Brand valuation: Brilliant or Bullshit?
Following a recent column from Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson calling into question the validity of brand valuations, three of the largest valuation companies joined him on the B2B stage at The Festival of Marketing to defend the process.
In his column “What is the point of brand valuations if those doing the valuing are so off target?” for Marketing Week earlier this year, Ritson argued that if the industry experts can’t agree on the value of something within $100bn then “it’s time to declare the value of valuation to be nil”.
Brand Finance, Interbrand and Millward Brown joined Ritson on stage to argue their case for why there are such major differences in their valuations.
All three also explained why the delegates in the room should ignore Ritson’s analysis as putting a value on a brand is vital for the marketing industry to be seen to drive business growth.
Mark Ritson, associate professsor and Marketing Week columnist
Michael Rocha, global director of brand valuation at Interbrand
Doreen Wang, global head of BrandZ at Millward Brown
David Haigh, founder and CEO of Brand Finance
Who do you agree with? Let us know below.
The Festival of Marketing is this year running on the 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here
It is instructive that none started off with any definition of a brand as it would have been nice to know what exactly they were talking about. Mark Ritson has been unable to provide one in the past and Interbrand have stated that their ‘definition’ is that a brand is “a business asset”. This is just an accounting description which gets one nowhere in terms of the essence of a brand, which is the foundation for any discussion. That’s why we have dictionaries, so everyone has a clear idea as to what concept is being discussed.
At least Doreen Wang, despite all her bombast, did talk of emotional relationship. But then she said they were measuring it, which appears a bit like trying to nail custard to the wall.
Ritson’s complaint about inconsistency is superficial as he fails to recognise the central flaw of the valuations. However many meretricious veils are laid over them, they all have a subjective root. Anything that has such a basis is bound to show variations. Apple was valued at $3 million in 1978 by venture capitalists. Yet by the end of 1980, less than a month after its initial public offering, it had a stock market value of $1.8 billion. That’s the inherent hazard of subjective valuations. l’m surprised Ritson doesn’t realise this.
Unfortunately the media is complicit in this nonsense as they usually report the annual valuations as though it was some sort of hit parade. The one difference is that the latter are based on actual sales, not on the musings of so-called experts. Michael Rocha did admit that the valuations were merely opinions. It’s about time the press took a reality check and reported them as such.
I would say Ritson is clearly confusing brand value with either purchase or enterprise value of a business. I agree with Haigh there and if he decides to unpick Markables’ analysis it will easily cost Ritson in credibility terms. But he is right to ask for some answers on the other 2 questions – why are they so far apart in valuing some top brands (esp. if they all follow ISO) and why do they not care to explain the difference and/or defend their methodology as the closest? Because that is key. They owe this to us, or otherwise clearly at least 1 if not 2 out of the 3’s methods are the proverbial ‘bulls**t’. They clearly hope by remaining silent, we won’t find out which ones (the story of marketing, anyway ;-).
The question about brand valuation is not if it is brilliant or bullshit. Brand
valuation is totally normal. Several hundreds of thousands of brands are valued every year – the vast majority for accounting and finance and in secrecy. In this business, the significance of the three self-appointed leading firms is minor. This is a matter of social credibility of non-accounting experts. In
contrast, the three firms have important shares in brand valuation for brand
management purposes, and they dominate the press and the public discussion. Isn’t communication key in marketing?
All three firms emphasize two aspects which can hardly add up. First, they tell us that brand valuation is the clue that brings marketing into the boardroom. Second, they tell us that brand valuation is not more than an opinion and must necessarily vary. Mark Ritson gave an impression by how far. Well, if marketing really wants to find its place in the boardroom, brand valuations should then be far more reliable and precise; otherwise they will not satisfy finance and accounting.
The comparison and justification with equity analysts is nonsense. An equity analyst does guesswork about future developments. A certified valuator (of a business or a brand or any other asset) looks at all the relevant facts that are known today, including all internal trade secrets. The major difference which separates the two is a) a clear valuation mandate, b) a professional standard for both the mandate and the valuation itself (including a confidentiality statement), and most importantly c) due diligence. While the analyst has to rely on publicly available information only, the valuator has in-depth internal information. One results in an estimation, the other in an in-depth expert opinion. The difference is huge.
Moreover, a financial brand valuation addresses CMO and CFO, but not stock market investors. Fund managers, traders or private investors may base their decisions on analyst estimations, but they diversify the risk attached to it. In contrast, the CFO decides on different things, like budget allocation. He expects credibility and reliability, and strong investment cases for the brand. Most CMOs are not any different.
The problem (or the bullshit) of brand valuation is the rankings and league tables. They are unsolicited guesswork without due diligence – like what equity analysts are doing – which does not help to improve credibility. Unfortunately, parts of the marketing and branding community are fascinated by it – measuring brand value independent of finance and accounting. That is still a long way to go. Measuring return on branding investments is even longer. Meanwhile, we should stop reading the rankings. Insofar I fully agree with Jonathan.
If you’d like to know more about why Mark is wrong, you can read my complete response to his critique here: http://interbrand.com/views/wheres-the-value-in-brand-valuation-addressing-the-debate/
The inconsistencies among suppliers cited by Ritson are part of the reason the
Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) has developed an empirically
proven model for valuing brands & guiding investment decisions. An 18-month
tracking study of 120 brands was used to identify a cornerstone brand strength
metric and validate a practical model for brand valuation. MASB strove to
remain impartial and transparent in developing the model and will share it
openly through publications and podiums. This MASB project also provides a
roadmap for monitoring marketing investment return and bringing financial rigor
to the marketing budgeting and authorization processes. Also noteworthy and to
their credit, MASB members Millward-Brown and Brand Finance have been willing participants in MASB efforts to address opportunities to build better standards for marketing accountability.