By Peter Walshe, Global BrandZ Director, Millward Brown

An analysis of the brands that have held the number 8 spot in the BrandZ Top 100 ranking of the Most Valuable Global Brands since it was first launched in 2006 has revealed the factors that are most instrumental in building a strong, sustainable brand.

Meaningful difference and relevance play the biggest part in a brand that can consistently command a price premium and drive revenue and business growth — all of the number 8 brands strive to innovate and reinvent themselves to stay relevant to consumers and set themselves apart from the competition.

The enduring success of IBM (no.8 in 2006, no.3 in 2013), still the most valuable B2B brand in the world today, illustrates how strong brands are more stable and sustainable. Its leadership philosophy has always been based on being meaningfully different at all stages of its long life. IBM has had many golden moments: from developing artificial intelligence in 1956 with the IBM 704, to being involved with the technology that landed the first man on the moon, and creating the industry standard in the 1980s for personal computing.

But it has never stood still. It continually reinvents itself to stay relevant to the needs of the day, and its new focus on high value government and corporate business and ‘Smarter Planet’ positioning is in perfect harmony with the spirit of the times. The brand is rated on BrandZ as one of the top 10 brands worldwide in ‘leadership’ and ‘responsibility’.

Citibank (no.8 in 2007, no.64 in 2013), which has been generating wealth since 1812, was the first bank to introduce automated teller machines (ATMs) in the 1970s. Along with many other banks it was hit by the financial crisis, but has rallied with a 37% increase in brand value in 2013 to rise 18 places up the Top 100 ranking. BrandZ data suggests that customers and potential customers regard Citibank as a fairly ‘assertive’ brand that provides a good financial return in good times.

McDonald’s (no.8 in 2008, no.4 in 2013) has worked hard at making its offer more relevant for today, with improvements in outlets and the introduction of a wider and healthier range of products. It has been in the Top 10 ever since the BrandZ ranking started. According to BrandZ data it’s seen as a fun, friendly, great value brand which is strongly differentiated in a meaningful way.

General Electric (G.E.) (no.8 in 2009, no.11 in 2013) has made a very successful business out of sophisticated support and infrastructure for business, with a slogan that sums the brand up: ‘Imagination at work’. Personality data from BrandZ rates the brand strongly for being ‘creative’.

The most valuable Asian brand, and the first brand from the BRICs to make it into the Top 100, China Mobile (no.8 in 2010, no.10 in 2013) has the most mobile subscribers on the planet — and it was only formed in 1997. Although consumers generally ascribe more rational attributes to telecommunications companies, they see China Mobile as ‘different’, ‘wise’ and ‘kind’ — indicating it has established a warm bond with its customers. In fact, it is rated amongst the top 10 most recommended brands by users across the Top 100 most valuable brands, suggesting that it consistently delivers on its promise.

Marlboro (no.8 in 2011 and 2013) is seen by consumers as adventurous, brave and a little bit of a rebel.

AT&T (no.8 in 2012, no.6 in 2013) has benefited from the expansion of telecommunications needs from voice to data, rising from the 73rd most valuable brand in the world position in 2006. The advent of the iPhone, and then the iPad, have acted as a catalyst for the brand’s growth. AT&T is seen as a leadership brand: assertive and in control, but with a good corporate reputation.

The continued success of these brands reinforces the importance of brand as a source of sustainable competitive advantage for businesses. This analysis looked specifically at the number 8 brands in order to give a representative slice of how the most valuable brands have fared since 2006. Taking a broader view, the total value of the Top 100 brands has increased on average around 8% year on year since then. Furthermore, the fact that there are so many different categories in the ranking shows that Top 100 success is open to any brand that works to understand consumers’ needs and makes itself genuinely meaningfully different.

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