Andy Warhol’s “Coca-Cola ”
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
The typical raw materials of valuation are numbers – and investor relations people get very comfortable working with metrics that feed investors’ calculations for growth, margins, cash flows, multiples of earnings and the like, and assorted more granular numbers.
But what value do you assign to your company’s brand? Your customer base? Your products or product lines? Valuing these seems open to as many interpretations as, say, a painting by Andy Warhol. Assigning a dollar value seems more like art than science.
So I find it interesting when brand gurus, from time to time, peg the best-known brands as having a monetary value. Recently I ran across the “Global 500 2017” – a list of the world’s most valuable brands – published by Brand Finance, a London consultancy in brand strategy.
The list itself is interesting to browse. No. 1 in 2017 is Google, nudging Apple to No. 2 from its place at the top last year. The iconic Coca-Cola, a favorite of old-school marketing profs (and Andy Warhol), has slipped to No. 27. Christian Dior is No. 500.
The directory is sortable by industry, country or year. If you sort for your industry or country, you’ll see the big names – maybe your company’s, if you rate. If not, it’s still interesting to see who did make the list. (Estimated dollar values are given for the top 100. Beyond that, the Brand Finance table is a teaser to draw you into buying their services or reports. Everyone’s got to make a living.)
So what makes the Google brand worth $109 billion, and Apple $107 billion, and Amazon $106 billion?
Poking around for Brand Finance’s Methodology page, you can pull back the curtain. When they talk about a brand, they mean the trademark – words, iconography and other intellectual property. The value, then, is an estimate of what you would have to pay to buy (or could gain by selling) global rights to that brand. Brand Finance estimates the future revenue that a brand will generate, applies a royalty rate, and does a net present value calculation. Along the way, the gurus mix things like a brand’s financial performance with its emotional connection and sustainability to score “brand strength” on a scale of 1 to 100. Then they multiply by a royalty rate based on deals in the relevant sector. And they apply that to forecasts of future revenues related to that brand. Stir, mix and – voila! – brand value.
In my mind, intangibles are best understood qualitatively. Saying the Starbucks brand is worth $25.615 billion seems less meaningful than talking about its actual financials, plus forecasts – or looking at today’s market cap. Investors should qualitatively understand those emotional connections, daily habits of customers, sales of other stuff under the Starbucks name, and so on. Separated from the organization, all the baristas and training, aromas in the stores, and whatever else goes into the “brand,” the value of the name could go way down. Sometimes it happens fast, when a big crisis overtakes a company. More often it is slow, as management loses its edge or people’s tastes change and leave the brand behind.
When it comes to assigning monetary values to brand, I must confess I feel more confident with, well, the numbers – in the sense of sales, margins, discounted cash flows.
But it’s still interesting to contemplate the value of your company’s brands (corporate and products). We should all analyze and talk with investors about the durability, customer loyalty, competitive strengths, and values that maintain and bring growth to our brands. Investors will factor this into their assessment of brand value – which is the one that counts in IR.
What do you think?