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Technology brands top for value in 2014

Apple's success in pioneering new types of product has helped it top a global league table that assesses the value of corporate brands.

Tech firms have dominated the 2014 Brand Finance Global 500 league table of the world's most valuable brands, with Apple topping the list for the third year running.

In the annual study by brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance, eight out the global top ten brands are technology firms. Only the presence of retailers Walmart and Amazon prevent tech domination at the top of the table, though the fact that the online retailer has leap-frogged its less tech-savvy rival to take eighth spot is telling.

Apple remains the undisputed champion, with a brand value of more than $104bn - more than $25bn higher than nearest rival Samsung. According to Brand Finance chief executive David Haigh, what sets it apart is its ability to monetise its brand, generating multi-billion dollar revenues across a range of product categories.

"Some of those categories it is largely responsible for creating," he says. "Though tablets were in use before the iPad, it was the Apple brand that captured the public imagination and allowed it to take off as a commercial reality."

Apple's dominance is being challenged though, with Samsung's brand value significantly outgrowing its American rival over the past year. While the South Korean conglomerate is involved in fields as diverse as construction, chemicals and shipbuilding, its consumer electronics division is driving its brand value. An improving reputation for reliability, a faster pace of innovation and wider range of devices have seen it increase by 34 per cent to nearly $79bn this year.

After a problematic initial public offering (IPO) in 2012, Facebook has rebounded strongly adding 76 per cent to its brand value to bring the total to $9.8bn. Growing revenues from mobile advertising have boosted investor confidence, but Brand Finance senior analyst Sanjay Gunewardene thinks the world's most popular social media network needs to be wary of resting on its laurels.

"The question is if they are able to keep the pace going," he says. "I think they feel very much that they need to have some sort of plan and not rely on advertising."

Dominating sectors

Despite solid growth of 10 per cent, computing heavyweight IBM has dropped down the rankings as others post figures of 30 per cent and upwards, though it still manages to remain in the global top 10. In the IT sector Oracle is the standout success story, pushing into the global top 50 with a respectable growth of $4.5bn in the last year.

"Oracle is going from strength to strength," says Ovum analyst Steven Hartley. "It's in the background but it powers a lot of what is going on with those near the top."

As a sector IT has performed well, with every company posting an increase in brand value, but with many brands achieving multi-billion dollar increases some big players have had a year to forget. Fujitsu saw its brand-rating drop from an AA to an AA- as it posted a measly 8 per cent rise in brand value, while Adobe dropped into the bottom fifth of the global rankings.

"It's the new guard versus the old guard," says Hartley. "Those companies at the bottom are fairly old-school IT companies."

In the electronics sector it's a story that has become familiar over the last decade, with traditional Japanese heavyweights lagging behind electronics-focused South Korean conglomerates. Samsung and LG had excellent years, with LG experiencing a stunning 60 per cent increase in brand value that pushes it in to the top 100 global brands.

In contrast the five biggest losers in the sector were Japanese, with all five dropping down the rankings. But it's not all doom and gloom - Sony and Panasonic have posted increases of 29 and 16 per cent respectively and Gunewardene says Brand Finance is predicting a comeback for some of the Japanese big guns, with Sony in particular doing well in its TV and gaming divisions.

The surprise story in the electronics sector is Phillips, who posted a $3bn rise to come out as the biggest winner this year. After a decade of being undercut by Asian manufacturers, Ovum's Hartley believes the firm's attempts to re-order their business is beginning to pay dividends. "They were still trying to do everything for everyone, trying to do what the Asian manufacturers have done, but on a European cost basis," he says. "They refocused, restructured, and it's nice to see them picking themselves up again."

Conspicuous by its absence is Nokia, which has finally been forced out of the Top 500 after a rapid fall from grace in recent years. While neither Ericsson nor Hauwei make E&T's Top 50 this year, their respective fortunes show a shift of power in the networking business. The Chinese firm's brand value grew by 58 per cent while the Swedish company managed only 4 per cent.

French firm Alcatel-Lucent though seems to be doing a better job of countering competition from Asia, boosting its brand value by $4.3bn. Gunewardene says: "Their share price has tripled since a new CEO came in and started a new restructuring process."

Global successes

In the telecoms sector American juggernauts Verizon and AT&T lead the way thanks to a near 75 per cent market share of fixed and mobile connections, but Japanese provider Softbank had the highest proportional brand value increase in the sector with an impressive 82 per cent. That rise explains the industry's worst performer - fellow Japanese firm NTT. "Softbank has been incredibly disruptive in Japan, it's really shaken up the cosy relationship. NTT has been the main victim of that," says Hartley.

At the heavier end of the technology spectrum, Airbus has profited from last year's decision to adopt the name of its flagship brand, dropping the clunky EADS and seeing the value of the Airbus marque rocket by 158 per cent. The rise is almost double that of any other proportional increase by a technology firm this year.

The outlook is not so rosy for fellow defence giant BAE Systems, which dropped nearly 150 places in the rankings. Defence cuts in the US, which accounts for 44 per cent of the firm's market, saw shares plummet last month, while several high-profile failures to seal deals for its Typhoon aircraft in the Middle East also hurt earnings.

Caterpillar similarly saw its brand value fall by more than $1.5bn last year as a long-term slowing of demand in the construction sector saw it cut its workforce and implement austerity measures in 2013. But positive last quarter results coupled with a recovery in the sectors it serves indicate it should be on the road to recovery in 2014.

If Japan appears to be the sick old man of the electronics sector, it has been saving its vitality for the automotive industry. President Shinzo Abe's 'Abenomics' programme seems to be paying off as global demand for Japanese goods improves with Toyota, Mitsubishi and Honda, Japan's three most valuable brands, all increasing their values by more than 30 per cent. "The Japanese brands are starting to make a comeback after getting battered by the Koreans," says Gunewardene.

However, Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne so far seems to have failed in his attempts to shore up Fiat's decline, with the brand topping the sector's losers list. A deal in early 2014 to take full control of Chrysler could help by allowing the firm to share technology, cash and dealer networks, but it remains to be seen whether the merger will be enough to cut Fiat's losses in Europe.

While some big oil and gas firms have seen their brand value cut significantly, energy suppliers EDF and British Gas have posted 20 per cent and 37 per cent rises respectively.

The big shock in the energy sector is Tepco, infamous for operating the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that suffered a meltdown in 2011, which has boosted its brand value by more than 40 per cent. While it is still lagging behind its 2011 brand value of $7.4bn, Gunewardene says: "Despite the disaster, Tepco's revenues have continued to grow and analysts are expecting forecast revenues to increase further."

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