8 Lessons for Challenger Brands From the Top 100 Global Brands

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Earlier this week, WPP and Millward Brown released the annual “BrandZTM Top 100 Most Valuable Brands Ranking.” The news this year is that Apple jumped Google for the #1 spot; the top ten is rounded out by Microsoft, IBM, Visa, AT&T, Verizon, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Marlboro. (The press release, with links to more information, can be found here.)

The Top Ten – according to Millward Brown.

Such lists can serve merely as conversation-starters, like discussing with your friends the top five live albums of all time.*** But for those of us who didn’t make this ranking, there’s much to be learned. Below, I offer eight lessons, inspired by this list, that challenger brands can apply.

Keep your own scorecard.

Most of us can’t dream of our brand appearing on this list. And we shouldn’t. We should be focused on the game we can win.

Back in the ‘90s, I was a brand manager at Van Melle, the company that brought the world the (in)famous “Mentos, the Freshmaker” campaign. Year after year, big-agency creative directors voted the “Freshmaker” ads as among the worst on TV – and year after year, Mentos sales grew by double digits. For a while, Mentos Mint was the fastest-selling mint in the country. Which ranking really mattered?

What’s on your brand’s scorecard? Maybe it’s achieving the highest productivity of any realtor in your county. Or selling more motorcycles than any other dealership in western Michigan. What’s the meaningful game you can win?

Interrogate the numbers.

Millward Brown’s isn’t the only such brand ranking – among others, Interbrand also produces one, utilizing a different methodology and generating a different list. They’ve done the heavy lifting, but it’s up to us to decide whether we agree with their approach.

Before we accept any piece of data, we must understand its source. If you’ve ever stepped into a new role, you were probably presented with information that you instinctively challenged: “Where did that number come from? How do we know that?” Don’t lose this habit. It’s valuable for brand-building, politically-charged Facebook posts and a host of other things.

Consistency matters…

Many of the brands on this list have been around for decades. They’ve evolved, but around a core idea. Successful challenger brands know the value of consistency – and that it’s criminally underestimated.

…But so does innovation.

The list is also peppered with young, disruptive brands. The world is changing, and that’s an opportunity for challenger brands. Including yours.

No brand is invincible.

Chinese e-commerce titan Alibaba entered this ranking at #13 – ahead of Walmart and, shockingly, Amazon. Challenger brands, take heart! No brand is so powerful that it can’t be successfully challenged.

Brand perceptions are subjective. 

While this list strives for an objective measure of value, not a person in the world would rank their 100 favorite brands the same way. Brands are built through experiences, one person at a time. Think about the brands that you trust – what can be applied to building your own brand?

The power of brands is beyond dispute.

Millward Brown reports that the total combined value of their Top 100 is $3.3 trillion. Even if this estimate is off by half, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Some business leaders still think of branding as “fuzzy, unnecessary stuff,” but almost every brand on this list commands a spot in the mind. Should you aspire to anything less?

Bigness is not the goal of challenger brands. “Bestness” is.

To make a list like this, a brand has to do something meaningfully different for someone. There’s just no other way. Challenger brands, what are you best at?  How can your brand improve someone’s life?  Focus on that, and you’re well on your way to finding the space that only you can own.

***The top five live albums of all time, by the way, are The Who’s “Live at Leeds,” Lambchop’s “Live at XX Merge,” Sam Cooke’s “One Night Stand! Live at the Harlem Square Club 1963,” My Morning Jacket’s “Okonokos,” and “Ellington at Newport.”

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2015 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

A version of this post originally appeared at BizJournals.com with the title “8 Lessons Underdog Brands Can Learn From the Top 100 Global Brands.”