What does it mean to be a best global brand? Depends on who you ask. When I was asked to write about the world's "most trusted" brands by iMedia, I thought a great deal about how to best tackle such a challenging assignment. As always, I tend to enjoy tackling difficult assignments head on. The most problematic aspect of creating this article was figuring out where to start.
"The World's Most Valuable Brands" (Source: Forbes)
On one hand, it would be relatively easy to regurgitate the latest brand reputation study, but that direction lacks depth and originality. On the other hand, I find the general public's lack of understanding of what truly defines a brand fascinating. Without a clear definition, even the "expert" benchmarks and research can be somewhat arbitrary and relative. At last, I decided to go big, taking a meta-approach to my analysis, outlined below.
Rather than rely on my subjective opinion on brands, or a singularly prominent study, I elected to analyze multiple data sources and create my own benchmark. The first step was to review existing primary research and benchmark studies. I identified 10 established sources for my research, with the objective of triangulating the top 10 best brands.
I started by compiling 10 lists (having a day job precluded me from going deeper). I selected relevant studies, covering various evaluation criteria, to provide a broader context. The lists included themes like most powerful, most valuable, most popular, and most trusted brands, along with best reputation and employers. I figured it would be more insightful to include the perspective of employees, not just consumers. Here are the primary sources for my research, which focus primarily on global brands, but some lists are limited to the U.S. only:
- Forbes Most Powerful Brands
- Interbrand Best Global Brands
- Brand Finance Most Valuable Brands
- Reputation Institute Global RepTrak
- BrandZ Most Valuable Global Brands
- Infegy Atlas Most Popular Brands
- Harris Poll Reputation Quotient
- Forbes Best Employers
- Glassdoor Best Employers
- Reader's Digest Most Trusted Brands in America
I then developed a weighted scoring system that rewarded brands for their rank on each of the lists, as outlined below:
- Rank 1 to 3: 3 points
- Rank 4 to 6: 2 points
- Rank 7 to 10: 1 point
I elected to weigh each study roughly equally, with the exception of best employer, as I believe the employee rankings are useful, but tertiary to the focus on most trusted brands. Conversely, I put slightly more weight on the most trusted brands list. I then added up the scoring across all reports and came up with my own top 10 best brands, henceforth referred to as the Anvil-Lewis Scale. In rare cases where scores were equal, I used trending to break the tie. In a few cases, the trending didn't help, so my final rank was based on my own personal "trust score," relying on my personal knowledge and experience with the brands and their level of trustworthiness.
A few surprises
Before I unveil the Anvil-Lewis top 10 brands of 2016, I want to take a quick detour to talk about those that didn't make the list. As I analyzed the brands, I was a bit surprised that some brands I personally associate with trust didn't make the list. I understand the competition is fierce, especially on a global scale, but I noticed a handful of brands with world-class reputations were missing. From brand recognition combined with overall reputation, the following brands are noticeably absent: Honda, Nike, Nordstrom, Southwest, and Zappos. This may be due to my limited focus on the top 10, but also due to global reach and relevance.
The top 10 brands
Without further ado, here is the list of top 10 best brands, according to the Anvil-Lewis Scale.
The highest performing brand overall was Google. The iconic search engine appeared in the top three positions in seven of the lists. The only list on which it didn't rank was "Most Trusted," which is ironic, considering its "Do no evil" mantra. Regardless, hats off to a global brand that has only been around 18 years.
Apple arrived in second place, to nobody's surprise. The brand synonymous with Mac, iPod, and iPhone achieved a top three position on half of the lists, but outranked Google on four of the lists. Apple is the highest-ranking brand on the Reader's Digest "Most Trusted" list.
In a distant third place based on the point system, Microsoft leads the rest of the pack. Despite languishing stock and lackluster sales and marketing efforts the past decade, Microsoft has performed well on half of the lists. Microsoft will need to continue building momentum to fend off newcomers on the list.
Perhaps the most surprising addition to the list, internet giant Amazon has gained ground on more established brands. Despite only achieving a single top three position across half of the lists, the brand is trending up on multiple lists. Don't expect it to falter any time soon.
Another fast-mover and the youngest brand on the list, Facebook arrived at fifth position. The social network only ranked on four of the lists, but was never lower than a middle ranking on those lists. The brand is also trending up significantly.
Despite being a venerable entertainment brand, Disney is on the rise. While only ranking on three of the lists, Disney performed well on the Global RepTrak, showing Disney's laser-like focus on the customer experience still reaps dividends. The brand is also one of three on the rise.
A few years ago, it would be surprising not to see Toyota on the best brands list. More recently, product recalls have dogged the brand. Not enough to knock them out of the top 10, however. Expect the brand to stabilize if not gain ground as it navigates product design and production issues. Toyota was one of only four brands to earn a spot on the "Most Trusted" list.
Full-disclosure: As a Samsung customer, I'm biased toward this brand. I find its products to be of exceptional quality (except a few Note 7s). Putting that aside, Samsung is recognized as one of the most valuable brands. It will need to improve its reputation by navigating the recent battery issues, but that shouldn't slow it down too much.
Based on the planet's evolving views on healthy eating, it's impressive to see McDonald's maintaining high visibility on the list. Even more surprising, the fast-food chain is one of four "Most Trusted" brands. Time will tell if McDonald's will be able to navigate the evolving food industry while maintaining its core identity.
Rounding out our top 10 is one of the oldest brands on the list. Similar to McDonald's, Coca-Cola has battled bad press relating to the health quotient of its flagship product. Despite that, the soft drink brand still performs well on Interbrand's "Best Global Brands" list.
Bonus: Most trusted product brands
One observation I made during my research was the differentiation between a parent brand (Johnson & Johnson) vs. a product-level brand (BAND-AID). A majority of research is conducted at a parent level, as that is where the most information is readily available and the reach is generally global. Fortunately, Harris Poll recently conducted research on product-level brands, by gender. Notice men prefer brands that fix things (batteries, tape, and chocolate) while women prefer cleaning and storage products (foil, soap, and cotton swabs). While there is some overlap of brands on the lists below, notice that the gender gap is still present based on product use.
While the sources analyzed the largest global brands, there are ways you can evaluate how your brand stacks up against the competition. I recommend conducting a NetPromoter Score survey annually (at a minimum) to determine the health of your business and your brand. You can benchmark against other companies that have shared scores publicly as well. It's affordable and insightful.