Last week, Apple moved ahead of Google as the world’s top brand, according to research group MillwardBrown, who tracks the top 100 global brands at BrandZ.com. “It earned an 84 percent increase in brand value with successful iterations of existing products,” such as the iPhone and iPad, as well as future anticipation of Apple’s product and service development.
Also making it into BrandZ’s Top 100 list for the first time was social media network Facebook. Facebook’s brand value jumped 246 percent in the last year, earning it the number 35 spot on the list.
Despite the tremendous gains of Apple and Facebook, and the continual brand-dominance of Google, 2010 was not exactly a banner year for these brands in the news. Google is facing challenges across the world to its “Street View” option in Google Maps. And, the company faced the wrath of the Federal Trade Commission after its Google Buzz application was shown to have severe privacy flaws. Facebook also had a litany of privacy flaps as it continued to develop commercial applications, which exposed sensitive user data to third parties.
Apple also recently experienced its own privacy headache, as reports emerged that the popular iPhone was tracking user location. While Apple denied the report, saying that it was merely keeping a log of WiFi hot spots and cell towers around the users location, Congress is now putting the company (and, its rival Google) under the privacy microscope. Apple also had an embarrassing quality issue with the release of the iPhone 4. An engineering flaw with the placement of the antenna caused the device to lose its signal if it was held incorrectly.
Yet, even with quality issues, privacy woes, and sometimes questionable relationships with Federal intelligence agencies (Julian Assange, the infamous founder of the WikiLeaks organization, called Facebook “the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented”), these are some of the world’s top brands.
How, then, can they seemingly get away with murder? The answer is simple: branding.
Apple, Google, and Facebook have all developed such entrenched brand identities with consumers that it gives them a Teflon-like exterior that protects them from controversies that would mortally wound lesser brands. They didn’t do it through flawless quality, or even building a solid level of trust with consumers. These brands did it through creating products that consumers can’t live without.
Consumers know that Facebook has issues with leaking (accidently, or on purpose) the plethora of personal information uploaded to the site. But, does that stop people from using their account? No, just as people will line up for hours to be the first to buy the next generation of iPhone despite previous quality issues. For better, or worse, consumers are hopelessly addicted.
No matter what happens, Facebook users will not terminate their accounts, owners of the iPhone 4 are future owners of the iPhone 5, and Gmail account holders will not be switching over to Yahoo!.
The sheer power of these brands is a testament to product differentiation, and the predominant role differentiation plays in establishing brands. The products produced by these brands aren’t just different than their competitors; they’re different in ways that consumers consider to be invaluable. Consumers value these brands so much that they have become too deeply imbued in their day-to-day lives to use an alternative, or give up. Differentiation, above any other branding element, has elevated these brands to immortal status.
Brands looking to increase their value in the minds of consumers should focus on the difference that makes them more significant than their competitors. It is unquestionably the “secret sauce” to a lasting brand.
The difference doesn’t necessarily mean “higher quality.” There are thousands of brands that produce a higher-quality product than the brand leader. It’s just that the brand leader has done a more effective job of demonstrating to the consumer how their product will make their life better. A quirky commercial isn’t going to get a consumer to change from one brand to another, but showing them how their life could be improved will.