As the economy slumps, a company's brand becomes its most solid asset, according to an industry report listing Google Inc., Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Zara International Inc. and Nintendo Co. as having the fastest-rising global brands.
In the report, released Thursday evening by brand consultancy Interbrand, Coca-Cola Co.'s image was most valuable overall for the eighth year in a row. Interbrand ranked brands according to the amount of a company's revenue that was attributable to them.
Google, whose brand's value rose the most, released new features such as Google Mobile, Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Google Book Search that Interbrand said extended reach and increased the brand's worth by $25.59 billion.
In April, U.K.-based branding and research company Millward Brown Optimor chose Google for the second year in a row as its top brand, while ranking Coca-Cola fourth. Both companies factor in a company's performance when determining its brand's value.
Ford Motor Co.'s, Citigroup Inc.'s, Morgan Stanley's, Gap Inc.'s and Merrill Lynch's brands' values fell the most in Interbrand's ratings.
Merrill Lynch suffered colossal losses in the credit crisis before by Bank of America bought it out this week. Those vagaries pushed down the value of Merrill's brand by $11.4 billion, according to the report.
Amid economic weakness, a valued brand needs to discount less if its customers are willing to spend more based on their belief the value it offers for their dollar, Harvard Business School professor Nancy Koehn wrote in the report.
Many chief executives overlook the importance of brands during uncertain economic times, often slashing investments in brands in an effort to cut costs, but that is shortsighted, she said.
More than half the marketers who answered a July survey by the American Marketing Association agreed that investing in a brand can cushion a company against a downturn.
Factors included in Interbrand's ranking include revenue attributable to the brand, based on analysts' reports and company information; the brand's influence on customers as determined by market research; and the brand's ability to sustain future revenue, determined by its market position and image.
IBM ranked second after Coke. Its brand's value rose $59.01 billion as the company shifted its image from PC maker to a vendor of PC solutions. Lenovo, which bought most of IBM's PC business, is removing the IBM brand from its ThinkPads earlier than planned, which will help IBM put even more distance between itself and the PC business.
Microsoft's brand ranked third, even after a rocky year due to the poor reception for the Vista version of the company's Windows operating system, the failed takeover of Yahoo and Bill Gates' decreasing role.
Apple's brand's value rose $13.72 billion as the company released new iPods, iPhones and the MacBookAir — plus in-store service at its "genius bars." Amazon, which ranked 58th, gained $6.43 billion as it continues shifting from books to being a super-mall.