"Who is the world’s most valuable brand for 2019?" asked David Roth, CEO of The Store for EMEA and Asia.
The question wasn’t addressed to the New York Stock Exchange audience, who awaited the unveiling of the 2019 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable brands. He was talking to an Amazon chatbot named RoZie.
"Sorry," the Amazon Echo speaker demurred. "But modesty prevents me from saying. Let’s change the subject."
"Go on," Roth said. "Tell us who it is."
"It’s me, Amazon. How exciting is that? Can I help you with anything else?"
Amazon climbed to the number one spot after more than a decade of Google and Apple trading the position back and forth.
"Only five years ago, Apple’s brand value was six times bigger than Amazon’s, so what was the magic behind it?" asked Doreen Wang, global head of BrandZ, during her presentation. "Yes, innovation, disruption, but Amazon is not just an ecommerce brand. Its ecosystem has expanded to 15 product categories, and they’re all connected, surrounding consumers’ lives."
BrandZ’s annual ranking was compiled through Kantar research, including 3.7 million consumer interviews and 5.2 billion data points. It surveyed 166,000 brands in 51 markets and measured brand value by multiplying a company’s financial value with its brand contribution, or the extent to which consumers prefer a brand.
Using that formula, Amazon’s brand value was $315.5 billion, a year-over-year increase of 52%. Apple and Google came in second and third, respectively. Rounding out the top 10 were (in order) Microsoft, Visa, Facebook, Alibaba, Tencent, McDonald’s and AT&T.
Every company in the top 10 saw gains in market value except Facebook and Tencent, which dropped 2% and 27%, respectively. Google and Microsoft were the only two companies that made the top 10 in the inaugural 2006 study.
It is no accident that the event took place in the heart of American capital, the New York Stock Exchange, explained Elspeth Cheung, global BrandZ valuation director at Kantar.
"The important message we want to leave is that immersing in brand will result in a very handsome return," Cheung said.
As evidence, Cheung highlighted the disproportionately high return BrandZ’s top 100 most valuable brands give to shareholders.
"Brand building is not a cost; it is the most important investment any company should make to ensure long-term and sustainable growth," Wang said.
This year, there were a record nine newcomers, including Chanel, the Life Insurance Corporation of India, Didi, Xiaomi, Meituan, Dell Technologies, Xbox, Haier and Tata Consultancy Services.
Instagram was the "fastest riser," with its brand value increasing by 95%, followed by yoga apparel company Lululemon, which grew by more than 77% to $6.9 billion.
Technology is one of the more obvious characteristics many of these companies share, but for Cheung, it belies a deeper connection: each of them are "experience first" brands that know which "levers" to pull.
For example, Chanel started using Tik Tok to tailor its messaging to younger consumers.
This idea of experience playing a central role in a company’s brand reflects Amazon’s rise and the advent of the internet of things.
In the industrial age, a brand was based on a product, which gave rise to the product brand. Companies in the internet age relied on a "value chain" business model with a focus on "traffic first," on top of which they built a "platform brand."
Now in the IoT era, the business model is one of an "ecosystem," where consumers buy multiple products and services from a single company.
"You have to build a few things across your customers’ needs, so it’s not just about selling one service," Cheung said.
Alibaba and Amazon have already done this, she added, and Uber is doing the same thing. Beyond its more-widely-known Uber Eats, the company also has a jet business in Uber Elevate and a submarine business.
"Experience" and customer satisfaction comes first in these kinds of companies. This combination has given rise to the "ecosystem brand."
"You don’t want to let your consumers leave your platform," Cheung said. "You really want to keep it within your platform to maximize, or get a bigger slice of their lives."
There were more changes than ever in the top 100 this year as a result of geopolitical, social and economic volatility around the world affecting corporations across each category, Wang said.
Wang left the audience with four key lessons: be purposeful in a volatile and complex world; redefine what your category looks like; enhance experience through meaningful disruption; and draw on the knowledge of not only Western companies, but also Eastern ones.
If there was one consistency, it’s that the aggregate brand value of the ranking continues to increase.
When the study launched in 2006, the combined brand value of the top 100 was $1.4 trillion. This year, the aggregate value is equal to the combined GDPs of the economies of South Korea, Spain and Russia.
Fifty-two companies have dropped out of the top 100 as the minimum threshold to make the list increased by 219% from about $4 billion to nearly $14 billion, according to BrandZ.