Each year, I look forward to the annual report on the world’s most valuable and strongest brands, published by brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance. It is a detailed document that ranks the top 500 brands on our planet and analyses key patterns and shifts in the brandscape.

Top brands of 2021

In the 2021 Brand Finance Report, some of the findings are not unexpected. Apple has been ranked as the world’s most valuable brand; in India, Tata occupies the top rank. Both are venerable brands that have reinvented themselves time and again, even as they have stuck to their core purposes, articulated by their respective founders. This appears to be a timeless formula for success, and marketers should take note.

I was also proud to see 12 Indian brands in the global top 500 ranks. Apart from Tata, there is LIC, Infosys, Reliance, HDFC Bank, Airtel, State Bank of India, HCL, Mahindra Group, Jio, Indian Oil Corporation and Wipro. Here’s hoping our Swadeshi tribe of “top brands” swells in the years ahead, particularly as many new-age Indian start-ups come of age.

Globally, Apple is followed in the rankings by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Walmart, Facebook, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Verizon and WeChat. In the top 10, there is a near-total dominance of the modern technology brands that have come to rule our lives.

Technology on top

The first big trend that leaps out from the report is that technology rules, with an aggregate brand value outstripping every other industry — retail, banking, automobiles, engineering, telecom or apparel. Clearly, technology is delivering great value to consumers, and the sector is also pursuing relentless innovation to stay ahead. Apple’s move into digital and subscription services Apple Music and Apple Arcade is a powerful illustration. So is Amazon’s foray into air logistics, the health sector with the launch of Amazon Pharmacy, and the fitness tracker Halo.

Sustainability is big

A second key trend is the clear preference for brands which are good for the planet. Sustainability is big. The most powerful illustration of this trend comes from the list of the fastest growing brands. Electric cars company Tesla’s value zoomed, with an amazing 158 per cent growth over last year, primarily due to increasing consumer and regulatory preference for electric cars with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Europe’s fastest growing brand, E.ON, also highlights this trend. This German utilities giant, with its strong push for renewable energy, has grown its brand value by a handsome 59 per cent within a year.

Reputation goes up and down

At all times, and particularly during uncertain times such as the pandemic, reputation is all-important, because consumers gravitate towards brands they deeply trust. The Brand Finance survey reveals that reputation has behaved very differently across sectors this year. FMCG brands, of food or cosmetics, have enjoyed the highest reputation worldwide, and in India, as they delivered consistent quality, they also catered to the increasing need for health and overall wellness.

On the other hand, technology brands were admired, but not universally. YouTube, Google and Apple enjoy sterling reputations, but brands like Facebook and Amazon now have a mixed reputation, which is also polarised across markets. At the bottom of the reputation ladder, bank brands struggle, ranking lowest for trust. Seven of the ten lowest-ranked brands for reputation are banks. This finding will resonate in India too, after the banking failures and scams of the past few years.

Home is where the money is

Over the past year, the home has become the epicentre of our lives — for living, working, studying, entertainment, and virtually everything else. Therefore, e-commerce brands which have focused on quick, convenient deliveries of products to our homes have thrived hugely during the year. Apart from Amazon, Alibaba, Taobao, Tmall, JD.com, Rakuten have enjoyed impressive growths. Equally, brick-and-mortar retailers who have invested significantly in e-commerce, such as Walmart and Target, have also gained. Digital streaming brands bringing entertainment and video gaming into our homes, such as Netflix, Spotify and Electronic Arts, have gained in value significantly during the year.

The rising importance of technology, sustainability, trust and home is the key takeaway for marketers.


Harish Bhat


The writer is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. These are his personal views