Every year, the marketing community’s abuzz with the latest brand rankings. The marketing world scrutinizes the who’s who – who rose and who fell, who’s new to the scene and who’s dropped off the radar. It’s the branding popularity contest.

The top names in ranking read like a VIP list: JD Power and Consumer Reports, Nielsen, Millward Brown, BusinessWeek and Fortune, Interbrand and Landor, Ogilvy.

Each ranking report has its own, carefully guarded, ranking process. And each ranking has its own metrics.  There are rankings for everything, and every ranking works differently:

  • Some research processes lean heavily on company financials
  • Others focus on consumer measures of awareness, preference, or trust
  • Some focus on trends like innovation, social media, or sustainability
  • Others focus on company culture and the workplace
  • And others on product design and development
  • And so on, and so on

All this attention awarded to the best of the best, but what does it matter?

Any ranking relies on a mix of hard data and heavy assumptions. Rankings vary in focus. And rankers all have an agenda. Rankings have been around since the advent of the branding practice and the rise of mass media, but they became increasingly popular in the last decade as companies discovered their publicity value and consultants realized their business generating potential. So it’s a win-win for the ranked companies and the ranking consultancies, but how much stock should the rest of us take in rankings?

Ranking reports are useful but inaccurate measures of the marketplace. They provide value to companies by showing them how they rank against their competitors. (Although most rankings don’t freely provide the level of detail required to understand those comparisons.) They can help identify industry movement and trends. And they can outline industry leaders. But they’re handicapped by their respective methodologies and sometimes biased by their own interests. Just imagine the politics of telling a key client they’ve fallen from the rankings. Or think about the absurdity of trying to accurately calculate branded intangible earnings. Global rankings have the tough task of attempting to capture all the intricacies of a brand across the global marketplace. And rankings that lean on company financials work under the assumption that their provided data is correct. All rankings strive for a clean measurement, but no ranking can ever be perfect. So, happy reading, but take this year’s results with a grain of salt.

For fun, we compared the results of the latest rankings across the board. If the winner is the brand appearing most at #1, most within the top 3, and most overall, then the crown goes to Google, with Apple and Microsoft tied for 2nd. But it’s really just another flawed ranking – the “winners” vary significantly in the major rankings and are inconsistently represented in social media, sustainability, and trust rankings. Rather than focusing on these superficial measures, we’d much rather focus on what really makes our brands valuable, improving how we continually and successfully manage them.