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How the Tech Giants Make Their Billions

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How the Tech Giants Make Their Billions

How the Tech Giants Make Their Billions

At a glance, it may seem like the world’s biggest technology companies have a lot in common.

For starters, all five of the Big Tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet) have emerged as some of the most valuable publicly-traded companies in the world, with founders such as Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates sitting atop the global billionaire list.

These tech giants also have a consumer-facing aspect to their business that is front and center. With billions of people using their platforms globally, these companies leverage user data to tighten their grip even more on market share. At the same time, this data is a double-edged sword, as these same companies often find themselves in the crosshairs for mishandling personal information.

Finally, all of these companies have a similar origin story: they were founded or incubated on the fertile digital grounds of the West Coast. The company that has the weakest claim to such origins would be Facebook, but even it has been based in Silicon Valley since June 2004.

Sizing Up the Tech Giants

For all of their commonalities, it seems that there is less of a mold for how these tech giants end up generating cashflow.

But before we get to how Big Tech makes its money, let’s start by looking at the financials at a higher level. The following data comes from the 2018 10-K reports filed last year.

CompanyRevenue (2018)Net Income (2018)Margin
Apple$265.6 billion$59.5 billion22.4%
Amazon$232.9 billion$10.1 billion4.3%
Alphabet$136.8 billion$30.7 billion22.4%
Microsoft$110.4 billion$16.6 billion15.0%
Facebook$55.8 billion$22.1 billion39.6%
Combined$801.5 billion$139.0 billion17.3%

Together, the Big Five tech giants combined for just over $800 billion of revenue in 2018, which would be among the world’s 20 largest countries in terms of GDP. More precisely, they would just edge out Saudi Arabia ($684 billion GDP) in terms of size.

Meanwhile, they generated a total of $139 billion of net income for their shareholders, good for a 17.3% profit margin.

How Big Tech Makes Money

Let’s dig deeper, and see the differences in how these companies generate their revenue.

You are the Customer

In the broadest sense, three of the tech giants make money in the same way: you pay them money, and they give you a product or service.

Apple (Revenue in 2018: $265.6 billion)

  • Apple generates a staggering 62.8% of its revenue from the iPhone
  • The iPad and Mac are good for 7.1% and 9.6% of revenues, respectively
  • All other products and services – including Apple TV, Apple Watch, Beats products, Apple Pay, AppleCare, etc. – combine to just 20.6% of revenues

Amazon (Revenue in 2018: $232.9 billion)

  • Amazon gets the most from its online stores (52.8%) as well as third-party seller services (18.4%)
  • Amazon’s fastest-growing segment is offline sales in physical stores
  • Offline sales generate $17.2 billion in current revenue, growing 197% year-over-year
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) is well-known for being Amazon’s most profitable segment, and it counts for 11.0% of revenue
  • Amazon’s “Other” segment is also rising fast – it mainly includes ad sales

Microsoft (Revenue in 2018: $110.4 billion)

  • Microsoft has the most diversified revenue of any of the tech giants
  • This is part of the reason it currently has the largest market capitalization ($901 billion) of the Big Five
  • Microsoft has eight different segments that generate ~5% or more of revenue
  • The biggest three are “Office products and cloud services” (25.7%), “Server products and cloud services” (23.7%), and Windows (17.7%)

The remaining tech giants charge you nothing as a consumer, so how are they worth so much?

You are the Product

Both Alphabet and Facebook also generate billions of dollars of revenue, but they make this money from advertising. Their platforms allow advertisers to target you at scale with incredible precision, which is why they dominate the online ad industry.

Here’s how their revenues break down:

Alphabet (Revenue in 2018: $136.8 billion)

  • Despite having a wider umbrella name, ad revenue (via Google, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Ads, etc.) still drives 85% of revenue for the company
  • Other Google products and services, like Google Play or the Google Pixel phone, help to generate 14.5% of total revenue
  • Other Bets count to 0.4% of revenue – these are Alphabet’s moonshot attempts to find the “next Google” for its shareholders

Facebook (Revenue in 2018: $55.8 billion)

  • Facebook generates almost all revenue (98.5%) from ads
  • Meanwhile, 1.5% comes from payments and other fees
  • Despite Facebook being a free service for users, the company generated more revenue per user than Netflix, which charges for its service
  • In 2018 Q4, for example, Facebook made $35 per user. Netflix made $30.

So while the tech giants may have many similarities, how they generate their billions can vary considerably.

