Apple has overtaken Amazon and Google to 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.
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.David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance
Despite relinquishing its position at the top, second-ranked Amazon has still managed to record a healthy 15% brand value growth to US$254.2 billion. The retail giant is one of the few brands that benefitted considerably from the pandemic and the resulting unprecedented surge in demand as consumers turned online following store closures. Over Q2 and Q3 of 2020, e-commerce platforms experienced the highest revenue growth since 2016.
Most recently – further leveraging the circumstances of the pandemic – Amazon has acquired 11 passenger planes from struggling North American airlines to expand its air logistics capabilities. A tactical purchase to support its fast-growing customer base, but also a strategic move towards building its own end-to-end supply chain, the fleet can allow the brand to become a serious contender in air transportation in due time.
Another example of Amazon’s relentless innovation in the face of global adversity, the brand has also announced its foray into the health sector with the launch of Amazon Pharmacy and fitness tracker Halo. Before it brought success to Apple, daring diversification had already been the hallmark of Amazon’s growth strategy, which it continues to pursue with impressive results.
Also leapfrogged by Apple, Google sits in third spot following a marginal 1% uplift in brand value to US$191.2 billion. Slightly behind its peers in terms of diversification, Google recorded its first ever revenue decline as a result of the pandemic. The vast majority of the brand’s revenue comes from advertising, which took a hit over the last year as marketing budgets tightened.
Playing a crucial role in supporting a new economic mode in lockdown, Amazon has found itself at the centre of attention more than ever before. With a revenue boost came reputational risks – from questions about the treatment of workers, to accusations of benefitting from the tragedy of the pandemic, to pushback against a global corporation in support of local retailers. Jeff Bezos has a difficult task at hand to steer the Amazon brand through dangerous waters.David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance
In a year epitomised by global lockdowns, with working from home becoming the new normal and an unprecedented reliance on digital communication, retail, and entertainment, tech brands and brands successfully leveraging technological innovation have significantly boosted their brand values. Accounting for 14% of total brand value in the 2021 ranking, tech remains the most valuable sector in the Brand Finance Global 500, with 47 brands represented and a combined brand value just shy of US$1 trillion at US$998.9 billion.
Aided by the increased demand for home deliveries and safe means of travel during the pandemic, Uber has seen a 34% brand value jump to US$20.5 billion and entered the top 100 at 82nd. Similarly, Meituan, China’s largest provider of on-demand online services has gone up by an impressive 62% to US$7.2 billion, resulting in one of the biggest hikes up the ranking, as it jumped 216 spots to 265th.
Similarly, software providers such as Microsoft (up 20% to US$140.4 billion), SAP (up 9% to US$18.0 billion), Salesforce (up 29% to US$13.2 billion), Adobe (up 25% to US$11.7 billion), and a new entrant to the ranking, Servicenow (up 39% to US$4.3 billion), all enjoyed a boost in brand value as businesses raced to transition online and offices gave way to remote working for the greater part of last year.
The importance of technological innovation as a driving force behind brand value is best exemplified by Tesla (up 158% to US$32.0 billion), the fastest-growing brand in the Brand Finance Global 500 2021 ranking. 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.
While Tesla races ahead of the crowd, 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.
Last year’s most valuable brand in the industry, Mercedes-Benz (down 10% to US$58.2 billion) has seen the largest brand value drop among all auto manufacturers in the ranking. The iconic German marque struggled to formulate a coherent electric mobility strategy and communicate a clear vision for its electric car models. With sales further impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercedes-Benz slipped in the ranking behind Toyota (up 2% to US$59.5 billion).
Between the pandemic and trying to patch up a rocky relationship, Renault (down 10% to US$9.9 billion) and Nissan (down 9% to US$16.2 billion) have also seen some of the industry’s largest declines. Nissan’s profits in particular have sunk by 33% to the lowest levels since 2009, rendering the automobile brand practically unprofitable.
With the onset of the pandemic, tech brands have experienced unprecedented demand for their products and services. At the same time, across sectors, brands which have pushed the boundaries of technological innovation have remained a cut above the rest, able to pivot their business to adapt to consumers’ changing needs. 2021 is the final call to get on board for all brands still stuck in the 20th century.David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance
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 Amazon’s impressive performance at the centre. Chinese equivalent, 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.
libaba 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.
The story is similar for JD.com, which has enjoyed an impressive growth of 82% to US$23.5 billion, following a 30% rise in its annual shopper count – its fastest pace in two years.
