Prophet’s 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® ranks hundreds of U.S. brands on the characteristics that consumers care about the most. In the sixth edition of our ground-breaking research, we measured brands’ relevancy based on how customer obsessed, ruthlessly pragmatic, pervasively innovative and distinctively inspired they were.

After a year of global economic and social upheaval, it’s no surprise that the rankings have shifted dramatically. Our world’s abrupt transition from physical to digital, high degrees of consumer uncertainty and an increased need for human connection have all impacted how strongly brands across all industries showed up for consumers and continued to deliver innovative experiences.

Here are three brands that led the way in the innovation stakes over the past year:

1. Peloton: Improving virtual experiences through real-time data immersion

Its bike may be stationary, but the Peloton brand wasn’t, cruising in at No.2 in our Index, up 33 spots. The pandemic’s closure of workout studios and gyms definitely helped boost its brand relevance, but to get customers paying a premium for at-home sweat sessions, a fine-tuned experience was core to success. Peloton’s personalized workouts, digitally connected community and relentless in-category innovation delivered experiential excellence by enabling customers to be in unparalleled control of their health.

Peloton now has over 3.6 million users, with the average Connected Fitness subscription user clocking in 20.7 workouts a month. The brand has innovated its product line by expanding from bikes to treadmills and even commercial fitness equipment, all while establishing itself as an on-demand content powerhouse with over 10,000 classes in its digital library. Users can track every joule generated and calorie burned – and Peloton’s UX acts as a personal trainer, providing personalized “power zones” and class recommendations to optimize individual performance.

On our Index, Peloton scored highest on providing emotional connection and meeting new user needs. We see these attributes inextricably linked with the powerful, data-powered experience it consistently delivers. For consumers looking for sanctuary in a time of record uncertainty and atrophy, Peloton doesn’t just sell exercise equipment, or even a good workout – it sells motivation.

Takeaway: Truly innovative brands are the ones pushing the status quo by finding new ways to engage customers in experiences that most matter to them.

2. LEGO: Blurring the lines between physical and digital experiences

LEGO zipped into 5th place, rising from No.28. As the pandemic shut schools and corralled an entire generation into at-home classrooms, LEGO unleashed countless experiences that combined play and education. Its ability to blend the digital with the physical, collaborate with innovative out-of-category players and craft experiences that make consumers feel safe and connected all helped the brand stack up high on our experience & innovation winners list.

With some 90 percent of children outside their usual learning environments, the Danish toymaker launched digital initiatives like “Let’s Build Together,” which produced thousands of hours of online content for kids. It also maintained a strong product design offensive with new toys like LEGO VIDIYO, which is AR-enabled and comes with an app to build music videos in a modular fashion.

LEGO was also unafraid to explore collaborations in verticals like fashion and multimedia, recognizing that entertainment has fewer bounds today than ever before. At the same time, it also catered to a clear consumer desire for online safety by creating kid-safe digital ecosystems through its LEGO Life App.

With these innovative pushes, it’s no wonder LEGO received top scores on the Prophet Brand Relevance Index for “engages with me in new and different ways” and “has better products, services and experiences than competitors​.”

Takeaway: Innovation winners are extending their lead by finding new ways to inspire their customers, especially with innovative out-of-category partnerships.

3. Costco: Keeping the customer experience fresh

Grocery stores got plenty of attention in 2020, but Costco made the biggest strides in relevance, rising to No. 6 from No.15. Even more impressively, it’s the first time any retailer (except Apple and Amazon) has ever appeared in the Top 10. Beyond a nice categorical boost, Costco’s north star of fair pricing, membership-based business model and simplified product matrix helped it excel in its customer experience strategy.

Costco is a bit of a dark horse among its peers – a low-tech, brick-and-mortar play in the age of e-commerce and grocery aisle robots. Last year, it held back on curbside pickup despite many other retailers doing so and has kept its retail experience famously streamlined, with utilitarian signage, bulk bins and nary an external ad to be seen. Yet the brand boasts a 90 percent member retention rate, thanks to its ability to double-down on the right customer segments and make each warehouse trip a satisfying haul.

Costco understands the psychology of their target consumer to a tee, enabling the brand to deliver a consistently excellent experience. Simplifying choice amidst chaos and focusing on quality products is, in an age of information overload, a revolutionary act. As a result, Costco scored highly on our Index for “lives up to its promises” and “is a brand I trust.”

Takeaway: Stay true to your brand experience “north star”, consistently delivering against this matters most to your customers.

Final thoughts

While the end of the pandemic appears in sight, people’s expectations of brand experiences have changed for good. Brands must be more diligent than ever by crafting strategic consumer experiences and infusing continuous innovation into their business portfolio. Those that develop more connected, emotionally compelling and pragmatic experiences will win the race to relevance, generating greater revenues – and uncommon growth.

Learn more about the brands that stood out in this year’s Prophet Brand Relevance Index®. And if you’re looking to build and maintain the capacity to innovate then our Experience & Innovation practice can help, get in touch today.