The 100 Top Brands

What's in a name? Plenty, if you play your cards right

It was a tough year to build a brand--or defend one against the corrosive effects of a bear market, financial scandals, and shifting consumer priorities. For proof, look no further than the fact that roughly half of the 100 global brands that Interbrand Corp. and BusinessWeek ranked this year fell in value compared with a year ago. In this environment, just holding your own is an accomplishment.

To qualify for our ranking, brands had to have a value greater than $1 billion. They were selected according to two criteria: They had to be global in nature, deriving 20% or more of sales from outside their home country. They also had to have publicly available marketing and financial data on which to base the valuation. That excluded some big brands, such as Visa International, the BBC, and Mars.

How do you place a value on a brand? Some attempts rely on little more than opinion polls or ad spending. BusinessWeek selected Interbrand's method because it values brands the same way analysts value other assets: on the basis of how much they're likely to earn in the future. Those projected profits are then discounted to a present value based on how risky the projected earnings are--that is, the likelihood that they will in fact materialize.

To start the process, Interbrand first figures out what percentage of overall revenues are accounted for by the power of the brand. Next, with the help of analysts from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM ), Interbrand projects net earnings for that segment of the business. Interbrand then deducts a charge for the cost of owning the tangible assets, on the theory that whatever income is generated beyond that cost is due to intangible factors. This is the economic value added by things like patents, customer lists, and, of course, the brand.

The next step is to winnow the earnings generated by the brand from the earnings generated by other intangibles. For example, are people buying Shell gasoline because of the brand name or because the gas station is conveniently located? Interbrand uses market research and interviews with industry executives to sift through those variables.

The final phase is to analyze the strength of the brand to figure out how risky those future brand earnings are. To calculate the brand's strength, Interbrand looks at seven factors, including the brand's market leadership, its stability, and its ability to cross geographical and cultural borders. The risk analysis produces a discount rate that is applied to the brand earnings to come up with a net present value of the brand. BusinessWeek and Interbrand believe this figure comes closest to representing the true economic value of that complex array of forces that make up a brand.

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