Japanese e-commerce brand, Rakuten, has also cashed in an impressive brand value boost, up 49% to US$7.7 billion, and simultaneously jumped 155 positions to 246th place in the ranking. With a similar brand value growth this year, albeit from a lower base, German online retailer Zalando (up 49% to US$4.7 billion) has re-entered the Brand Finance Global 500 ranking after a two-year absence. In contrast, Suning – the Chinese home appliance retail platform – saw a 22% drop in brand value to US$5.4 billion, mainly due to the sharp decline in investment income following the pandemic, which caused net profit to slump by 93% for the third quarter of last year.
At the same time, many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers which have successfully leveraged technology to offer online delivery options and develop digital in-store improvements, have also fared well during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Walmart (up 20% to US$93.2 billion) has inched up to 6th place in the overall ranking, following an impressive spike in earnings. With targeted investments in e-commerce and over 400,000 workers hired in the last year to stock shelves and fulfil online orders, Walmart has been quick to adapt to the surge in demand.
Similar strategies have been beneficial to Target (up 30% to US$20.7 billion), Dollar General (up 28% to US$9.6 billion), and Costco (up 28% to US$28.9 billion) in the US, as well as E.Leclerc (up 27% to US$8.3 billion) and El Corte Inglés (up 19% to US$6.1 billion) in Europe, which have all seen significant brand value growth as they offered quick turnaround for online orders, reserved slots for elderly and at-risk shoppers, and implemented ship-from-store order fulfilment processes.
With a different story to tell, TJ Maxx has endured a difficult year, becoming the fastest-falling retail brand, down 32% in brand value to US$6.5 billion. The retailer’s struggles are largely due to store closures and a decline in apparel sales during the pandemic.
Yet again demonstrating the importance of future-proofing brands by going digital, gaming and streaming services enjoyed a significant boost in brand value this year as users turned to online means of entertainment in the wake of the pandemic.
Netflix enjoyed a spike in usage, causing its brand value to increase by 9% to US$24.9 billion. With 37 million new users by the end of 2020, Netflix’s success has driven improved revenue forecasts and brand equity scores. Despite this, the streaming platform’s growth was not as substantial as in previous years due to challenges posed by competitors such as Disney (down 9% to US$51.2 billion) and new entrant HBO (down 3% to US$4.0 billion).
In line with positive trends in brand value in the new media sector, Spotify entered the ranking for the first time, enjoying an impressive 39% boost in brand value to US$5.6 billion. The last year has seen a significant increase in new users as the music streaming platform expanded its operations into 13 new markets. Spotify is primed for further success as it continues to develop its capabilities, signing exclusive podcast contracts with Archie Comics and Joe Rogan, and acquiring Megaphone from Graham Holdings to improve its own podcast technology.
Another new entrant to the ranking, Electronic Arts (up 14% to US$4.4 billion), enjoyed a similar boost in revenue forecasts as many consumers turned to gaming to pass the time during lockdown. The brand is poised to continue this trajectory in the coming year, renewing its 10-year partnership with La Liga to retain the rights to its exclusive video game. Two other gaming giants, Tencent and Activision Blizzard saw even larger brand value boosts, up 28% to US$56.4 billion and up 20% to US$6.3 billion.
Unlike its new media counterparts, COVID-19 has exacerbated the issues faced by traditional media brands – including NBC (down 44% to US$8.4 billion), 20th Television (down 25% to US$6.1 billion), and Universal (down 21% to US$11.6 billion) – as film and television production was halted and advertising budgets were cut. The hardest hit is CBS – the fastest-falling brand in the Brand Finance Global 500 ranking this year. The network’s brand value has dropped by 49% to US$5.9 billion following a fall in advertising revenue and a disastrous merger with Viacom.
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.
Bucking the sector trend are Raytheon Technologies and BAE Systems, which saw a 19% and 18% increase in brand value, respectively. Raytheon (brand value US$6.2 billion) has undergone several structural changes over the previous 12 months, including merging with United Technologies, as well as divesting other arms of the business. BAE Systems (brand value US$5.6 billion) continues to secure extremely high value contracts, winning US$7.6 billion worth in 2019, almost double the amount it was awarded in 2018.
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.David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance
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 another dropout this year, after two-thirds of its brand value eroded.
Another hospitality sector, the world’s largest fast food and cafe chains have borne the brunt of global lockdown initiatives, with closures destroying sales and social distancing measures changing the way in which customers dine for the foreseeable future. Global leaders in the sector, Starbucks (down 6% to US$38.4 billion), McDonald’s (down 10% to US$33.8 billion), and KFC (down 12% to US$15.1 billion), have all recorded brand value losses.
