BIGGEST BRANDS: US brands hit the mark for global success in 2002 - As Interbrand unveils its annual survey and ranking, Mary Cowlett looks at how top brands have used PR to communicate with customers during the past year

Running PR for even the biggest and best-known brands has been a tough challenge in the past year. The dismal financial performance of scores of companies has increased the need for communications. But as Interbrand's annual survey and ranking of the world's biggest brands is published, it is clear that those brands that have done best have followed a particular strategy.

The enduring lesson for marketers during economic decline has always been to ensure the quality and consistency of customers' experience of the brand and its values over time. As Interbrand director Andy Milligan says: 'Customers demand greater value from their experience of a brand.'

Using publicly available financial data only, Interbrand has calculated the value of - and ranked - the world's leading brands based on the net present value of the earnings that a brand is expected to generate and secure in the future. In other words, using indicators such as share price, the consultancy has estimated how each brand will affect sales and earnings, how likely it is that this will be delivered, and then given those future earnings a value today.

Within these parameters, consumer brands such as McDonald's (ranked at number 8) and Budweiser (24) - i.e. those that are close to everyday patterns of consumption and are therefore fairly recession-proof - have fared best.

But outside the top 75 a number have progressed using stealth through brand extensions, most notably Caterpillar, which made a strong debut at number 79 and Nivea (91), which via its move into men's grooming and improved skin protection ranges, increased its brand value on 2001 by 16 per cent to more than $2bn.

'They are both interesting cases, as despite its new lines, Nivea has kept its positioning as the staple of skincare and related products, not promising miracles, while Caterpillar's expansion from its main earth-moving equipment into licensed clothing tells you how far your can take brand extensions if you do it properly,' says Interbrand global MD of brand valuation Jan Lindemann.

However, it is in the beleaguered sectors of telecoms, consumer electronics and semi-conductors that the issue of brand becomes truly imperative.

While AT&T's (17) brand value fell by 30 per cent and Ericsson (71) lost an astonishing 49 per cent (forcing it out of the top ten), Nokia (6) kept its losses to 14 per cent.

Nokia's position looks relatively rosy when compared to AT&T and Ericsson's business troubles, but Lindemann adds: 'With Ericsson cutting its marketing spend and pulling out of the market a bit, it's not as clear what its brand actually stands for.'

Nokia itself, however, attributes its market leader status to the trust its brand engenders among its various audiences. 'We're very transparent with the press and on investor relations, and we accept competitors,' says Nokia head of corporate comms (UK and Ireland) Mark Squires.

An example of this is the new Nokia 7650 digital-camera-in-a-phone, which uses the Symbian operating system, a joint venture between various organisations, which allows users to communicate with non-Nokia devices, such as PCs. 'We don't dictate to the market and we are constantly working with other manufacturers, as consumer trust is vital. You can't trick people into buying a product that then doesn't deliver,' Squires adds.

However, the real star of the telecoms and consumer electronics sector is Korea's Samsung (34), which turned in a remarkable 30 per cent growth, increasing in brand value to $8.3bn from $6.4bn in 2001.

In the teeth of the decline in the telco industry, Samsung excelled at delivering superior product design and communicated this to customers through various channels, notably by using strategic PR.

'Through focusing the PR on a select number of high-end aspirational consumer products in the Samsung portfolio that strongly support the core brand values, we have been able to talk to a wider and deeper breadth of media over the past 18 months, including the consumer lifestyle media,' says Ginni Arnold, head of Samsung's UK PR account at Cohn & Wolfe Digital.

Similarly, tech brand Dell (31) stands out in Interbrand's ranking. While Compaq (27) lost 21 per cent off its brand value - despite its obvious attractions to Hewlett-Packard - Dell made a 12 percent increase.

Much of this success is attributable to Dell's low inventory manufacturing process and its direct sales model, both complicated concepts to explain to customers. 'PR has been absolutely crucial, especially at the front end of moving into a new market,' says Rob Shimmin, global corporate practice MD for Dell's retained agency Ogilvy PR Worldwide.

'Strong product-led advertising has been able to promote the direct-sell proposition, but PR has been the powerful driver for explaining the benefits and giving that buzz that says it really works,' he adds.

However the Interbrand study also identifies a number of brands that appear to have lost their way, including Ford (11) and Merrill Lynch (25), which dropped 32 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.

With some of the best corporate names under fire, brand marketers have spent much effort this year on sustaining the trust that is so hard won but so easily lost from customers.

But as perceptions and experiences of the brand increasingly flow straight to the bottom line, PR clearly has a growing role in promoting and protecting what is increasingly regarded as a precious corporate asset.

TOP 75 WORLD BRANDS 2002

Rank    Brand                   Value US dollars m      % change
        2002                                  2002     from 2001
1       Coca-Cola                           69,637             1
2       Microsoft                           64,091            -2
3       IBM                                 51,188            -3
4       GE                                  41,311            -3
5       Intel                               30,861           -11
6       Nokia                               29,970           -14
7       Disney                              29,256           -10
8       McDonald's                          26,375             4
9       Marlboro                            24,151            10
10      Mercedes                            21,010            -3
11      Ford                                20,403           -32
12      Toyota                              19,448             5
13      Citibank                            18,066            -5
14      Hewlett-Packard                     16,776            -7
15      American Express                    16,287            -4
16      Cisco                               16,222            -6
17      AT&T                                16,059           -30
18      Honda                               15,064             3
19      Gillette                            14,959            -2
20      BMW                                 14,425             4
21      Sony                                13,899            -7
22      Nescafe                             12,843            -3
23      Oracle                              11,510            -6
24      Budweiser                           11,349             5
25      Merrill Lynch                       11,230           -25
26      Morgan Stanley                      11,205             -
27      Compaq                               9,803           -21
28      Pfizer                               9,770             9
29      JPMorgan                             9,693             -
30      Kodak                                9,671           -10
31      Dell                                 9,237            12
32      Nintendo                             9,219            -3
33      Merck                                9,138            -6
34      Samsung                              8,310            30
35      Nike                                 7,724             2
36      Gap                                  7,406           -15
37      Heinz                                7,347             4
38      Volkswagen                           7,209            -2
39      Goldman Sachs                        7,194            -9
40      Kellogg's                            7,191             3
41      Louis Vuitton                        7,054             -
42      SAP                                  6,775             7
43      Canon                                6,721             2
44      IKEA                                 6,545             9
45      Pepsi                                6,394             3
46      Harley-Davidson                      6,266            13
47      MTV                                  6,078            -8
48      Pizza Hut                            6,046             1
49      KFC                                  5,346             2
50      Apple                                5,316            -3
51      Xerox                                5,308           -12
52      Gucci                                5,304            -1
53      Accenture                            5,182             -
54      L'Oreal                              5,079             -
55      Kleenex                              5,039            -1
56      Sun                                  4,773            -7
57      Wrigley's                            4,747             5
58      Reuters                              4,611           -12
59      Colgate                              4,602             1
60      Philips                              4,561            -7
61      Nestle                               4,430             -
62      Avon                                 4,399             1
63      AOL                                  4,326            -4
64      Chanel                               4,272             -
65      Kraft                                4,079             1
66      Danone                               4,054             -
67      Yahoo!                               3,855           -12
68      Adidas                               3,690             1
69      Rolex                                3,686             -
70      Time                                 3,682            -1
71      Ericsson                             3,589           -49
72      Tiffany                              3,482             -
73      Levi's                               3,454            -8
74      Motorola                             3,416            -9
75      Duracell                             3,409           -18

SOURCE: Interbrand.

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