Using digital platforms to deliver a seamless, consistent and innovative experience for consumers is key to setting up businesses for future growth, according to the 2016 FutureBrand Index, shown exclusively to Marketing Week.
Google emerges as the most future-orientated brand, with 89% of the 3,000 respondents interviewed across 17 countries agreeing the company will drive innovation forward over the next three years. And it would have topped the FutureBrand ranking, with 50% of respondents strongly agreeing it has all the necessary attributes, if it was not for its move last year to bring the Google brand under the control of less well known parent company Alphabet.
This quirk means it is actually Apple that claims the number one spot in the the 2016 FutureBrand Index.
Alphabet comes in at number 21, highlighting a serious perception issue in comparison to the strength of the Google brand. For example, when given the choice, 49% of the sample agree they would like to work for Google, with 50% confirming they would buy its products and services.
To determine if a company is a ‘future brand’, the index builds a detailed ‘perception profile’ of each of the world’s 100 most valuable companies, as ranked by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), on which it is Alphabet rather than Google that is listed. Each company is rated across 18 attributes, ranging from its capacity to innovate to its ability to build an emotional connection. Companies with an above average score in both purpose and experience are deemed to have the most potential for future growth.
From tech giants and entertainment companies to healthcare specialists, the number of businesses classed as ‘future brands’ increased from 21 in 2015 to 24 in 2016.
Apple is followed by Microsoft, Samsung, Walt Disney, pharmaceutical firm AbbVie, Facebook, Toyota, Amazon and biopharmaceutical companies Celgene and Gilead Sciences, which make up the rest of top 10.
Apple also claims the top spot in the tech sector, boasting the strongest brand perceptions for attachment, trust, purpose, thought leadership and price premium, as well as impressing customers with the engagement of its staff. Over half the sample (58%) credit Apple with having individuality.
Microsoft is praised by 58% of respondents for leading the way in innovation. Disney ranks highest for storytelling (56%) and the pleasure associated with its brand (63%), coming out top in the consumer services sector.
Attention shifts away from tech
Having paved the way for innovation, the tech sector sees positive perceptions slow and attention turn to consumer services businesses such as Disney, with perception strength in this sector up 10% in 2016 compared with 2015.
“Tech firms like Google and Apple are at the forefront of the initial revolution and created the infrastructure for other firms to capitalise on in a world of newly connected customers,” explains FutureBrand global head of strategy Tom Adams.
“With tech companies having led the way consumer services businesses have now caught up and are getting the credit they deserve.”
It is also the first time businesses in the financial service sector benefit from a softening of consumer opinion, experiencing the largest overall perception increase, albeit from a low base. Adams attributes this softening to an appreciation among consumers of the attempts made by financial services companies to contribute to society, as well improve their digital capabilities.
While perceptions around purpose and thought leadership are stagnant, the importance of businesses offering a seamless and consistent experience increases for consumers, helping forge stronger bonds with brands. Respondents are not only concerned by how the brand improves their own life, but crucially about its values as an employer.
“If organisations don’t catch up and offer a seamless proposition, bringing together purpose and experience, perceptions could be affected,” cautions Adams.
He acknowledges the commercial impact consumer perceptions have on business success. Those brands that help consumers buy in new ways, for example, strengthen the perception that they are at the forefront of change, while the use of new technology affects them financially by helping consumers transact.
Leading the way
Amazon enjoys the most significant positive shift over the past three years, benefitting from a perception among consumers of being strong in innovation, individuality and purpose. Of those questioned, 40% praise Amazon for its consistency and ability to stand out from the competition, while 41% see the company as an innovation leader.
The timing of this increase in positive perception ties in with Amazon Prime’s foray into video, music and storage, as well as its move into grocery with Amazon Fresh and next day delivery with Prime Now.
“Amazon offers a connected experience and benefits from having a strong purpose to become the world’s most customer-centric company, meaning Amazon gets credit for being innovative and consistent,” says Adams.
He believes Amazon’s significant progress over the past three years shows companies that in 2017 they need to focus on delivering a strong purpose and understand how the experience touches customers and employees alike.