5 of the Fastest-Growing Mega Brands of 2014

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

It’s hard to value a brand. Brand is ephemeral, intangible, and fundamentally qualitative. This, of course, hasn’t stopped enterprising researchers, marketers, and consultants from trying to quantify brand value.

One of those enterprising firms is CoreBrand, a company that uses a proprietary database of information to calculate exactly how much of a company’s market cap is attributable to its brand. CoreBrand treats brand like an asset “that contributes millions or even billions of dollars to a company’s stock price and market valuation.” Determining exactly how much is a somewhat alchemical process, but CoreBrand’s cocktail of financial measurement and surveys yields good results, highlighting not just how important brand is to any given company but how valuable any given brand is in relation to its peers and competitors.

“CoreBrand measures brand strength on two dimensions. Familiarity, or how many people are aware of and knowledgeable about a given brand. Favorability, of those Familiar, how positive are they towards the brand. Favorability is measured on three key dimensions — Overall Reputation, Perception of Management and Investment Potential. Ultimately, Familiarity and Favorability are combined into a single metric known as BrandPower. This number is what allows us to compare brand performance from company to company,” said Brad Puckey, director of intelligence at CoreBrand, in a blog post.

In the following pages, we looked at the top 50 brands in CoreBrand’s 2014 leader board and selected four with dramatic changes in rank and one with a particularly interesting brand history.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

5. Starbucks (NYSE:SBUX)

Starbucks, the global coffee powerhouse quickly turning fast-casual restaurant, gets an honorable mention not because its brand value increased particularly dramatically in 2013, but because the brand’s power has actually declined significantly since 2009. That year, Starbucks was ranked 14 on the CoreBrand Top 100 list, and by 2013, the caffeine siren had apparently lost some of its appeal. Starbucks sank to 27th on the leader board and has since recovered to just 23rd.

We won’t get into a blow-by-blow of Starbucks corporate history, but suffice it to say that the coffee chain has experienced its share of drama over the past several years. As successful as the chain has been — shares are up more than 530 percent over the past five years, a rally powered by strong sales and earnings growth  – it has a lot of critics. The store, and by extension its brand, has been subjected to everything from quasi-artistic ridicule to direct vandalism.

Moreover, the company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, has managed to find himself the target of politically motivated hoaxes, and the chain itself has sometimes been a gathering place of political turbulence due to misappropriation of its policies. In September, for example, Starbucks found itself at the center of a national debate on gun control. Schultz had to issue a video statement distancing his company from the drama.

It’s unclear what exactly the impact of ordeals like this have had on the brand, but after a dramatic slump between 2009 and 2013, Starbucks appears to be on the rebound as it expands its footprint and experiments with new products. According to InterBrand, a branding consultancy that uses a different brand valuation methodology than CoreBrand, Starbucks had a brand value of $4.4 billion in 2013, up 8 percent on the year.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

4. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)

In 2009, Apple ranked 93rd in CoreBrand’s top 100 list. By 2013, the company had jumped to 18th on the list, and a year later it had climbed eight more spots to number 10, making it the fourth-fastest climber last year.

Seeing Apple sit near the top of a brand value list is unsurprising; not seeing it at the very top is actually somewhat strange. According to Interbrand‘s brand valuation methodology, Apple was the most valuable brand in the world in 2013, at $98.3 billion, up 28 percent from the previous year. Similar to Apple’s rapid advancement up the ranks of CoreBrand’s leader board, Interbrand shows Apple’s brand value running below trend until about 2010, when it really became the powerhouse it is today.

But Apple’s brand, as strong as it is, is not without chinks. The company has received a lot of criticism — and in some cases, hostility — for everything from the behavior of businesses in its supply chain to the patents that form the building blocks of its technology. In particular, Apple has taken flak for its relationship with Foxconn, a massive Chinese contract manufacturing company, and for the environmental impact of the factories that produce many of the raw materials for its devices.

Apple was also found guilty by a U.S. court for conspiring to fix the price of e-books bought through iTunes. A judge recently granted class certification to consumers suing the iPhone maker over the ordeal, according to a press release from national consumer-rights law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

3. Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM)

As one of the world’s oil and gas supermajors and the largest publicly traded energy company on the planet, Exxon Mobil has attracted its fair share of criticism. BP (NYSE:BP) may have stolen the spotlight with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, but it will be a long time before the world forgets Exxon Valdez.

But that was more than 20 years ago, and time does help heal wounds. Exxon Mobil jumped 10 places between 2013 and 2014, to the 36th spot on CoreBrand’s leader board. Exxon ranks 82nd on Forbes‘ list of the most valuable brands, but does not appear in Interbrand’s top 100, although a separate report from Brand Finance valued Exxon’s brand at $17 billion.

2. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

According to that same Brand Finance report, about 6.2 percent of the total brand value in the U.S. is tied up in Washington state, and residents can thank Microsoft for a bulk of that. According to InterBrand, Microsoft’s brand was worth $59.5 billion in 2013, up 3 percent from 2012. The software giant ranks 11th on CoreBrand’s leader board and climbed 11 spots last year to get there.

Along with other tech giants, Microsoft’s image has suffered somewhat in light of the ongoing National Security Administration ordeal in the United States, which has fueled privacy concerns among users. Microsoft recently announced a change in its privacy policy for email after it was widely criticized for snooping in the Hotmail inbox of a reporter who had leaked several early screenshots of Windows 8. Although Microsoft’s actions were permissible under its terms of service, the software giant was criticized by privacy advocates and others for its unilateral decision to invade the privacy of one of its email accountholders.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

1. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)

Google jumped an incredible 17 places in CoreBrand’s leader board to 33rd place in 2014. Five years ago, in 2009, the company occupied the 144th slot. Like Apple, Google has capitalized on the proliferation of mobile technology. Google commands nearly 50 percent of total mobile ad spending.

Google bulls have existed for as long as the brand has. The company’s tremendous growth on the stock chart has been interrupted over the years — most significantly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis — but it has trended confidently upwards to a recent all-time high of $1,228.88 per share. Credit falls to the company’s ability to ride the rapidly moving curve of technological innovation with only occasional blunders (cue the robots).

According to InterBrand, Google’s brand is worth about $93.3 billion, up 34 percent on the year.

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