What are the qualities that allow for some startups to soar, whilst so many others like it stumble at the first hurdle? That’s what global brand consultancy Interbrand set out to understand with its Breakthrough Brands report, now in its second year, which names 40 companies that it feels represent the next generation of brands across a variety of new, emerging, and evolving business categories. The companies on this year’s list were judged on five factors: Clarity, Relevance, Differentiation, Presence and Audience Engagement. The brand also has to be 10 years of younger and must have exhibited some kind of significant brand change, growth or buzz.
Last year’s list featured a number of names that are now well on their way to becoming household brands, such as Venmo and Blue Apron. This year’s crop includes some solid startups like Slack, Alphabet’s Verily, Samasource, and Square, but there are also a number of companies on the list that, while they may have broken through, are not necessarily sure bets. TaskRabbit, for instance is currently contemplating a sale and Cylance recently announced a series of layoffs.
A list such as this presents as many questions as it answers of course. Why, for example, given Apple’s recent push into health tech, is it not included here, whilst Verily, which shares a parent company with Google, is? Interbrand's selection process was reportedly rather detailed, and involved whittling down a master list of 200 brands into seven trend categories, listed below:
“The working future” focuses on career building and workflow with brands like Slack, and General Assembly.
“from lifehacking to better living,” looks at brands that are removing obstacles and solving problems of our everyday lives, like TaskRabbit, Instacart.
“not-so artificial intelligence” is a look at brands building new tools using AI like 30SecondsToFly, Face++, and Cylance.
“Move me” is all about companies focused on the future of mobility like Ofo, Drivy, and Ninja Van.
“Funding change” focuses on financial organisations like Square, Ripio, and Wealthsimple.
“Experiences on demand” are brands that make it easier for us to find and get what we want, when we want it, like Clique Media Group and MikMak.
Finally, “health in your hands” focuses, rather obviously, on breakthrough healthcare companies like Noom and Babylon.
Interbrand’s chief communications officer, Paola Norambuena says that whilst the list is confined to primarily start-ups that are a lot less than 10 years old, financial services brand Square, which is one of the oldest brands on this year’s list, was chosen for its relatively recent shift beyond its original payments product. She explains: “The reason we focused on Square is because its business model keeps adapting. They were certainly breakthrough when it came to the credit card payments, but what they’ve done is really pushed their model to stretch into a new category to fund small businesses. If you have a very strong brand, you often have consumer permission to go beyond your initial category, and this is an example of that. So it’s fascinating to see how they might grow.”
Both Apple and Google’s Verily appeared on Fast Company‘s Most Innovative Companies list for healthcare this year, and yet only Verily was named an Interbrand Breakthrough Brand. Norambuena says that’s down to Verily becoming a start-up on its own. She explains: “The reason we pulled out Verily is because they’re being spun out of Google as a separate business. It’s a bit arbitrary, but we thought what they’re doing is important to talk about, will continue to grow, and is indicative of a larger area of growth.”
There is an equal balance made between product quality, financial growth, and brand strength. Norambuena says that for many start-ups, the focus is primarily on the former two, and not enough on the latter. She adds: “We see a lot of comparable businesses, they may all have interesting technology, be of similar size, but the ones that pull ahead are the ones that understand the value of a great brand,” she says. “They need a cohesive story that will help them break from the pack.” One example was Chinese bikeshare company Ofo, which is among a handful of strong companies, including rival MoBike, in that highly competitive space in China. Norambuena says Ofo was specifically picked over MoBike based on the strength of its brand.
Ultimately, of the 40 brands chosen, it's unlikely any one of us will have heard of, or actively engaged with more than a handful, but last year's list turned out to be far more prophetic than speculative, with brands like Deliveroo, Oculus and IBM Watson making the cut. Whether this year's list turns out to be as successful, we can but wait and see.
The 2017 Breakthrough Brands
The Working Future:
One to Watch: bob
From Life Hacking To Better Living:
One to Watch: Verily
Not So Artificial Intelligence:
One to watch: BenevolentAI
One to watch: Navya
One to watch: Ellevest
Experiences on Demand:
Clique Media Group
One to watch: Rappi
Health In Your Hands:
One to watch: Zipline
For more insight, you can read the full report right HERE.