Which brands are “meaningful” to consumers? Not very many.

What makes a brand “meaningful”? Multinational advertising, PR and research firm Havas SA has studied this topic for the past decade, conducting a survey every other year in which it attempts to rate the world’s most important brands based on consumer responses to questions about select key brand attributes.

According to Maarten Albarda, the methodology behind the Havas surveys is solid:

“It looks at three brand pillars: personal benefits; collective benefits, and functional benefits — and then adds in 13 dimensions like environment, emotional, social, ethics, etc. plus 52 attributes such as ‘saves time,’ ‘makes me happier,’ ‘delivers on its promises,’ etc.”

The Havas research is both global and quantitative — including more than 350,000 respondents in over 30 countries.

The 2019 Havas research shows that ~77% of the 1,800 brands studied don’t cut it with consumers. This finding came in response to the question of whether consumers would care if the brands disappeared tomorrow.

That’s the biggest disparity ever seen in the Havas surveys. Two years ago, the percentage was 74%.

Which brands perform best with consumers? The top five ranked for 2019 are the following:

  • #1 Google
  • #2 PayPal
  • #3 Mercedes-Benz
  • #4 WhatsApp
  • #5 YouTube

Four of these five are brands that are all about “utility” — helping consumers deal with actions (watching, searching and sharing). The odd one out here is Mercedes-Benz — suggesting that there is something enduring about the time-tested reputation for “German engineering.”

What’s equally interesting is which high-profile brands don’t crack the Top 30. I’m somewhat surprised that we don’t see the likes of Apple and Coca-Cola in the group.  On the other hand, Johnson & Johnson comes in at #6, which seems surprising to me because I doubt that J&J has the same kind of consumer awareness as many other brands.

The Havas research reveals that the highest ranked brands are ones that score well on purchase intent and the justification of carrying a premium price. Repurchase scores are also higher, making it clear that a meaningful brand translates into meaningful business benefits.

In addition to reporting on international results, Havas also releases a U.S. analysis. Historically, U.S. consumers have been even more parsimonious in choosing to bestow a “meaningful” attribution on brands.  In fact, the percentage of American consumers earmarking specific brands as indispensable hovers around 10%, compared to the mid-20s across the rest of the world.

The reason why is quite logical: American consumers tend to have more brand choices — and the more choices there are, the less any one brand would cause consternation if it disappeared tomorrow.

Click here for more reporting and conclusions from the Havas research.

One thought on “Which brands are “meaningful” to consumers? Not very many.

  1. A brand is helped most if it can remain consistent in delivering what people love it for. Brooks Brothers, for instance, was once the business standard for attractive power clothing. It delivered better value for the money than expensive rivals, with no styling gimmicks and unquestioned elegance. You didn’t have to think about it. You just went there. Abraham Lincoln was shot wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, and that was good enough.

    Unfortunately for such a store, life has become less hierarchical and rank-based. What people wear these days would more appropriately be called “equipment”, and there is no special Brooks Brothers tradition for windbreakers and backpacks worth hanging the company name on. In the attempt to keep up with these informal trends, Brooks changed the cuts of its sports jackets, slacks and suits. The traditional customer might as well now abandon brand loyalty and start shopping at Target, Old Navy, Lacoste, Nautica and Men’s Wearhouse. The Brooks Brothers name means little any more.

    Another example would be watch brands. Nothing is lonelier than a watch counter at a department store. An icon like Patek Philippe retains its reputation for beautifully jeweled spring movements. That’s like collecting antique cars, though. Most customers know perfectly well that battery operated watches tell time better and all equally well. Many famous timepiece names, like Movado, are now nothing more than indicators of what the watch face might look like.

    Brands are no longer unique signs and markers on the social ladder. We’ve gone from “hand-made” to “hand-crafted” … to “Who cares who made it?” And the odd thing is, our clothes fit better than ever, and our punctuality is perfect, even if we have no tailor and can’t remember the brand name of our watch or TV set — both of which work better than ever before.

    And we’re more productive ever, even if we look like hell without a tie. What’s the world coming to?!

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