With consumer habits being forced to change towards delivery and collection, brands that are already set up to accommodate this under their operations have managed to shelter themselves somewhat from the damage of the pandemic. Domino’s Pizza for example, which operates purely on takeaway and collection, has recorded a healthy 7% brand value increase to US$6.1 billion.
Globally, there has been a significant decline in brand value within the financial services sector. Two-thirds of banks in the Brand Finance Global 500 ranking have experienced brand value losses as COVID-19 dents profits owing to lower interest rates set by central banks, with France’s Société Générale (down 31% to US$5.1 billion) hit hardest.
In spite of the pandemic, banking remains in the top three most valuable industries in the ranking, preceded by tech and retail, accounting for 12% of the total. This could be, in part, down to changing consumer attitudes, with the sector’s overall reputation improving globally (up 4%), and especially in the US (up 9%). On the whole, consumer perceptions have turned more optimistic in most European markets, while staying relatively stable or slightly declining in Asian markets.
Banking institutions were the main culprit in the last financial crash. This time around they are a large part of helping people overcome the repercussions of COVID-19. Brand Finance’s research shows that banks’ response to the global pandemic has led to a year-on-year increase in reputation scores among consumers, which could no doubt result in an uptick in brand values in the coming year.David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance
The Brand Finance Global 500 has also seen a decrease in the value of commercial services brands across the board, as outside consulting services are often one of the first areas to get the axe in budget cuts during an economic crisis. Out of 15 commercial services providers in the ranking, 11 experienced brand value losses. Despite a tough market, Deloitte (down 18% to US$26.7 billion) has defended the title of the world’s most valuable commercial services brand as it continues to outperform its Big Four competitors.
After a few years of strong growth for insurers, with the industry as a whole more than doubling in brand value in the past decade (from US$133.9 billion in 2011 to US$333.8 billion in 2020), results have been more varied this year as lockdowns produced widespread financial difficulties, with half of all insurance providers in the ranking experiencing dips in brand value year on year.
These decreases can be put down to less renewals, lower risks, and a reassessment of consumer expenses. Swiss Re (down 29% to US$4.9 billion) was hardest hit, dropping 111 places to 404th. In contrast, China Re (up 16% to US$4.2 billion) increased the most in brand value out of all insurers globally and entered the ranking for the first time, claiming 464th position. Optimistic profit forecasts resulting from a dramatic drop in claims during the pandemic is one possible explanation for increases in brand value within the sector, as fewer people are on the roads and companies see less work injuries due to employees isolating at home.
Looking at brand value breakdown by country, US and Chinese brands dominate the Brand Finance Global 500, together accounting for two-thirds of the total brand value in the ranking. US brands boast a cumulative brand value of a staggering US$3.3 trillion, equating to 46% of the total brand value in the ranking. Chinese brands’ total brand value is US$1.5 trillion, equating to 20.8%.
In China, ICBC is the country’s most valuable brand and has managed to maintain its position in the global elite, despite a 10% drop in brand value to US$72.8 billion. However, with seven brands, the US still holds the lion share of the top 10.
Investments in infrastructure from the government have seen China build an engineering and construction market that is a force to be reckoned with even in the days of the pandemic, while Western countries struggle to keep pace. The sector’s most valuable brand, CSCEC, which increased in value by 22% to US$30.4 billion, snagged a spot in the top 50, a result of the brand’s impressive increase in revenue.
US-based General Electric, on the other hand, narrowly escaped dropping out of the world's top 100 most valuable brands, ranking 97th after suffering a 26% drop in brand value to US$18.0 billion, likely a result of its decision to complete three product segment spin-offs, namely oil and gas, lighting, and transportation. The company is also under increasing pressure after misleading investors, resulting in several lawsuits which, in turn, negatively impacts brand reputation.
China’s dominance is even more obvious in real estate, as all 11 brands in this year’s Brand Finance Global 500 hail from China, with eight out of those growing in brand value. The most valuable brand in the industry is Evergrande, claiming 85th spot with a brand value of US$20.2 billion. The brand that experienced the largest increase in value was Vanke (up 39% to US$17.0 billion).
Similarly, China has a strong representation in the spirits sector. At 27th, Moutai (up 15% to US$45.3 billion) ranked highest among the five Chinese baijiu brands in the Brand Finance Global 500, with Wuliangye placing second yet demonstrating a faster-paced growth, up 24% to US$25.8 billion. Yanghe was the only baijiu brand in the ranking to experience a decrease in value, dropping 8% to US$7.1 billion.