4 Small-Business Lessons from 2013’s Top Global Brands

Apple just took a bite out of Coca-Cola’s 13-year standing as the most valuable brand in the world, according to Interbrand’s 2013 Best Global Brands list.

In fact, technology dominated the top five this year, with Apple at the No. 1 spot and Google coming in at second, and IBM and Microsoft landing at fourth and fifth, respectively. Coca-Cola, meanwhile, fell two spots to take third place.

“We talk a lot about how the speed of business has changed,” says Interbrand Global Chief Executive Jez Frampton, commenting on the shake-up at the top of the list. Frampton says building a brand that resonates with consumers still takes time, but tech companies like Facebook have learned to do so more quickly in today’s day and age.

To help small-business owners make a big impact when it comes to branding, Frampton shares four lessons from Interbrand’s 2013 report:

No. 1: Be consistent.

“When you look at great brands, one of the things that sits right at the heart of them is consistency,” says Frampton. “They have a clear understanding of what they mean to the world, and they’re consistent year after year and time after time.”

Google, in his opinion, has also succeeded in this regard, thanks to its “Do no evil” ethos. “It’s a relatively recent company, but the essence of ‘Do no evil’ has set a very clear pathway to what kind of company they are, the kind of culture they want to create and the brand they want to be in the world,” says Frampton.

No. 2: Be nimble.

Frampton says startups must be nimble enough to take advantage of gaps in the market.

“Having worked with startups over the years, the business you end up doing is not the one you start out doing. You have to adapt to the market,” says Frampton. That said, being nimble doesn’t have to mean being inconsistent.

“At your heart, you still need to have something that unites your people, and creates a bond between the company, suppliers, buyers … and ultimately with customers and shareholders,” he says.

Frampton adds that businesses that are not nimble enough run the risk of becoming unseated by quicker-moving competitors. “Underneath, you need the speed and agility of newer, younger businesses. Companies like Apple, Google and Coca-Cola have learned to do that. IBM has learned they can completely change direction, and Microsoft is going through that right now, you can argue,” says Frampton.

No. 3: Concentrate on service.

“Brands are built through every single experience you have,” says Frampton, discussing Apple’s success when it comes to providing top-notch customer service.

He says customer loyalty is one of the most integral factors when it comes to brand strength, and service innovations like the Genius Bar have given the company a real edge.

“Apple’s genius ‘Genius Bar’ not only creates great levels of loyalty among customers, it creates, in the words of [Harvard professor] Michael Porter, a barrier to entry,” says Frampton. “The ability to hire that number of people, and have them in the position to serve your products is not something you can do overnight … It makes it very, very difficult for anyone to compete.”

No. 4: Use digital to your advantage.

Frampton says digital innovation has been key to the success of many of the companies on Interbrand’s list, especially in the case of older, more traditional brands.

“Companies like Burberry have reinvented the way people think about luxury by using digital so well,” says Frampton. He says the company realized it didn’t have the cash to compete with rivals like Prada, so instead decided to dominate when it came to e-retail.

“When you talk to them about their flagship store, they’re actually [talking] about their website and mobile capability. They haven’t just benefited from hundreds of years of industry experience; they’ve carefully thought about the market … and how to maintain an incredibly powerful luxury image through digital,” says Frampton. The takeaway, in this case, is figuring out how to grow your brand through digital – not just maintain it.