Relentlessly Relevant Brands: The Role Models

Dependability, inspiration, engagement and pragmatism all figure prominently in this year’s list of winners.

Earlier this week Forbes ran an article announcing the release of a Prophet brand ranking Index which ranks the “relentless relevance” of 400 top brands from 29 categories. The respondents were U.S. consumers, active in the category and familiar with the brand, so the results go beyond visibility and reach to understand the attachment to the brand.

Relentless relevance was measured by four dimensions:

  • Customer Obsessed: Being important to a person’s life, connecting emotionally, and creating happiness.
  • Ruthlessly Pragmatic: Makes life easier by being dependable, available, and delivering a consistent experience.
  • Distinctively Inspired: Inspires, has a meaningful purpose, is trustworthy, and in-touch.
  • Pervasively Innovative: Pushes the status quo, engages with customers in new and creative ways, and finds new ways to address unmet needs.

Brands that are relentlessly relevant are likely to be dominant leaders of a subcategory which is usually the best route to growth as I explained in my book Brand Relevance.

Several findings caught my eye:

1. The top three brands, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft, are considered highly reliable enablers of what is important in the life of respondents. They score high across all dimensions. All of these brands are highly visible and have been the subject of positive news as well as controversy. But at the end of the day, their customers still love them, and loyalty wins. I recall hearing Phil Knight commenting on why he was running highly-controversial Nike ads. He noted that all he cared about was his core target markets, and they loved them. It’s that intense focus on the core customer that creates brand enthusiasts that stick with your brand through thick and thin.

2. Involvement is a driver of relentless relevance. The scale “engages me in new and creative ways” helped give the brands PlayStation, Xbox, EA and Etsy a place in the top 50. Etsy, admittedly a surprise to me, helps those in the Maker Movement reach a bigger pool of shoppers. The e-commerce company has devoted itself to building an authentic, people-driven marketplace, with 23 million buyers to date.

3. The Ruthlessly Pragmatic (dependable) dimension is more influential than expected in weighting the relevance score. After the first three brands, three of the next five, Netflix, Chick-fil-A and Spotify all scored extremely high on the Ruthlessly Pragmatic dimension that includes concepts like availability, consistent experience, dependability, and making life easier. It is great to be inspiring, innovative and central to a person’s lifestyle but simply delivering your brand promise is of very high value to consumers.

4. Fifteen of the top 50 brands were classic brand names that largely delivered functional benefits, or so it seems. Leading the way with positions in the top 25 were Betty Crocker, Band-Aid, Clorox, KitchenAid and Folgers. All were extremely high on the Ruthlessly Pragmatic dimension, reinforcing the hypothesis that delivering to expectations may not be glamorous, but can drive a brand’s ability to create and keep a loyal segment which can be the basis of a healthy long-term business. There’s also likely to be some emotional benefit linked to the nostalgia of growing up with these brands – they become part of the fabric of people’s lives. Likely connected: Many of these brands had relatively high scores on the “trust” dimension as well.

5. Four of the top brands including Netflix at number 5, Spotify at number 8, Pandora at Number 19, and YouTube at number 43 are Internet media brands and score high on the “important in my life” dimension. Two more, Pixar at 11 and Disney at 24, are entertainment brands and were extremely high on both “makes me happy” and “connects with me emotionally.” Not only are these companies providing a more fun experience for their customers, but they are innovating the experience and constantly keeping it fresh and relevant in consumers’ lives.

6. Seven fashion-connected brands populated the top 50 including Nike, Sephora, M·A·C, North Face, Under Armour, Adidas and Victoria’s Secret. Many had high scores on the “distinctively inspired” dimension. All involve a high level of involvement and energy as well. Relentless relevance measured on those that are active in the category and familiar with the brand provides a key brand equity indicator that is not available on other brand strength scales and represents a brand relationship that is a key to business success.

“Brands that are relentlessly relevant are likely to be dominant leaders of a subcategory.”


Relevance is always changing, as consumer perceptions, wants and needs shift. Brands gain and lose relevance by how well they keep up, offering products and services that inspire loyalty, enthusiasm and brand love.