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Top 10 Best Performing Brands in 2021 - G & Co. Innovation Index®

G & Co. Innovation Index® 2021

2020 brought us a world of new challenges and innovations. We look toward the top-performing brands that cut through the noise and shine a light where desperately needed in these unprecedented times. The most innovative brands today are those that inspire us, connect us with others, and defy expectations to bring the world closer to tomorrow’s future.

Performing for the consumer

As a way to celebrate the triumphs over the hardships we’ve all overcome, G & Co. is initiating its annual Innovation Index®, in which we showcase the top performing brands in the world, and what organizations can learn from these leading companies to make their own mark. In this list, you’ll find what the top ten most innovative brands in 2021 are doing that transcends product pushing or service providing and what key themes make up the ten best performing brands in the world today. 

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We hope that through showcasing the innovative brand leaders when it comes to performance, and relevance, that we inspire more organizations to better connect with consumers.

While last year sent shockwaves to the world,the top brands stood firm and emerged stronger than before, ready to take on new challenges and continue delivering prime experiences. If there’s one thing brands are to have learned, it is that consumer behaviors are the foundation to their dominance and future.

This report compiles the most significant lessons brands can learn from to steer their strategies and succeed in the coming decade.It’s not enough to keep up with consumer trends. To become the most relevant version of themselves possible, brands must aim for better engagement and more applicable experiences that consumers cannot envision living without.

Now more than ever, consumers are shopping with brands that earn their attention.

Although the mantra of being relevant still holds true, how brands build their connection with consumers to stay relevant has changed. In G & Co.’s inaugural Innovation Index®, we showcase the most relevant brands in the world for 2021 and why they’ve notched their position on our list. After analyzing thousands of variables and data points from U.S. consumers, we conclude and reveal why the following brands are the ones to watch for the years to come.

To bid adieu to last year’s social distancing, political divide, and socioeconomic upheaval, consumers look to brands that comfort, care for, and fill a connection with them. No longer do people want brands to bemere purveyors of goods and services; they want them to symbolize community and compassion where little of it was present. Brands today are looked upon to make bold promises and keep them, be truthful to their consumers and innovate for a better day tomorrow.

The brands that consumers identify as the most important and relevant in their lives are those that respond to consumers’ changing behaviors, habits, and desires. The best organizations to adapt to their industries are those who do not yield their roots. Our research found that the most relevant brands today are the ones that struck a balance between progression and fidelity. Though they span various industries, each brand adhered to four pillars of brand relevance.

Time and time again, the brands that took the title for the best in their industry were those that offered comfort to consumers and built an authentic connection with them. Amid a turbulent year, the organizations that showcased truthful transparency and empathy and made the best of the cards we got dealt with are those that consumers related to most.

1. Apple

As the most definitive example of the pillars of success in relevance, Apple displays a penchant for exceptional customer experience delivery and innovative production. Not to mention the use of its brand new campus to showcase an engaging series of keynotes, Apple’s introduction of a budget-friendly iPhone and updated Mac and iPad lines were a welcome addition for the price conscientious and the newly confined student and workforce.

2. Peloton

Just because the world ground to a halt didn’t mean exercise regiments had to. The time we devote to sweating and destressing was as needed as it had ever been last year. So when gyms and studios shuttered indefinitely, Peloton came as a welcome addition to our homes.Acting as both the medium to discharge ourenergy and connect with others doing the same,Peloton impressively doubled its membership count by the end of last year’s quarter to 3.6 million.

3. Netflix

If on-demand entertainment barely registered as one of the most treasured things to come out of the 21st century before, it most certainly has now.As the innovator of online streaming, Netflix added 37 million subscribers to its member list last year for a total of more than 200 million.Naturally, being cooped up at home longer could only mean doing more of what we had before: binging on any number of the streaming giant’s original programming or distributed film and television series. Netflix’s strength is aided by its impressive content pipeline, evidenced by Co-CEO Reed Hastings’ stating the pandemic would not disrupt the streaming giant’s 2020 slate.

4. Pfizer

Need we say more? The New York-based pharmaceutical company’s partnership with German developer BioNTech culminated in the first announcement of the most valuable and in-demand product today: a ticket to return to normalcy. Pfizer leadership’s proclamation that their vaccines would stand up to scientific scrutiny by publishing their trial blueprint protocols shows a verifiable effort to increase public confidence in their product.

5. Nintendo

Even in a year of next-generation console releases, Nintendo’s Switch has remained the best-selling video game console in the U.S. for two consecutive years. One could argue that Sony and Microsoft’s unveiling of their consoles in 2020 has Nintendo competing on a different lane. It’ll be a while before consumers see a wide variety of titles making full use of the Playstation 5 or Xbox One’s upgraded performance hardware. That Nintendo’s beloved titles offered consumers a much-needed escape from reality makes the Japanese company rank high on our list.

