The four growth pillars that connect the UK’s strongest brands

Communication, innovation, responsibility and experience have been identified as the key drivers of the UK’s most valuable brands.

The ability to communicate creatively, innovate meaningfully, build brands responsibly and deliver great experiences have been singled out as the four things that drive strong brand relationships.

These four pillars, which all relate to being “meaningfully different”, have been identified by Kantar as part of its BrandZ analysis of the UK’s top 75 most valuable brands for 2021.

For example, if a brand is strong in terms of its communications it is more likely to be deemed a meaningfully different brand by the consumer.

Brands that perform well on the ‘communicate creatively’ pillar index a score of 117 for their overall meaningful difference, 17% higher than typical brands, while those that score poorly under that pillar index at 88, 12% worse than the average brand.

Cadbury, which is 16 in the ranking after increasing its brand value by 26%, is a brand which is perceived to be very strong at advertising. But there are a number of others that perform well in the UK, such as Compare the Market (48 in the ranking), GoCompare, Yorkshire Tea, Churchill and Lloyds.

Deliveroo (up 58% to 25) and Just Eat (11, which is classed as a new entry for 2021 following its merger with also fall into this category of creating creative content that differentiates their brands.

Source: Kantar BrandZ

“They have built these perceptions of being creative, but what both of them have also done through investment and high quality campaigns is increase perceptions of the quality of their marketing and advertising over the past few years,” explains Martin Guerrieria, global head of research at BrandZ.

“They’ve both had really successful campaigns and are examples of brands in a space that is becoming more commoditised, using their communications and content as a means of differentiation when it is harder in this sector to differentiate through product.”

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When it comes to innovation, it’s about innovation that’s going to make that meaningful difference versus competitors, rather than innovation for innovation’s sake.

The data suggests brands that are deemed to be strong at innovation score 21% higher for their overall meaningful difference, compared to brands that are poor, which are 14% worse than the average brand.

Guerrieria highlights Dyson (up 4% to 21 in the ranking) as an example of a brand with innovation at its core. Other brands that do well in this area are Octopus Energy, Monzo, Gymshark, Innocent and BrewDog.

“Within their respective categories they perform really well in terms of their perceived innovative power. And it adds impetus to all those brands that are strong in equity terms as well,” he explains.

Taking responsibility

Brands that do well on the ‘build brand responsibly’ pillar index a score of 110, so are 10% better than the average brand at their overall meaningful difference. This compares to those brands that are poor on the responsibility front, which score 83 – 17% lower than the average brand.

Being a responsible brand and taking the necessary steps to limit environmental impact is increasingly moving up the brand agenda, but it needn’t always be the main focus for marketing communication as it is just one part of the puzzle.

“Corporate social responsibility explains about 10% of a brand’s equity, so yes it is important, but it’s not everything – unless you’re Patagonia,” says Adele Joliffe, head of brand consultants at Kantar. “If you’re a big, mainstream, established brand, you can’t just be completely myopically focused on responsibility and sustainability. But it is growing in importance.”

Indeed, being perceived to be socially and environmentally responsible is now three times more important to a brand’s corporate perceptions than it was 10 years ago.

“It’s definitely on an upward trajectory, but we shouldn’t be mistaken in thinking that’s everything now. It’s got to be a blend of brilliant delivery, brilliant associations and the affinity that you have,” she adds.

“But people do now expect you to be a bit more of a good citizen. You no longer make the choice of driving growth and doing good – you have to do both, and that’s the big tension brand owners are trying to figure out.”

While fast fashion retailers like Boohoo (up 35% to 73) and Asos (up 65% to 27) have disruptive business models and are growing rapidly, they have been called out for some of their working practices and negative environmental impact.

A lot of businesses think [sustainability is] something they actively need to talk about and shout from the rooftops, and it’s really not.

Martin Guerrieria, BrandZ

When Boohoo was accused of modern-day slavery its share price took an immediate hit, but it did not suppress sales. Nevertheless, the brand has taken steps to improve its reputation in this area, linking the bonuses of senior executives to ethical improvements, including workers’ rights.

The BrandZ data shows Boohoo is improving in some areas, with its score for employee responsibility up from 96 to 102, for example, but it is still considered to be among the least responsible apparel brands in the UK.

Meanwhile, Asos has also introduced measures to help improve supply chain transparency, requiring the brands it sells to sign up to four ethical manufacturing pledges. Moves such as this are helping to shift the dial, with its score for supply chain responsibility rising from 98 in 2020 to 103 this year.

But while acting responsibly is an area that is critically important and one which brands should invest in, Guerrieria points out that investing in sustainability and having it at the centre of your marketing strategy are two very different things.

“If you can’t realistically own a particular area in the space versus your competitors, then it shouldn’t be at the heart of your marketing strategy,” he says. “If it can’t make your brand meaningfully different versus the rest then [it’s not necessarily where investment should be focused]. A lot of businesses think it’s something they actively need to talk about and shout from the rooftops, and it’s really not.”

The last of the four pillars is experience, which is about delivering a stronger experience across all touchpoints.

Brands with a solid experience are 25% more likely than average to be seen as meaningfully different, while those that score poorly under this pillar index at 87, 13% worse than the typical brand.

While brands that improved their online experience over the course of the pandemic have reaped the rewards, brands with an appealing in-store experience have also managed to attract customers back through their doors.

B&M (70) and Dunelm (67), which both entered the ranking for the first time in 2021, are good examples of this, Guerrieria says, while JD Sports (63), another new entry, has performed well on both the in-person and online experience.

Ocado is another brand that performs particularly well on experience, and continues to disrupt the retail landscape. But alongside this it has been very focused on improving consumer relationships and has refreshed its brand identity from green to purple, which is designed to be more eye-catching, particularly in a digital environment.

As a result, Ocado’s brand value has increased 72% compared to last year, pushing it up to 13 in the ranking.

Another brand within the grocery space that has performed very well this year is Tesco, up 33%, which pushes it past BT, BP, Sky and Lipton into 4th place.Tesco on how Covid-19 helped it to ‘really be at its best’

“Tesco has the strongest brand experience in the sector and that’s really because it has very strong customer care credentials and a very strong range for customers,” says global BrandZ manager, Ellie Thorpe. “It has improved its difference [up five points to 100 compared to last year] and one of the reasons is it has really focused on this brand experience.”

“When we have a look at the kind of communications it has had over the past year, it focused on two things. The first is restrictions and procedures in store to make sure everyone has been safe, and the second is its ‘Food Love Stories’, which meant it wanted people at home to have the best possible experience of Tesco as well.”

On a recent call with investors, Tesco CEO Ken Murphy highlighted the importance of experience within the marketing mix, suggesting communication can only get you so far.

“One of the great lessons that you learn about brand marketing and retail is that greater than 80% of brand perception is driven from the store experience or from the online experience, rather than any marketing communication,” he said.

Source: Kantar BrandZ

About the BrandZ ranking

Kantar BrandZ™ is the global currency when assessing brand value, quantifying the contribution of brands to business’ financial performance. Kantar’s annual global and local brand valuation rankings combine rigorously analysed financial data, with extensive brand equity research. Since 1998, BrandZ has shared brand-building insights with business leaders based on interviews with 4 million consumers.

The study includes the opinions of over 150,000 UK consumers, with the UK brands in the list all meeting these eligibility criteria:

  • The brand must originally have been created in the UK and be owned by an enterprise listed on the London Stock Exchange / or a recognized stock exchange.
  • The brand must originally have been created in the UK and be owned by an enterprise listed on the London Stock Exchange / or a recognized stock exchange.
  • English unicorn brands have their most recent valuation publicly available.