In calculating the brand valuations of top retailers, Interbrand Design Forum's recently found that 47 of the 50 brand leaders measured in the survey were cross-channel retailers. WalMart ran away from the field with a brand value of $129 billion, followed by Best Buy at $21 billion and Home Depot at $20 billion.
Pure plays were represented by eBay (ranked number 11) Amazon (14), and Netflix (32), far outpacing their cross channel competitors as Barnes & Noble ranked at 44 and Blockbuster failed to make the Top 50.
“There is a clear opportunity in the current economic climate to go beyond operations and tactical concerns and make a connection with the customer,” says Bill Chidley, Interbrand Design Forum’s Senior VP. “There are varying degrees of execution but the difference between brand winners can be achieved with multi-channel strategies. Retailers can enhance their brand by meeting customers at different stages of the buying process.”
Interbrand Design Forum calculated the brand valuations index through a complex set of algorithms and consumer research. All contenders must be a market-facing brand, with publicly available financial data, and positive Economic Value Added (EVA). Beyond the math, if there is a common denominator in the top 50 from Interbrand Design Forum it is cross-channel customer experience. “Brands create value in different ways. There will be some brands that push the boundaries,” says Lynn Gonsior, Interbrand Design Forum Executive VP and CMO. “They will have to innovate to create differentiation and they will need to value customer experience over pricing to achieve that.”
Interbrand Design Forum determined brand value on the basis of how much they’re likely to earn in the future. The economic value added by the brand is measured with a proprietary analytic framework that expresses brand earnings as a percentage of EVA. It answers questions like: “Are people shopping at Walgreens because the store is conveniently located or because of the brand?” Brand strength is assessed by figuring out how risky the future brand earnings are according to factors like market leadership, stability and geographic coverage.
Gonsior and Chidley have their “sleeper” picks, or companies to watch among the top 50. Both have innovative cross-channel strategies. Gonsior’s pick is American Girl. It has only six brick-and-mortar stores, but comes up at number 43 on the index. Gonsior says it is “extremely” well-positioned for future growth. “They have done a great job of marketing, and have stayed connected to the target audience,” she says. “At all touch points they provide an incredible customer experience. The content connects emotionally whether it’s the website or even their print magazine.”
Chidley is a Whole Foods fan. At 47 on the index, the grocery chain has earmarked $45 million of corporate support for the remodeling and rebranding efforts from its acquisition of the Wild Oats chain. With just under 300 stores located in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, Whole Foods is also experimenting with the size of its footprint. A smaller store concept is being tested on a college campus, and a new spa concept devoted to wellness and apparel is being tested. The Interbrand Design Forum report expressed concern about weak customer loyalty scores, but Chidley believes its customer connection positions it well for the future. “They cater to a community of interest,” he says. “The in-store and online experience is all about health, nutrition, geopolitical environment issues, and blogs that allow customer participation. They deliver a true brand experience across the products offered, in-store, and the website.”
Some other key takeaways from the Interbrand Design Forum report:
Segmentation adds brand value: “The proof starts with the proper metrics,” states the conclusion of the report. “The function of analytics is to use facts dynamically to reach decisions objectively. It has broad applications that can penetrate across the functions of the business. The level of precision and the power to bring the results together are perfectly suited to retail. It helps deconstruct the complexity of a brand and its drivers to determine positive or negative value according to customer segments.”
Watching WalMart: Maybe not all is heaven in Bentonville. In its assessment of WalMart the report states: “Even though it’s enjoying a hot streak due to the recession, Walmart, like all retailers, struggles with problems related to slowed growth. You can’t just out-operationalize the competition anymore. Now that the low-price bar has been set, an emotional connection is the strongest bond a retail brand can have today.”