Chris Celletti
News & Views
Amazon Soars in 2017 BrandZ Brand Value Ranking

Despite 2016 being marked by political and economic turbulence, the value of the world’s top brands continued to rise.

WPP just released its annual BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking—in total, the value of the Top 100 increased by 8% from last year. Either Google or Apple has held the top spot every year since 2007, and in a repeat of last year’s list, Google ranks as the world’s most valuable brand, Apple trailing just behind.

While the battle between the behemoths at the very top is intriguing, two other segments of the BrandZ Top 100 always excite: the high-risers and newcomers.

This year’s highest-risers—those with the most year-on-year increase in value—came from a wide spate of categories. Adidas enjoyed the most rapid increase at 58%, followed by Chinese alcohol brand Moutai, which leapt 29 spots in the ranking with a 48% value increase. Amazon continues its staggering growth with a 41% increase, bringing it into the BrandZ Global Top 5 for the first time ever.

Among this year’s high-profile Global Top 100 newcomers include Netflix (#92), Snapchat (#93), Salesforce (#90), YouTube (#65), and Xfinity, who nearly cracked the top 20 in its first year in the rankings (#23).

What’s driving value in brands today? As WPP’s full report shows, the answer isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some brands find value in taking a stand or attaching themselves to a larger brand purpose, others are growing because of smart collaborations and partnerships. But looking particularly at Amazon—one of the rapid risers over the years—and newcomers like YouTube, Netflix, and Snapchat, it’s hard to ignore the importance of content.

Amazon is listed in the report as a “retail” brand. That designation is accurate, if not far too narrow. Amazon, along with its Chinese counterpart Alibaba (#14 in the Global Top 100), is going a bit the opposite of classic retail brands, beginning as a strictly e-commerce company before making a brick-and-mortar play. Amazon is looking to disrupt the grocery space through its auto-checkout Amazon Go store, and it recently opened a physical book store. The future of Amazon and Alibaba likely includes a mixture of virtual and in-person shopping, with the in-person version taking root as some sort of showroom/demonstration hub where folks try out products, purchase them, and have them delivered to their home.

But Amazon is growing tremendously because of its forays into other areas that you wouldn’t consider a “retail” brand to take. While Amazon’s Alexa is used with physical products that Amazon manufactures and sells directly to the consumer, Alexa is also clearly a technology play. Voice recognition and command is likely to only keep improving, and the fierce competition therein places Amazon in lanes next to Google and Apple, ostensibly “tech” giants.

Amazon has also become a massive player in entertainment, or “content” (to use the right buzzword). Amazon Studios is now an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Oscar winner, producing, creating, and/or distributing projects like “Transparent” and “Manchester by the Sea”. Netflix has produced its share of award-winning television series, but it’s taken a bit of a quantity over quantity approach. The sheer amount of original programming that the streaming video service has invested in surely contributed to its inclusion in the Top 100.

This coming fall, Amazon will also begin live-streaming the NFL’s Thursday Night Football. Live sports are one of television’s last true drivers, and there have long been rumors that Google, Apple, Amazon and/or Netflix might try to get in on the appointment-viewing bonanza, pushing out traditional television networks. Amazon doesn’t have exclusive rights—the Thursday contests will still be available on television—but it’s a high-profile trial run. Regardless, Amazon is clearly trying to find its way into consumers’ lives at nearly every turn, and those investments are pulling it closer in alignment with true tech giants.

“The future of all brands looks like Amazon,” says J. Walker Smith, Executive Chairman of Kantar Futures, in the full WPP report. “[Amazon] intends to disintermediate every brand from every consumer. Increasingly, the sort of technology dominance that Amazon has—one that is fast-becoming the norm of success in the digital era—will play out in ways that make Amazon the only brand that matters to people.”

Even if Amazon becoming the only brand people care about is unlikely, their be-everywhere model is one that all large tech, retail, and telecom companies will likely try to replicate. It seems only a matter of time before Apple becomes a major player in original content. In fact, Apple just released its first foray into original programming, the app-contest reality series “Planet of the Apps” (to tepid reviews). YouTube, of course, represents Google’s original content offerings, but scripted television and/or film projects may soon arrive. If you have a piece of the underlying technology, the delivery mechanism, and the curation, why cede the distribution and production business to other people?

If the former online bookstore is winning Emmys and Oscars, the former computer company surely can, too.

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