6. Costco

While food retailers sank from toiletry-induced grocery store frenzies and stock shelf shortages, Costco’s reliability attracted a new cohort of cardholders to a total of 105.5 million. Apart from its dedication to public safety (the wholesale retailer provided special hours for its senior customers and enforced mask-wearing), Costco’s bulk catalog offered its shoppers a sense of convenience where much of it was absent with competing grocers.

7. Nike

Nike’s successes today are largely due to the significant investment in their direct-to-consumer efforts years ago. By emphasizing digital innovation and mobile app downloads, Nike has pushed for a growth of its online sales. In just ten years, the sportswear giant has grown its DTC sales from 16% of total brand revenues to 35%—well over its 30% goal by 2023 and still showing upward trajectory signs. In addition, Nike’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement through a $40 million pledge to fight systemic racism shows a bold commitment to leveling the playing field for community fans.

8. Spotify

Charting at No. 8 on our list, Spotify earns its mark after a year defined by connection. The audio streaming service has added a total of more than 150 million paying subscribers as of now. Spotify's announcement of podcast-friendly news in 2020, such as its acquisition of Slate Group's Megaphone and Bill Simmons' The Ringer, as well as its partnerships with Joe Rogan and Michelle Obama, are very much a welcome addition to its 345 million monthly active listeners.The music streaming service has also recently introduced audiobooks' arrival to its platform, signaling its ambitions to become the one-stop-shop for all consumer audio.

9. Microsoft

To say Microsoft offered us a level of consistency to our work lives this past year is a severe understatement. While the shift to all-digital coordination may have been rocky at best and vexing at worst, Microsoft’s Teams platform allowed for a greater feeling of cohesion among students and companies separated from the pandemic. Apart from the office-based products, Microsoft shows signs of steady future growth, with investments in its gaming division and artificial intelligence arm through ZeniMax Media and OpenAI, respectively.

10. Amazon

The quintessential pandemic partner, Amazon has proved an indispensable tool to every household.Despite global supply chain disruptions, the eCommerce retail giant excelled in delivering its customers their products at the utmost convenience, whether it was an in-demand item or something to make pandemic living a little more tolerable. Its outsized investments certainly helped Amazon become a paragon of a brand we cannot think to live without. In the coming years, we expect to see it innovate further with the introduction of AmazonPharmacy and other potential market entries lined out.

Our clients have asked us for our perspective on consumer industries, and we happily oblige.Between rapidly shifting shopping behaviors and trends appearing, leaders can rise and once-dominant players can fall to someone else’s edge. That’s why we’re excited to unveil our first ranking for the most relevant brands to watch in 2021.

Our Innovation Index is meant to help brandleaders and decision-makers realize how to measure their brands' impact and a path to making that effect even greater on the world.

What went into selecting the top performing brands of 2021?

G & Co. assessed thousands of data points and customer experiences to arrive at our top ten list of the best performing brands of 2021. We’ve learned from 2020 that every year has incredibly unique circumstances that call on brands to recalibrate and innovate. Because of that, we’ve identified the ten top performing consumer brands that embraced the challenges of last year and exemplified what it means for brands to be relevant in a time of rapidly shifting consumer behaviors. 

We’ve considered four key principles that create relevance and selected ten companies we concluded ranked highest in scoring for these metrics on our top performing brand leaders list. 

The four principles are as follows:

  • Customer Obsessed: what an organization will do to ensure the highest quality differential when it comes to meeting consumer needs and desires 
  • Consistency: being able to dependably count on receiving the ultimate customer experience these brands offer
  • Inspiration: how brands call to our intrinsic motivations and encourage us to find our values
  • Transformative: how much progress a company seeks to make to provide the world for the next generation of solutions

What does it mean for a top performing brand to be recognized as such? 

For a company to be acknowledged as a top performing brand leader, it must excel in at least one of four principles that the most successful and innovative brands in history have all displayed (see above). Time and time again, we’ve seen a repeated pattern of success in the organizations that show a clear propensity for caring for their customers, consistency in their customer experiences, compassionate concern for the communities they serve, and a drive to always push forward. 

For a brand to be recognized as a top performing brand leader, it shows that it has made it a defining characteristic to go beyond providing a product or service. The most innovative brands in the world show that their drive is to make a meaningful, long-lasting impact. 

What was the motivation behind selecting top performing brands?

We wanted to inspire and encourage brands to take some of the key lessons from the best performing brand leaders of 2021. Because of the incredibly unique set of circumstances of last year, the bar for the world’s top ten most innovative brands had to change. Through picking the companies whose efforts outshone their competition and exemplified what it means to be truly best performing, we hope to rally the next wave of consumer-led focus on making brands more personable.

How many brands were weighed for the Innovation Index® to happen?

Over two hundred brands and 19 categories were evaluated for G & Co.’s Innovation Index®. Among them, we have selected the top ten best performing consumer brands and leaders. Of course, all rankings are subject to change in next year’s Innovation Index®. If there is one thing we have learned from the last twelve months, it’s that we are operating on a dynamic scale, and we must adapt. How well we do depends on our ability to pivot and embrace the challenges we face.

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