Interbrand just released its annual rankings of the world's most valuable brand names. While the list contains plenty of old friends, a few new faces have arrived, too. Here are the five most valuable brands in the world, by the research company's reckoning:

Brand Name

Brand Value (billions)

Market Cap (billions)

Change in Brand Value

Brand-to-Cap Ratio

Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)





Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)










General Electric (NYSE:GE)





Nokia (NYSE:NOK)





The fastest riser through the ranks was Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), which added 44% to its 2006 brand value to stand at $17.8 billion today. The biggest loser was Ford (NYSE:F), with a 19% decline to $9 billion.

The central thesis of Interbrand's research is that companies that manage their brand names correctly stand to outperform businesses that don't. These values were calculated by looking at each company's intangible earnings, defined as net revenues from branded products and services less operating costs, taxes, and capital employed. That's adjusted to account for marketing efforts, and then discounted through the indefinite future, much the same way value hounds do with cash flows.

Your guide to the rankings
What can we make out of these rankings, then? I think the biggest surprise might be the relatively low values assigned to companies like Google and Microsoft, compared to their market values. Slap a "Search King, Inc." header on Google's products, and see how well its market dominance holds up. In that respect, Google is a lot like Coke, which depends on name recognition for its livelihood.

Others, like Nokia, are more driven by design and features than by the Finnish brand name. Would you pick a cell phone based on the name alone, or based on which one looks and feels better to you? Meanwhile, Microsoft gets hurt by its massive business-to-business exposure, much like IBM or GE -- these are consumer-brand rankings, after all.

Except for Microsoft, all of the companies I've mentioned have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past year, especially top gainers Google and Nokia. That lends some credence to the thesis that a great brand rewards investors. If nothing else, the report is a veritable goldmine if you're looking to get some global diversification into your portfolio. Failing that, you could just head on over to our  Global Gains newsletter for a free trial. The choice is yours.

Further Foolishness:

Coca-Cola and Microsoft are two Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google and Coca-Cola, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is the currency accepted around the world.