Some are marketing products to you, while others are marketing you as the product.

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Technology

The World’s Tech Giants, Ranked by Brand Value

Tech giants and e-commerce brands are thriving—and running circles around less pandemic-proof brands.

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The World’s Tech Giants, Ranked by Brand Value

The pandemic has businesses everywhere on the ropes, with many firms filing for bankruptcy since lockdowns began. Despite the uncertainty, tech giants and major digital retail brands are still thriving—and some are running circles around those that are less pandemic-proof.

Using data from Kantar and Bloomberg, a recent brand report released by BrandZ shows which tech companies are proving their worth to consumers during COVID-19 chaos. With data covering almost 4 million consumers, BrandZ also reveals that the tech sector leads the world’s 100 most valued brands in terms of financial power and consumer sentiment.

Here’s how the top 20 tech brands from the report stack up:

RankCompanyBrand Value (2020)Change (%)
#1🇺🇸 Apple$352 billion+14%
#2🇺🇸 Microsoft$327 billion+30%
#3🇺🇸 Google$324 billion+5%
#4🇨🇳 Tencent$151 billion+15%
#5🇺🇸 Facebook$147 billion-7%
#6🇺🇸 IBM$84 billion-3%
#7🇩🇪 SAP$58 billion0%
#8🇺🇸 Instagram$42 billion+47%
#9🇺🇸 Accenture$41 billion+6%
#10🇺🇸 Intel$37 billion+17%
#11🇺🇸 Adobe$36 billion+29%
#12🇰🇷 Samsung$33 billion+7%
#13🇺🇸 Salesforce$30 billion+13%
#14🇺🇸 LinkedIn$30 billion+31%
#15🇨🇳 Huawei$29 billion+9%
#16🇺🇸 Oracle$27 billion+2%
#17🇺🇸 Cisco$26 billion-9%
#18🇺🇸 Dell$18 billion-2%
#19🇨🇳 Xiaomi$17 billion-16%
#20🇨🇳 Baidu$15 billion-29%

Out of the top five tech brands, Microsoft made the biggest moves with 30% brand value growth. Other big movers in the top 20 were Instagram (owned by Facebook), Adobe, and LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft), rising 47%, 29%, and 31%, respectively.

Broken down by nation, U.S. brands are dominating tech’s heavy hitters, claiming 14 of the world’s top 20 tech brands. Chinese brands round out much of the remaining top 20, including tech entertainment and social media giant Tencent, which rose 15% in brand value since 2019.

Big Tech’s Heavyweights

Tech’s top brands are raking in billions of dollars, capturing consumer mindshare, captivating people, and comforting them during volatile months. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Tencent, and Facebook—tech’s leading contingent—have made those moves look easy during what are rough times for many world brands. 

While most tech brands in the upper half of the top 20 saw significant increases in brand value, only Facebook and IBM were in decline from 2019, at -7% and -3% respectively. The biggest loss in tech’s top 20 came from China’s Baidu, which fell by -29% in 2020.

Waning consumer trust, thanks in part to the perceived misuse of personal data, is a gap that tech’s popularity alone won’t fill forever. (Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, nearly 25% of Facebook account holders reported being “extremely” or “very” concerned about their personal data.)

Pandemic-Proof Applications

Coming in at eighth place, Facebook-owned Instagram gained 47% in brand value—a huge percentage, but less than the whopping 95% growth it had in 2019.

On the whole, digital apps have been faring well during the pandemic, especially those built for entertainment, shopping, social connection, and delivery.

These brands had anticipated, even invented, the online-offline dynamics of modern life that became indispensable for survival during the lockdown homebound weeks of avoiding the contagion. 

— BrandZ 2020 Global Top 100 Report

Top Brands, by Category

While the brand value growth rates of tech giants aren’t entirely immune to the effects of COVID-19, the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and Google are growing steadily, surpassed only by e-commerce leader Amazon. 

With data collected into April 2020, BrandZ’s report on the world’s top 100 brands reflects multiple shifting needs and consumer concerns at a categorical scale. 

While consumer affinity for e-commerce and social media brands has increased, fast food and beer brands took a hit, despite reports of increased alcohol consumption and food delivery during lockdown. It would seem then, that consumers have been valuing their tools and means of consumption.

Of the report’s 14 brand categories, only six increased in value, mostly by less than 5%. Of the top risers, six were tech brands and six were mainly e-commerce. 

