Digital brands dominate in the ranking, but strong creative breaks through
With contributions from Maarten Peschier, Thomas Bredillet, Hayley West, Faraz Siddiqui, Mark Karambelas, Linda Barber and Ellen Wagner, Emerging Media Lab, Millward Brown.
Part One: Overview of SocialZ Verve
For the second year running, the SocialZ Verve rankings report incorporates our proprietary Verve Scoring methodology, which measures the overall social vitality of a brand in social media. The Verve Score is a Twitter-based aggregate measure accounting for existing user disposition for a given brand, the volume mentions for a brand combined with the favorability of those mentions: the higher the score, the more that brand has been elevated within social media. Verve encompasses brand users, contemplators and influencers; those having the opportunity to be exposed to brand marketing; and those responding to media coverage. Modeled over time, Verve has the ability to reflect outcomes in brand equity, sales, and TV impact.
Verve captures the explicit expressions of consumer engagement with a brand, whether that is driven by consumption or commercial activity. Brands are built in social media not only by their marketing strategies but also by everyday consumer experience, cyclical media coverage, and cross-platform promotions. We parse these by segmenting the data topically and assessing the content drivers for each brand.
The mainstream use and acceptance of social media has meant that brands have started to develop more established presences in social media (whether intentionally or not). Relative to last year, we observed consistency across most brand commentary. Whether it's wide-eyed admiration of the latest Apple product, simultaneous delight and disgust in fast food restaurants, or dropped data on wireless carriers, the core product experiences of our top brands were similar year-on-year. However, some brands are susceptible to more variation when in categories that are not much talked about except in catastrophic circumstances: while mailing a package may be humdrum, an employee tragedy at FedEx is likely to elicit more of a response in social media.
The SocialZ Verve ranking focuses on English language social media only, and Chinese brands are not included in this ranking.
Brand Love in Action
Born and bred digital brands dominate the top ten brands in the SocialZ Verve ranking, and we saw only minor movement among the ranking of these brands. Social networks – Google (led by YouTube), Twitter, and Facebook vie for the top three spots based on consumer activity and fast, frequent sharing on these platforms. Analyzing these social brands with the social data they generate showcases exactly to what degree they permeate our daily lives. These technological behemoths not only capture but also reflect our imaginations, through the photos, statuses, and videos we use to document our days.
Among the strongholds in the top ten are perpetual consumer favorites, Apple, Disney, and Nike. The ubiquity of these brands in real life is reflected by their ubiquity in social media, right down to incessant coverage of "Let It Go" from Disney's hit movie Frozen. These iconic brands fuel avid attention through new product releases and strong integrated social media activity. In particular, the Nike+ app's social updates serve as not only as product marketing but also provide meaningful value for their athletic consumers.
Part Two: Consumer Experience in Social Media
Meaning and Marketing
Our brand equity framework informs both our analysis of Brand Value and our SocialZ Verve rankings. In the former, we can evoke brand meaning when measuring Brand Contribution; in the latter, we can discern it most clearly among brands whose consumers comment about their favorability towards the brand and whether it meets their needs. These consumer experiences tend to form the foundation of brand commentary for categories whose products are consumed frequently or which bring a bit of everyday delight, like free samples at Costco. For other brands, especially those in business-to-business categories, online commercial activity and news articles dominate the social media coverage. In either case, marketing typically amplifies the normal thrum of activity, rather than forming the base of it.
The marketing content that tends to break through social media most strongly is that which has either high reach or significant creative value, like Colgate's #BrilliantSmile celebrity campaign or IKEA's iconic catalog. Brands that are able to achieve both – such as Budweiser's touching #BestBuds Super Bowl commercial featuring a pony and a puppy – can gain a strong foothold in consumer chatter. The other perennial driver of marketing commentary is sponsorships of sports and event spaces, especially any event space lucky enough to host Twitter's favorite boy band, One Direction.
Part Three: Category Commentary
While social platforms clearly dominate not only the 2015 SocialZ Verve ranking but also the technology category, some other technology companies quietly rose in the rankings this year. Apple was buoyed by not only the iPhone 6 launch and news of the hotly anticipated Apple Watch, but also by the launch of HealthKit and Apple Pay. The latter in particular had spillover effects beyond the technology category – its launch partners like Bank of America also enjoyed a dose of consumer appreciation in connection with the product. Other business-to-business technology companies sometimes have to work harder to maintain mainstream consumer engagement, meaning that when there are security gaps like the Heartbleed hacks, such stories trend more perceptibly in an otherwise quiet conversation about those brands.
Automotive brands are clustered in the top half of the SocialZ Verve ranking of the BrandZ™ Top 100 brands. These brands tend to attract distinctive audiences on Twitter: their new models attract envy; their current drivers obsess over their rides; and big TV spending and the robust secondary sales market churns out a large volume of promotion. We see a broad mix of content about these brands being shared, including glamour shots by proud owners, how-to repair videos, and news about manufacturing and safety. Broad penetration in the market and mostly positive, everyday experiences tend to support the brands through tougher times: despite widespread recalls for several of the brands, automotive brands are one of the strongest and most consistent categories in our SocialZ Verve ranking for 2015.
Retail & Apparel
As in 2014, these categories are highly experientially driven, with commentary about purchases, employee interactions, and other shoppers often prompted live from within a brick-and-mortar location (or at home in front of the mirror). Fast-fashion favorites H&M and Zara are followed closely for their celebrity collaborations, advertising campaigns, and generally espousing the latest looks. However, increasingly consumers are turning an eye on aspects of these retailers that sees beyond what's in stock. In an age of increasing scrutiny about wage equality, Costco is lauded not only for its bulk buys, but also for its perceived fair treatment of its workers. Conversely, other retailers like The Home Depot struggled with data breaches, hackers, and stolen financial information – suggesting that they are bearing the burden of increased consumer anxiety over transaction security and data privacy.
Ali Rana and the Emerging Media Lab
Chief Digital Strategist
Millward Brown North America