A handful of names dominate the latest Prophet Brand Relevance Index™ (BRI) across all regions, and from year to year, they haven’t changed all that much. Companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Netflix are already finely-calibrated relevance machines, so intent on staying in lockstep with their customers that they rarely stumble. Most tend to do fairly well in all four principles of relevance: Customer obsession, pragmatism, inspiration and innovation.

But we like to look past those top-scoring brands and study those that are rising and falling the fastest. There is a lot to learn from the brands who experience dramatic gains and breath-taking losses from year to year.

Here’s what this year’s BRI winners and losers can teach us:

Take Pride in Pragmatism

While we believe all four principles of relevance are invaluable, it’s worth pointing out that the brands that excel in ruthless pragmatism also earn some of the highest scores in our Index. Apple and Amazon, for example, rule because they are astonishingly consistent. They are dependable, and available to people whenever and wherever they want them. That kind of practicality governs day-to-day ease of use, and it’s what makes a brand indispensable in consumers’ lives.

Pragmatism powers the biggest gainers, too. In the U.S., Uber is the highest climber, jumping 118 spots, precisely because it ranks so high on all the pragmatic measures. And while Uber may still be a new brand to many consumers, a savvy subset of familiar financial brands are also having a meteoric rise. In the U.S., USAA, Discover, Farmers Insurance and Fidelity are among the ten fastest up-and-comers in our survey. In Germany, retail banks DKB, Commerzbank and ING make the list, as do Santander and NatWest in the UK. And China’s Agricultural Bank of China leaps 100 spots.

The secret isn’t flashy: These brands simply make people’s lives easier.

Innovation Drives Attention

It’s certainly no secret that consumers around the world are redefining their rides. They are looking for cars that are genuinely different—better than competitors, modern and in touch. In the U.S., for instance, Lexus jumped more than 100 places, while BMW shot up 77 spots.

Consumers increasingly respect automotive brands that serve a higher purpose, such as cars that are better for the planet. Despite its emission scandal, the fuel-efficient Volkswagen is one of the fastest-gaining brands in the UK, as is Audi, its sister company. Electric car innovator Tesla zooms 95 spots in the U.S. and almost as many in China. And the highest-flying brand overall in China, which is expected to account for more than half of all growth in the global auto market through 2020, is BYD Auto, another major innovator in electric vehicles. It gains 140 places.

The lesson here? To shake up a category, make a product or service that’s meets consumers’ changing needs better than the competition.

Retail’s Customer Experience Revolution Continues

The BRI provides plenty of evidence that e-commerce continues to scuttle even the best-executed plans of brick-and-mortar retailers. In the U.S., Macy’s and Kohl’s both slide more than 50 places. Sephora, once the darling of connected retail, takes a 61-place freefall. But before chalking those declines up to the retail apocalypse, look at the many retailers outpacing most other categories in their gains.

In the U.S., Nordstrom jumps 47 spots and Walmart, which has been investing heavily in its digital platforms, climbs 38. Ulta, which competes with Sephora, is also soaring, up 30 spots. We’re seeing the same story in Germany, where retailers Douglas and Edeka are among the top 10 gainers, while Bauhaus is one of the biggest losers. In the UK, the biggest climber overall is Aldi, the limited-assortment grocer. And IKEA is one of the few brands that performs well in all four markets we study.

So no, retail isn’t dead: People are passionate about stores that provide exceptional customer experiences and real value.

Big Names Don’t Count for Much

Our Index makes it clear that in today’s fast-paced world, where brands can rise and fall so quickly, name recognition has little impact on relevance. Among American consumers, the 10 fastest-declining brands are household names, including L’Oréal, Snickers, Pepsi, Mattel and Quaker. Germans, too, turn thumbs-down on former favorites, such as Visa, Kellogg and even the beloved Nutella. Does it mean Germans have lost their sweet tooth, or Americans are turning off on toys? Of course not. But it does mean that those brands, while familiar, aren’t igniting the intense personal connections that other brands are. BAND-AID, Crest and Tide, for example, are household names that have off-the-charts scores for relevance.

So, don’t rest on your laurels. Even if people know your name, find ways to continually become more meaningful in their daily lives.

Don’t be Afraid to Inspire

It’s not easy to help consumers feel more creative, or provoke a powerful sense of purpose. Even some of the strongest brands in our ranking fare poorly on this measure. But those that excel at it, such as Pinterest, Netflix, Spotify and Disney, know how much people value self-discovery and have found ways to send customers on inspirational journeys. A handful of the fastest-rising brands are also finding unexpected ways to stoke that inspiration, including Airbnb in the U.S., American Express and apparel brand New Look in the UK, and The North Face in Germany.

People want brands to help them discover and explore. Create content, imagery and experiences that set them free.

Final Thoughts

The most relevant brands in the world make smart, bold moves that amaze customers, push competitors out of consideration, and – at times – define entirely new categories and markets. And the brands that are making the biggest gains in relevance are doing so by delivering on four key principles – customer obsession, pragmatism, innovation and inspiration.

Interested in increasing your brand relevance? Prophet helps companies develop brand strategies that improve their relevance.

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