15 September 2008

The battle of the brands: the contest for the best brand surveys in the world.

Dr Hunter S Thompson must be smiling. The Hells Angels are Australia's number one brand, if yet another brand popularity survey is to be believed.

Brand rankings, brand affinity, brand preference, brand valuation studies - dress them up as global and national rankings and name them the World's Best Brands, the World's Most Valuable Brands, the World's Most Recognised Brands, the World's Most Powerful Brands, the World's Most Loved Brands and you get some sense of the beauty contest that is going on for companies claiming authority in battle of brands.

Advertising agency the Belong Group's Australian study of national brand awareness, appears just another example of yet another advertising agency trying to climb onto the brand popularity surveys bandwagon, with what can best be described as a very "independent" study.

According to Belong, the top five brands in Australia are the Hells Angels, Apple, Star Wars and the diary and stationery manufacturer, Moleskine!

While there is little detail on the study methodology, it seems that a 1000 consumers were polled on the basis of what a brand stood for, if there was a clearly articulated belief and whether the brand elucidated a particular type of behaviour in people. A panel of, what Belong describes as, "industry experts" then ranked and shortlisted 20 brands.

It's not too dissimilar to advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi's Lovemarks project.

A love mark is a product, service, person or place a consumer can’t imagine living without, has a specific name that is identifiable by others and is based on a personal experience.

is about consumer's identifying a small, everyday product or brand that embraces and infuses people's live to make them a little better via the Lovemarks' website listing.

Interestingly there is some affinity with Belong top 20, Lovemarks contributors rank Apple at 4 and Moleskine at 6 among their top 200 and also Nike at 87 and Star Wars at 148.

Belong's top five of the top 20 brands (Alannah Hill, Free Hugs, Peter Alexander, T2 and the Bra Boys) are Sydney based, would suggest that either Belong are looking for new clients (Saatchi and Saatchi reportedly won US$430 million JC Penney contract because of Lovemarks) or that the brand menu was very selective and the research net wasn't cast too widely outside of Sydney.

Compare this to the top five in last years The World's Best Brands, an annual global study published Business Week for the last seven years, which lists CocaCola, Microsoft, IBM, General Electric and Nokia and you'll see why things must have gone a little awry over at Belong.

In the Business Week study, Nike which ranked 12th on Belong's list slips in at 29th, Harley Davidson motors in at 45th and Apple manages to get 33rd. No mention of Smiggle, The Body Shop and shoe brand, Ecko.

Unlike the Belong study, this ranking uses a combination of analysts’ projections, company financial documents, and own qualitative and quantitative analysis to arrive at a net present value of company earnings to establish the brand value.

To even qualify for this list, brands must make at least a third of their earnings outside the home country, be recognisable outside of its customer base and have publicly available marketing and financial information.

Global brand valuation agency Brand Finance's Top 100 Australian Brands, published in June this year, lists National Australia Bank, Woolworths, Commonwealth Bank, Telstra and the Foster's Group in the top five. Coca Cola is listed at number seven.

Happily for Belong - Seven Network, which screens Sunrise (ranked 18th) is ranked 28th by Brand Finance and one of the licensees of the Virgin brand (ranked eight by Belong) Virgin Blue scrapes in at 45.

Brand Finance's rankings are based on the brand portfolios of Australian Stock Exchange listed companies, in terms of their absolute dollar value, and also the percentage contribution that the brands make to enterprise value.

Brand Finance defines a brand portfolio as the value of trade marks and trade mark licenses, together with associated goodwill.

Global marketing research agency Millward Brown's World's Most Powerful Brands or BrandZ Study published in April this year lists Google, General Electric, Microsoft, Coca Cola and China Mobile in their top five.

In their list Apple comes in at seven, Nike at 53 and Harley Davidson at 72. No listing for Dove or Star Wars here though surprisingly Unilever, which does own the Dove brand, (perhaps no one knows who they are in Australia) is unranked but McDonalds ranking eigth and Subway (73) are.

Millward Brown's annual BrandZ Study measures the brand equity of 50,000 global “consumer facing” brands and interviews over 1 million consumers globally (though this is probably across numerous studies of unspecified nature). The Top 100 ranking assesses brand value using market and consumer research, in combination with financial data from Bloomberg and Datamonitor, to calculate and break-down intangible earnings), brand contribution (the brand’s effectiveness in driving business earnings and what they call Brand Momentum (an index of expected short-term brand growth).

The Millward Brown ranking takes into account regional variations since even for truly global brands measures of brand contribution might differ substantially across countries.

The Belong study is based on consumer sentiment with an "expert" filter and provides a simplistic but popularist ranking of the "top" brands in Australia. Alongside Lovemarks, it proves there's a long way to go before we get a more accurate measure of the relevance and influence these brands have on consumers. While the global brand ranking studies do provide a substantial degree of homogeneity in their brand rankings because of common financial inputs, the degree to which they measure power and recognition is something recognisable consumer input could make a significant contribution to.

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