Are Brands Really Building Brand Equity?

November 22, 2017 - 7 minute read

Big brands like Netflix, Apple and Asos spend a lot on developing their image. They’d like to think they’re easily recognisable - but are they?

We decided to put the digital brand equity of 10 top brands to the test. To do that, we took a screenshot of each company’s website, removed their logo (and any giveaway references) and asked people to tell us which brand it was.

The idea was to test how successfully each brand has built a distinctive look and feel for their online identity that goes beyond their name. We wanted to know if there was something about them that made them easily identifiable; characteristics that let customers innately know they’ve landed in the right place. And more to the point, does it even matter?

The 10 brands we tested were:

  1. Airbnb
  2. Amazon
  3. Apple
  4. Asos
  5. Deliveroo
  6. Expedia
  7. Google
  8. Marks & Spencer
  9. Netflix
  10. Tiffany’s

Which ones came out on top? Let’s take a look at the results (they might surprise you!)...

The brand with the best recognition was… Amazon

Amazon was correctly identified by a massive 85% of our respondents - that’s seven percentage points higher than the next most recognised brand, which was Google (78%). It wasn’t much mistaken for other brands (11% just didn’t know what it was).

One might find this level of recognition surprising for a company with as diverse an offering as Amazon (there’s pretty much nothing it doesn’t sell and it has a stake in everything from grocery delivery to video production), but it has clearly done a good job of promoting its sub brands, Prime, Video and Music. It also has easily recognisable products like the Echo Dot.

Google, on the other hand, is recognisable by its very lack of identifiable features. We showed our consumer panellists a blank page with a search box and nothing but the words “I’m feeling lucky” underneath, and yet it was still named by the vast majority. Like Amazon, it was not easily confused with any other brand.

Also enjoying high levels of recognition were Apple (74%) and Netflix (72%), but they were also more likely to be misnamed. Something which should give Apple cause for concern was that a significant portion (13%) thought the website was that of Samsung.

This is despite the fact that an iPhone X features prominently on the page. There is certainly an issue with design imitation in the mobile phone space and this shows that Apple might need to go to greater lengths to differentiate themselves in future.

The brand with the worst recognition was… Expedia

Expedia is an online company with some heritage; it was launched as a division of Microsoft in 1996 as the web’s first travel booking service, before becoming a public company in 2001. According to its corporate literature, it’s now the world’s leading online travel company. It’s got beautiful, big budget advertising (see below), but all this is not enough to make it recognisable - at least to UK consumers.  

Only 12% of those we questioned we able to identify the website as Expedia’s. Nearly 21% were totally stumped, but there was also a lot of confusion with other travel platforms; 8% named it as Trainline, 6% as and 5% as Trivago. The remaining 48% identified it as everything from British Airways to Eurostar (there were a lot of different suggestions).  

Suffering a similar problem was fashion retailer Asos, faring only slightly better than Expedia with a recognition rate of 12.5%. Despite using multicultural models that mirror their target audience, and promoting a particular style of young fashion, a whopping 39% had no clue what brand they were looking at.

Meanwhile, 4% thought it was Matalan, 3.5% named it as TK Maxx and 3.5% reckoned it was Gap. Others named it as H&M, Benetton, and TopShop. Interestingly, Asos is not alone in its identity crisis; further research conducted by Attest shows recognition levels are perilously low amongst online fashion retailers. Take away the logo and many of the sites look strikingly similar.

That’s not to say they’re not doing well; the 17-year-old Asos is now more valuable than the venerable M&S (£4.89bn vs £4.88bn). And that victory comes despite M&S having nearly twice as much online brand recognition (23%). However, Asos has placed a strong focus on its social media and customer experience (such as utilising AI for personalisation) and this has undoubtedly secured its place as a destination website among millennials.

When someone steals your signature look

Can a company can never truly “own” a colour? It appears from our research that it’s not easy, andthere’s not much you can do when another brand decides that shade will look good on them. With so many brands setting up shop on the internet - and with a finite colour pallet to choose from - it’s inevitable that colour usage will dilute recognition. Just look at the number of apps on your phone with a blue icon.

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 14.58.26.png

You might think jewellry brand Tiffany’s, with its trademarked Tiffany Blue created in 1837, would be immune to this. That gorgeous robin egg blue is synonymous with the brand, but the efficacy of the tone has clearly deteriorated. In our test, almost as many consumers who correctly identified the Tiffany’s website (36%) thought it belonged to John Lewis (33%). A further 31% couldn’t offer up any name at all, proving that colour is not everything when it comes to branding.

Meanwhile, online food delivery service Deliveroo (which ironically has a logo close in colour to Tiffany Blue) was mistaken for Sainsbury’s and Uncle Ben’s, no doubt because of its prominent use of orange on its website. This goes to show how important context is when it comes to colour association - in this case food and orange.

However, despite being the youngest brand on the list, Deliveroo scored very well for recognition, with a score of 42%. This shows it’s doing a great job of developing it’s own unique online identity.

PR does not always mean BR (brand recognition)

One of the most surprising results of the study has to be that of Airbnb. As a first class disruptor, and pioneer of the “sharing economy,” this brand is on everybody’s lips and always in the media. Every other tech start-up brands itself as, “the Airbnb for….” trying to get a little bit of the huge traction and attention the home sharing platform has enjoyed (it now has 4 million property listings globally). And yet, recognition of its website was low. Airbnb came seventh out of our 10 brands, correctly identified by only 32% of consumers.

Like Google, it has opted for a clean, above-the-fold design relying on a strapline for identification, but the message hasn’t yet taken root amongst UK consumers. All manner of different travel sites were suggested, but Trivago, which is advertised extensively on television, was most frequently named (by 7%).

In conclusion

What can we learn from the results of this study? All of the brands we examined are successful, including those with low rates of online recognition. This might lead us to conclude that brand equity is mostly built away from your own website. However it’s probably no coincidence that the brands that came out tops in terms of recognition are also the most valuable on the planet.

Google, Apple and Amazon all appear at the top of the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands rankings. Amazon, which had the most recognised website in our test, achieved the highest dollar value growth of all last year, increasing by 41% to $139.3bn.

It’s impossible to know whether recognition has led to the success of these brands or if their success has led to their recognition. But what we can be sure of is that success and a strong online identity go hand in hand. Recognisable brands are the more valuable ones.

As such, if you do business online and are spending money on branded PPC and banner ads, you could be letting yourself down if you don’t have a distinctive web identity.

However, building brand equity goes beyond simple consumer recognition; it’s about consumer attitude. Understanding how people feel about your brand is arguably most important. Afterall, there’s no benefit in everyone recognising your website if they recognise it as a brand they don’t want to buy from.

Attest can help you understand both your current levels of recognition and consumer attitudes towards your brand. Speak to one of our market research experts today and start building a brand everyone will know, for the right reasons!  

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