Apple & Google: product or brand?

Apple and Google crowned the world's most valuable brands: how did they get there? Nir Wegrzyn for The Guardian.

  • Opinion
  • BrandOpus

As Apple and Google are crowned the world's most valuable brands, BrandOpus CEO Nir Wegrzyn explores the reasons behind their ascent on The Guardian Media Network:

Coca Cola, the world's most famous FMCG giant, has finally been dethroned from its stronghold as Interbrand's most valuable brand - a position it has held since the Interbrand ranking began 13 years ago.

Replacing it are Apple and Google - two brand names that have come to define popular culture.

The breathtaking rise of these two technological innovators signals a shift in global values, from traditionally "consumable" products to technological enablement.

More than that, though, it provides a valuable lesson for brands and branding experts in how to create a masterbrand that appeals today.

Google and Apple's expertise in innovation and new product development (NPD) is a given - valued at $93,291m (£58.5m) and $98,316m (£61.6) respectively, their stronghold in the field is indisputable.

Lay users talk of Google as "owning" the internet, as online activity becomes increasingly search-led, and as Google pulls way out in front of competitors Bing and Yahoo!

Apple, meanwhile, has ingenuously built a sense of belonging for its consumers - of setting them apart with its distinctive aesthetics. It creates a family for its users defined by the recognisable brand "look" and incomparable, consistent ease of use across its entire product range.

But what was it that put these brands on the right footing to begin with, funding the research and creativity that went into each innovation and ensuring its success at launch? The reason both brands have triumphed every time they bring a new product to market is because they have so successfully created masterbrands.

These are brands with personality; brands imbued with meaning; active brands that engage (take Google's Doodles which intelligently surprise us and stimulate curiosity, or Apple's Siri, an intelligent personal assistant capable of joking with us and providing entertainment as well as information). They promise always to return new content, to adapt and create the best experience possible for the consumer. They are on our side and, as such, we have embraced them, become brand ambassadors, fuelled their success.

Google has become so engrained in consumers' lives its name has transcended slang, becoming a recognised verb.

Meanwhile, Apple, from its icon (said to signify knowledge), to its products, promises to make users' lives better; to set them apart; to give them something they can't get elsewhere. And it is consistent in its efforts to deliver on this as a brand, both externally and internally - from product rigour to its social and environmental values.

For example, the company's entire product line exceeds US environmental specifications, and it not only powers its North Carolina data centre through the US's largest privately owned solar facility, but has set targets for 100% renewable energy across its data centres and facilities worldwide.

Equally, it has taken criticisms about worker conditions at a China-based assembly operation seriously, announcing Mac Pro will be assembled in the US.

As Interbrand writes in its report: "Every so often, a company changes our lives, not just with its products, but also with its ethos." This ethos, famously pioneered by celebrated visionary Steve Jobs and summed up in the "Think different" motto, is valuable to us as consumers because it also alters how we are perceived socially, by association.

They have made themselves indispensable, creating a genuine consumer "need" for their products across many levels - emotional, psychological and social.

They have bridged the gap between technology and the consumer, pioneering a new sense of intimacy within the sector. And this they have achieved by starting from the beginning, rigorously building their brands before applying the same rigour to their products.

From this starting point, both have appropriated that recognisable "masterbrand" cycle, with brand attracting not just consumers and sales but also talent; with talent and research fuelling new growth and with that growth leading to an increased capacity for innovation, customer insight and "getting it right."

Within the tech sector, Google and Apple aren't just at the forefront of this movement - arguably, they've pioneered it.

Sadly for them, this does not necessarily mean these brands will last forever. There will be imminent storms to weather. If Apple can stay ahead of mobile innovators such as Samsung, currently the most profitable mobile company, and Microsoft (which recently bought Nokia), it may hold the fort at number one for some time.

If it can capture the booming BRIC markets currently evading it in favour of cheaper handsets, it may even pull further ahead.

The big "if", though, is if Apple and Google alike can continue to capture the current and future desires of consumers; if they can continue to "think different". Then, they may begin to achieve recognition, not just as today's most valuable brands, but as some of the greatest masterbrands of all time.

First appeared on The Guardian's Media Network Brand Marketing Hub.

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