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09 September, 2021 Share socially

Last week saw the launch of this year’s FutureBrand Index.

A lot can change in a year, something we all appreciate now more than ever. And now that the dust has settled, I thought you might appreciate a deeper dive into the data so that I can share some of my own personal highlights.

I should also add that this is my first post via a new email platform, Substack. I’ve been contributing to CMO as a guest writer for a few months now – I’ve written on creativity, collaboration and customer insight – and I’ve also written a couple of At Home At Work diary entries on the value of a fresh perspective and the refreshing feeling that comes with doing something new, and we even send a semi-regular newsletter about all things FutureBrand, so this email will somehow fit in with all of the above and provide something a little bit different. Plus, you can subscribe and share if you find it interesting, and I certainly hope you find it worthwhile doing both.

Back to the FutureBrand Index.

A year can be a long time in business and nowhere was this more evident than the rise and the fall of PwC’s top 100 businesses by market capitalisation in light of COVID. The fall came first, total value declining from March to May 2020 by a whopping 15%. Then a staggering rise in YOY value of 48%, resulting in a record-breaking market capitalisation of USD $31.7tn by the end of March 2021.

The surge in value was led by the technology sector, unsurprisingly given the effects of lockdown on the need for everything from Amazon to Zoom. Scratch beneath the surface of the Index and there’s a wealth of interesting perspectives and useful insights, here are my top 5.

#1. Your brand is only as good as your people

Flick to page 30 of the report and you’ll find one of my favourite details.

We all appreciate that a stronger brand helps businesses attract the best and brightest to want to work for them, especially when that brand ‘provides inspiration for change’. The report lists the top five brands in this area but what only the eagle-eyed might realise is that those five brands are also five of the top six brands in the Index overall.

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In other words, there’s a very strong correlation between the strength of your brand’s perceptions and the strength of the connection with your employees. Or, to put it bluntly, you can’t be a top-performing business if your own people don’t believe in your brand.

What’s more, at a time when ESG is topping the corporate agenda, there’s an extra little detail on page 22 worth noting: that businesses perceived to have a positive ESG impact are also perceived to ‘care about employees’. In my own words, you can’t care for the planet if you don’t care for your people first.

#2. B2B benefits from brands too

You may have heard me say that we live in a post-TED world, one where business has never been more exciting or expressive, and this year’s Index provides the data to prove it.

Take a look at the top 5 brands on page 47. Notice something unusual? B2B brands dominate this year’s Index in the technology, healthcare and utilities sectors, behind-the-scenes enablers that underpin our everyday lives and have now come to the fore and are fast-becoming household names.

The way we talk, think about, and experience the world of business has changed. It’s no longer stiff, boring and stuffy, nor just for the business elite. It’s a world full of energy and excitement, inspiration and possibilities – and if you manage a B2B brand, you might want to explore the Index for what tips and tricks you can learn.

#3. Authenticity matters

If you saw me talk about last year’s FutureBrand Index at the Mumbrella Finance Marketing Summit (virtually, of course), you may very well remember how the finance sector is a perennial poor performer. It is below average in ways that make me think the future of finance relies on looking outside of the sector.

This year, it’s looking much more positive as a result of finance brands overall scoring the highest brand perception scores since the FutureBrand Index began in 2014.

You can explore these scores in detail using the interactive content on our website. If you click on the section titled ‘What you should focus on by sector’ and then toggle to the finance sector, you’ll find an intriguing data point.

The number one sector driver in finance? Authenticity.

#4. Emotion connects

We all know that strong brands are created with purpose but ultimately they’re defined by experience. For evidence, you need look no further than the top-performing healthcare brand in this year’s Index, Danaher Corp.

It’s a brand you might not have heard of – at least not yet – but this science and technology innovator has shown just how valuable it can be to build a connection that stretches from the laboratory into people’s lives. To quote the Index:

“What’s especially noteworthy is how a healthcare company has grown its associations with Personality, Story and Pleasure almost as much as Mission, Thought Leadership and Authenticity – the latter attributes more naturally connected to the provision of healthcare solutions and services.”

Visit the ‘Company dashboards’ section on the website and you can read the detail for yourself. It’s not enough to have a clear and compelling purpose, people need to feel it too in order to truly connect.

#5. We’re living in a future-focused world

If we ever need proof that we’re living in a future-focused world, we only have to look around our work-from-homes to see technology that past generations could only ever dream of.

But technology is not the only sector shaping our future, healthcare’s playing a pivotal role too. The surge in the strength of Pfizer's brand perceptions is a tale of their vaccine victory, a measure of the brand's 'indispensability' and yet another indication that we live in a future-focused world.

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As this graphic shows from page 106 of the report, we've been tracking the brand perception growth of healthcare brands for a number of years and clearly COVID-19 has accelerated this trend. What's more, healthcare companies at large have benefitted from the sector’s associations with improving our quality of life, irrespective of whether or not those companies are directly involved in combating the pandemic.

Plus, utilities companies like Nextera are seeing their brand perceptions strengthen given their pivotal role in sectors that will shape our future in terms of energy and resources. Here in Australia, the recent news of BHP's partnership with Tesla is a perfect example of a business benefiting from this future focus. Ultimately, the most significant aspect to that deal might be the partnership between two powerhouse resource brands, one from the old world, the other from the new, combining to make a transformational impact. This is indeed evidenced by the fact that BHP is a leader in ‘thought leadership’ according to the Index, but perhaps it’s this recent news story in the AFR that sums it up best.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my own personal highlights from this year’s FutureBrand Index – and of course I hope you find not only those highlights useful but also the full report valuable too. If you’d like to know more, ask a question or share a comment, please do, I’d love to hear from you.

Feel free to subscribe here, or you can simply email me here.