industry about ‘spending through the recession'. However, they cannot easily dismiss the enduring power of the biggest global brands to create desire and inspire loyalty among consumers, or the impact this has on the company's bottom line. Ultimately, this could offer some much-needed leverage to marketers.
The BrandZ research shows the strongest and most valuable brands are also the most price-resistant. According to the report, only 7% of consumers buy on price alone and less than a third will compromise between brand and price.
Brand is an important influence for nearly nine out of 10 consumers, who take little notice of cost when they are purchasing brands with which they have a strong affinity. In short, a strong brand is a great margin protector.
This year's study also offers many examples of brands successfully recovering from tough times. Samsung's brand value bounced back to $11.4bn in 2010 from $6.3bn the previous year. Similarly, Star-bucks showed signs of regaining its former glory with a brand value of $8.5bn, up from $7.2bn in 2009.
By way of contrast, car marque Toyota's brand valuation reflected its recent fall from grace - it tumbled to $21.7bn, from $29.9bn in 2009.
UK brands proved to be remarkably resilient; nine of the top 10 UK brands also topped the rankings last year, and seven of these - Vodafone, Tesco, HSBC, BP, O2, Barclays and M&S - have retained their position in the UK top 10 for the past five years. Indeed, Vodafone has held the UK's number-one spot for five consecutive years, and during this period its brand value has increased by 84%.
Last year there were only six UK brands in the top 100 - with a combined global brand value of $120bn. This year there were eight, with a combined brand value of $153bn.
While tobacco brands are shrinking in developed markets, another addictive habit is on the rise among consumers - the mobile phone. This has ensured brands in this sector continue to rise up the rankings. According to Gartner, the market for mobile apps is forecast to grow from $4.2bn in 2009 to $29.5bn by 2013. The top 10 mobile operators all appear in the top 100 most-valuable global brands, along with the leading handset manufacturers, Apple, BlackBerry and Samsung.
Goldman Sachs, which was described by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi as ‘a vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity', emerged from the BrandZ research as the world's 11th-fastest growing brand. Despite the financial meltdown, its brand value increased by 25% year on year to $9.3bn.
HSBC's brand valuation also grew significantly, up 23% year on year to $23.4bn. Financial services recorded the biggest year-on-year uplift in brand value by sector, suggesting that, here at least, the recession is yesterday's news.
Some of the most-valuable brands are also leaders in social media. Facebook was the first social media brand to enter the rankings - grabbing 20th place in the technology category. ‘How much a brand is searched for and how much consumers inter-act with and talk about it online clearly has a big impact on its value,' says Walshe.
Trust and recommendation
The most valuable brands are underpinned by trust and recommendation, and almost every brand in the top 100 is either rated as highly trusted or strongly recommended by its users. The most-trusted is nappy brand Pampers, while Toyota still ranks as the ninth-most-trusted brand in spite of recent problems with its vehicles' reliability.
The emergence of India: ICICI Bank
The burgeoning importance of India was evident in the rankings, with this year marking the first time any of the country's brands have entered the top 100. ICICI, which came 45th, has pioneered retail banking in India. With 24m customers, it is the nation's biggest bank in terms of market capitalisation, and is set to grow further.
According to Peter Walshe, director of BrandZ, ICICI is also an example of a business being built up by a leader with a brand vision. ‘While many viewed retail banking in India as too big a risk, ICICI chairman KV Kamath saw it as an opportunity to democratise money for the people in an intensely hierarchical society,' he says. Kamath experienced his vision being put into practice when he queued behind his caretaker to make a deposit.
Brands from emerging markets are becoming a stronger presence in the top 100 - in 2010 there were 13 such brands in the list, compared with just two in 2006.
Focus on: Baidu
Baidu is the biggest search engine in China, accounting for 63% of the market, according to data from iResearch. It is, therefore, not surprising to see the brand topping the chart for brand contribution.
The brand name, which has rapidly become one of the biggest in China, was inspired by an 800-year-old poem, which focused on the search for beauty and meaning in the midst of the chaos of life. Baidu - in English the name literally means hundreds of times - represents the persistent search for the ideal.
However, critics argue that Baidu falls well short of this, acting as the most restrictive and heavy-handed search censor in the market. There are now seven Chinese brands in the top 100, representing the growing importance of the market.
View the full top 100 league tomorrow on marketingmagazine.co.uk.
The chief executive's role: The top 100's powerful visionaries
One of the perennial questions of marketing has been whether a chief executive shapes the brand, or the brand shapes the chief executive. Many of the brands that topped the BrandZ rankings have at their helm chief executives with a strong brand vision. However, some may argue that a high-profile chief executive will overshadow the brand. The concern that rippled through stock markets in response to questions over the health of Apple's Steve Jobs reflects the downside of one person coming to embody the success or failure of a brand. Nonetheless leadership branding, which has a heavy emphasis on supporting the brand - whether culturally or financially - has driven growth among many of the world's strongest brands.
Howard Schultz, Starbucks
The success of Starbucks seems synonymous with its chief executive, Howard Schultz, and the fortunes of the coffee empire have risen since he returned to the role after an eight-year hiatus. Schultz's attention to detail has enabled the brand to blossom without national advertising.
Bernard Arnault, LVMH
As founder, chairman and chief executive of LVMH, Bernard Arnault has ensured that ‘bling' remains in, despite the downturn. The businessman has overseen an increase in prices at the luxury-goods company, while rival brands have resorted to heavy discounting. His chutzpah has paid off and according to Forbes magazine, Arnault is the world's seventh-richest person.
Steve Jobs, Apple
The notion of Bill Gates popping into his local PC World store to test out Microsoft's latest product may appear far-fetched. However, Apple's co-founder and chief executive, Steve Jobs, did something similar as he mixed with crowds at the launch of the iPad in the Apple Store in Palo Alto, California. He even demonstrated the device's capabilities to a teenage girl. The head of Apple has long been a cult figure on the technology scene.
Brandz: The investor's choice
Investors looking for healthy returns during these turbulent economic times could do worse than consider placing their funds in the companies that own the highest-ranking brands.
The BrandZ strong brands portfolio, based on the top 100, rose by 18.5% in the year to 19 March, while the S&P 500 declined by 13.9%. This is striking evidence that powerful brands can make for big profits - something that many corporations would be well-advised to remember before heeding the frequent advice of finance departments to take the axe to their marketing budgets.
BrandZ is the world's biggest study into what people think about the brands they buy. For the purposes of its BrandZ Top 100 ranking, Millward Brown Optimor uses a three-step approach to value brands.
First, it establishes a company's intangible earnings and allocates them to individual brands within the port-folio and countries of operation, based on publicly available financial data from Bloomberg and Datamonitor.
Second, it determines the portion of those intangible earnings attributable to brand alone, as opposed to other factors, such as price and location. This uses research-based loyalty data from the BrandZ database.
Lastly, the valuation takes into account a brand's future earnings, based on market valuations, the brand's risk profile and its growth potential. This is then discounted back to the present value to determine the brand's value today.