Other upwardly mobile brands were those in the apparel and personal care categories. Much like retail, those categories had an increasing reliance on technology to deliver their products. 

The above chart shows overall categorical changes for 2020 led by retail, tech, and insurance. In the opposite corner, energy, and bank brands took the biggest hits.

Rolling with the Punches

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are undeniable. Even still, BrandZ’s top 100 brands marked a steady increase of 6% in value in 2020, compared to 7% the previous year.

This pandemic has offered up era-defining change, with tech and e-commerce seizing the day. But in a climate where nothing can be taken for granted, brands large and small are still taking their knocks.

For now, the brands that are embraced by consumers will be those that can apply a salve to the blows that 2020 keeps delivering. 

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Connected Workers: How Digital Transformation is Shaping Industry’s Future

This graphic explores the role connected workers play in achieving successful digital transformation and identifying new growth opportnities.

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Connected Workers: Shaping the Future of Industry

Digital transformation has upended businesses on a global scale, and no industry is immune from its powerful effects.

New technologies and enhancing customer experience are key drivers for companies investing in digital transformation, but the most important reason for prioritizing this shift is that it will allow them to leverage entirely new opportunities for growth.

However, with the speed of digital transformation accelerating at a furious pace, companies need to quickly adapt their working environment to keep up. This graphic from mCloud unearths the origins of the connected worker, and explores the potential applications of connected devices across industries.

The Rise of the Connected Worker

The mass adoption of smart devices has sparked a new wave of remote work. This type of working arrangement is estimated to inject $441 billion into the global economy every year, and save 2.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 by 2029—the equivalent of 1,280 flights between New York and London.

However, flexible or remote working looks different depending on the industry. For example, in the context of business services such as engineering or manufacturing, employees who carry out different tasks remotely using digital technologies are known as connected workers.

The term is not a one-size-fits-all, as there are many different types of connected workers with different roles, such as operators, field workers, engineers, and even executives. But regardless of an individual’s title, every connected worker plays a crucial role in achieving digital transformation.

Real Time Data, Real Time Benefits

When workers are connected to assets in real time, they can make better, more informed decisions—ultimately becoming a more efficient workforce overall. As a result, industries could unlock a wealth of benefits, such as:

  • Reducing human error
  • Increasing productivity
  • Reducing dangerous incidents
  • Saving time and money
  • Monitoring assets 24/7

While connected workers can enhance the potential of industries, the tools they use to achieve these benefits are crucial to their success.

Connected Worker Technologies

A connected device has the ability to connect with other devices and systems through the internet. The connected worker device market is set for rapid growth over the next two decades, reaching $4.3 billion by 2039. Industries such as oil and gas, chemical production, and construction lead the way in the adoption of connected worker technologies, which include:

  • Platforms: Hardware or software that uses artificial intelligence and data to allow engineers to create bespoke applications and control manufacturing processes remotely.
  • Interfaces: Technologies such as 3D digital twins enable peer-to-peer information sharing. They also create an immersive reflection of surroundings that would have otherwise been inaccessible by workers, such as wind turbine blades.
  • Smart sensors and IoT devices: Sensors that monitor assets provide a more holistic overview of industrial processes in real time and prevent dangerous incidents.
  • Cloud and edge computing: Using the cloud allows workers to communicate with each other and manage shared data more efficiently.

Over time, connected devices are getting smarter and expanding their capabilities. Moreover, devices such as wearables are becoming more discreet than ever, and can even be embedded into personal protective equipment to gather data while remaining unobtrusive.

Real World Applications

With seemingly endless potential, these devices have the ability to provide game changing solutions to ongoing challenges across dozens of industries.

  • Building Maintenance and Management
    Facility managers can access real time information and connect with maintenance workers on site to resolve issues quickly. Building personnel can also access documentation and remote help through connected technologies.
  • Task Management
    Operators in industrial settings such as mining can control activities in remote locations. They can also enable field personnel to connect with experts in other locations.
  • Communications Platform
    Cloud-based communication platforms can provide healthcare practitioners with a tool to connect with the patient, the patient’s family and emergency care personnel.

By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and analytics, connected workers can continue to revolutionize businesses and industries across the globe.

Towards a More Connected Future

As companies navigate the challenges of COVID-19, implementing connected worker technologies and creating a data-driven work environment may quickly become an increasingly important priority.

Not only is digital transformation important for leveraging new growth opportunities to scale, it may be crucial for determining the future of certain businesses and industries.

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