Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) is no longer the world's most valuable brand, according to Millward Brown's annual BrandZ report (via The Telegraph). Which company beat out Apple for the top spot in 2014? Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) (NASDAQ: GOOG ) . After holding the top spot for three years, Apple finally handed over the title to one of its leading rivals. Should Apple investors be concerned?
Obviously it is incredibly difficult to measure the value of a brand. But the excellent methodology behind BrandZ's ranking makes this particular study worth noting. Not only does Millward Brown analyze financial statements and attribute the portion of earnings that belong to a brand to its respective value, but the research firm also analyzes in-depth consumer opinions about brands. It's this consumer research that differentiates the BrandZ rankings from the rest.
As Millward Brown explains on its website:
The BrandZ valuation methodology can be uniquely distinguished from its competitors by the way we obtain consumer viewpoints. We conduct worldwide, ongoing, in-depth quantitative consumer research, and build up a global picture of brands on a category-by-category, and country-by-country basis.
Our research covers two million consumers and more than 10,000 different brands in over 30 countries. This intensive, in-market consumer research differentiates the BrandZ methodology from competitors that rely only on a panel of "experts" or purely financial and market desk research.
Given Apple's monstrous earning power, the company typically dominates brand studies. In Forbes' list of the most valuable brands, for instance, top-ranked Apple had a brand value just over $104 billion as of November 2013, more than doubling the $57 billion brand value of runner-up Microsoft. Forbes' methodology for finding the value of a brand, though, was based almost purely on financial results.
So what happens when you include consumer sentiment as a major factor in brand value? Apparently, the results work out in Google's favor -- at least they do this year. Google's brand value soared 40%, year over year, according to BrandZ. Meanwhile, Apple's brand value fell by 20%. These changes put Google at the top of a list with a brand value of $158.8 billion, with Apple at $147.8 billion.
The bigger picture
The glass-half-empty view of the study could point to the beginning of Apple's end. "Is Apple losing its cool among consumers?" this view asks. But the glass-half-full view paints quite a different portrait: The world's most in-depth (and possibly most accurate) brand study portrays Apple as the world's No. 2 brand, as well as the world's most valuable consumer electronics pure play. This view applauds the company for its continued strength among the top-ranked brands.
Even more, it could be argued that Apple is poised to address the major factor holding its brand back. Examining the results, Millward Brown asked an important question: "Google has knocked Apple off its perch after three years at the top. Apple is performing well but is it still redefining technology for consumers?" Apple may soon answer that question, as CEO Tim Cook has promised the company will launch products in entirely new categories this year. If rumors are true, one of those products may be some sort of smartwatch -- new territory for Apple that gives it a chance to show the world it can still innovate.
Should Apple investors be concerned about the results of the BrandZ study? Not at all. Apple's conservative valuation has already priced in the uncertainty about whether it can still redefine technology for consumers. If Apple delivers on this concern, the potential upside for investors could be very lucrative.
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