Learnings from six brands that won us over on a global scale

9 min read

14 June 2017

World domination is something we all secretly dream about. Most are content to carve a mark in one specific area, after all, but analysis of the top six brands shows what you could be doing to garner more attention from across the globe.

Many tend to associate “world domination” with Apple. It’s certainly changed much of what we do, and does so with products that could easily fit in your pocket. But while recent research hailed it a king of global success, it also made clear it was but one of six brands to have won us over completely.

Global strategy consultancy Prophet dedicated its research to unveiling which brands have us undeniably hooked – and wanting to know more about its findings, we spoke with Ian Kirk, a partner at Prophet. 

The six brands that stood out – adidas, Apple, Microsoft, Nike, Samsung and Visa – he explained, offered a few lessons SMEs should take into account. Here’s how the conversations with Kirk went:

1) What was the criteria used to identify these six world-dominating brands?

For our Prophet Brand Relevance Index, we surveyed 45,000 customers in the US, China, Germany and the UK about more than 80 brands across 25 industries. We asked consumers to rate brands on four attributes that we’ve determined make up brand relevance: customer obsession, pragmatism, innovation and inspiration.

We believe brand relevance is the single biggest determining factor for a brand’s long-term success, and those that score higher on our metrics of relevance grow faster, and more profitably, than competitors. These six brands are the only ones that made it in the Top 50 brands in all four countries surveyed.

2) So did the companies make the top six by a landslide?

Here’s the ranking for each brand in each country. In general, the results in China were somewhat different from Germany, the UK and US. In western markets, Apple did spectacularly well. You could call that a landslide. Nike and Samsung also put in good all-round performances. Visa, although it wasn’t as strong in the west, excelled in being indispensable, dependable and available.

  China Germany UK USA
Adidas 7 15 20 35
Apple 27 2 1 1
Microsoft 19 39 12 16
Nike 49 7 14 7
Samsung 46 8 7 6
Visa 3 31 41 49


3) In your opinion, how have these six brands achieved such global success?

The top brands, dubbed the “super six”, are not satisfied with simply delivering a better product or service today, but work to anticipate and deliver on consumers’ future needs. Innovation is key – and at some point, each of these companies proposed a new and better way to live: Visa’s quest to make commerce frictionless, Nike’s desire to find the athlete in everyone and Apple’s streamlined payment process, for example.

Yet, all six brands are ruthlessly pragmatic. The six’s business models and customer experiences are designed to make it easy for consumers to include the brand in their lives. And lastly, the brands inspire customers by building emotional bonds and fulfilling a larger purpose.

4) Delving deeper, we’re keen to know how each has fostered customer obsession.

Three things stand out in relation to customer obsession. First and foremost, being able to meet an important need in customers’ lives, and doing it so well that customers naturally turn to the brand without even considering others. Apple stands out in this way, with people waiting to buy a new phone until the next iPhone is released, without considering an alternative brand.

Secondly, all six brands have built a strong emotional connection with consumers. People will thus buy products because these brands foster an ongoing relationship, built on day-to-day experiences, that deliver rewarding moments of surprise and delight.

Thirdly, these brands have invested in digital delivery. That means providing products and services in the ways that best suit customers. It also means collecting data that gives insight into how customers behave. The brand can then look for new ways to engage with them.

Read on for the biggest lesson these six brands can offer SMEs


5) As if you were creating Frankenstein, which areas from which companies, when put together, would create the perfect company?

The idea of a Frankenbrand is very interesting and appealing, but I would say it’s the wrong way to go. Other businesses can learn a lot from the “super six” and can apply those lessons to their own brands, but simply copying, grafting or transplanting aspects of these leading brands onto your own would backfire. Customers would sense that this is inauthentic. Having a “me too” is not the path to relevance.

6) If that’s the case, what is the biggest lesson these companies have to offer SMEs? 

SME bosses can learn from these brands by finding their own answers to questions – something each of the six brands has done well – including: what important needs in our customers’ lives are we addressing? How can we do that better and become more relevant? Why should people outside of our business care that we exist? What’s really our purpose as a company?

This will help to guide innovation. How can we get as close as possible to understanding our customers? Can digital delivery help us to learn more about what matters to them? Pragmatically, how can we stay within reach for our customers? We must be accessible and easy for customers to incorporate in their lives.

7) With businesses becoming increasingly more international, have strategies for brand success needed to evolve?

Within the framework of our Global Brand Relevance Index, there are two areas that stand out as brands become more international.

Firstly, customer obsession is a critical part of brand relevance, so global brands need to gain an understanding of cultural differences in different markets and respond accordingly, while remaining authentic to the brand. Additionally, when brands enter a foreign market, bosses need to decide how to deal with perceptions about their own country of origin. For example, will Chinese consumers have different expectations of US brands, or vice versa?

Secondly, relevance is determined by some pragmatic issues too. International expansion brings fresh challenges for brands to be “available when and where customers need them.” Businesses looking to grow thus need to create brands that customers can easily incorporate into their lives.

8) You mentioned staying true to the brand, no matter where in the world you are. How much of corporate success boils down to culture and whether customers buy into it?

Corporate culture is essential to branding success, and often we see that brand transformation projects become cultural transformation projects. The ethos of the company projects itself in its customer service, employee relations, experience delivery, and even product and service innovation.

We have seen lots of evidence, especially among Gen-Y and Gen-Z consumers and employees, that corporate purpose is a deciding factor when they choose who to buy from, work for and stay loyal to. Having a common purpose that unites employees and customers alike is increasingly important to a brand’s relevance, especially to younger generations.