What makes Apple the most valuable brand on the planet?

It is something I could have betted and won money on when I saw people queuing outside the Apple Store on the night before a new shipment of iPads arrived at the Hong Kong Plaza Apple store in Shanghai. Apple has had retail presence for less than a year on this road. When I see all those people tuned into those white i- Phones in any airport, train or even bus stand I could have confirmed – Apple is the most valuable brand on earth.

The latest ‘BrandZ’ study by global brands agency Millward Brown places Apple at the top, pushing last year’s top dog Google to No.2 spot. Brand experts may claim that the launch of the iPad was the key factor in Apple’s stunning rise up the table with an 84 per cent rise in its estimated value. In third place until last year, it now holds a clear lead at 153.3bn $. I would however debate the reason why Apple got here from a No 29 position just 4 years ago when it launched its iPhone. If you ask a 7 year old why he likes Apple he will tell you it’s “cool”. The launch of the iPhone and iPad cemented Apple’s reputation of being cutting edge and cool, a personality its loyal followers across the world assume with the purchase of an Apple product.

The one factor that could have possibly determined the success of Apple is its consistency thanks to its integrated approach. Apple has espoused consistency in design whether in its Mac, iPod, iPhone or iPad. But with design came consistency in service with the opening of its stand alone stores. Today the cult has a Mecca to visit, experience and hang out in the cities where Apple has opened its stores. Symbolism and value based marketing seems to succeed in today’s “I” world more than ever and the success of Apple reaffirms this formula. If you compare luxury brand Louis Vuitton which sits at No 24 in the rankings this year one can see some similarities in the approach to retail – complete control of every aspect of the supply chain, from manufacturing to management of retail stores. Like Louis Vuitton, Apple controls its stand-alone mausoleums – its larger than life steel and grey retail stores in order to provide a superlative customer experience which keeps browsers and buyers coming back for more of the Apple experience -an experience that they have never really wanted but discover through their journey with Apple. Apple has also never listened to the customer but rather has defined where the customer needs to go. It has truly been the change that Apple has passionately wanted to see in the world.

Can other brands blindly emulate the Apple formula? I believe not. Companies need to define their own clear and simple raison d’être. That should drive the actions and decisions of every employee, from the C-suite down. Many could argue Apple’s success lies in its innovation culture.The bad news for anyone looking to foster a design or innovation-driven culture within an enterprise that doesn’t at heart “get” it is that in Apple, design and innovation (is better and not just new products) are acknowledged and embraced as core values by every employee. Just having identity manuals reinforcing points of philosophy won’t gain traction. Like in Apple these values need to be institutionalized. In other words, unless the commitment to innovation or design is authentic and internalized, rather than the short-term strategy to cater to a hot trend, it will be next to impossible to build a true, innovation-led culture (and emulate Apple’s success.)

The other aspect that cannot be ignored is Apple’s approach to talent acquisition – the people who translate the culture of consistency and passion to a superlative customer experience. It is common knowledge that Apple scouts for only the best talent and some recruitments take as long as 2 years to materialize. The People, Passion and Profit cult model is what seems to work for Apple in building unparalleled loyalty and profits today. And it is the cult that makes Apple the most powerful brand on the planet.

As an aside it is interesting to see how emerging market companies are breaking through in increasing numbers in the rankings. China Mobile, the biggest telecoms firm in China, is now the ninth most valuable brand, worth $57.3bn, and Baidu.com, the Chinese equivalent of Google, has risen to $22.5bn thanks to Google’s exit from the country. Given that it took Apple a little over 4 years to get to No 1 we could speculate that it may not be long before a Chinese brand marches to the No 1 position?

Bite into an Apple if you can!

About Prasanna Bhaskar

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