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.
|Company||Revenue (2018)||Net Income (2018)||Margin|
|Combined||$801.5 billion||$139.0 billion||17.3%|
|Apple||$265.6 billion||$59.5 billion||22.4%|
|Amazon||$232.9 billion||$10.1 billion||4.3%|
|Alphabet||$136.8 billion||$30.7 billion||22.4%|
|Microsoft||$110.4 billion||$16.6 billion||15.0%|
|$55.8 billion||$22.1 billion||39.6%|
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.
The Most Loved Brands, by Generation
Can a brand transcend time and be all things to all people? This graphic seeks to find out by visualizing the most loved brands by generation.
The Most Beloved Brands, by Generation
When it comes to buying into brands, consumers are spoiled for choice.
The vast amount of options available makes it increasingly difficult for brands to build meaningful emotional connections with them—but for the brands that do, the payoff can be huge.
Today’s graphic pulls data from MBLM’s 2020 Brand Intimacy Report and visualizes the top 10 brands that different generations connect with the most.
Can Emotion Be Measured?
Brands that tap into consumers’ emotions can establish higher levels of trust. This in turn creates a culture of loyalty that could ensure a unique standing in the market and long-term growth.
In fact, intimate brands that have a strong emotional bond with their consumers tend to outperform top companies listed on the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 in both revenue and profit. To measure how brands emotionally connect with consumers, MBLM looked at four key factors:
- Users: The existing relationship between a brand and a consumer
- Emotional Connection: The degree of positive feelings the user has for a brand, and the extent to which their personal values align with the brand’s values
- Archetype: The six markers that are present among intimate brands, which include fulfillment, identity, enhancement, ritual, nostalgia, and indulgence
- Stage: The degree of intensity in the relationship across three phases: sharing, bonding, and fusing
- Intimacy Score: Based on these four components, a score is assigned, ranging from 0-100
The total score also reveals which brands rank the highest across different age groups. While there are some commonalities across each generation, can brands be all things to all people?
The Chosen One
There are very few brands that have the luxury of retaining loyal customers from different age brackets. Amazon, however, manages to transcend age. The retail giant appears in the top five for Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers—with the latter awarding the brand their #1 spot.
Every generation named “enhancement” as Amazon’s defining trait, meaning their lives have improved as a result of the relationship. The “ritual” trait also scored high, with users claiming the brand has become ingrained into their daily behavior.
Ranked: Top Brands by Generation
Gen Z and Millennials (18-34)
Sony-owned PlayStation holds the title for the most intimate brand among Millennials, climbing up from the 8th spot in 2019. Impressively, more than 50% of Millennials have an emotional connection to the brand, with men having a particularly strong affinity for it.
Having recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, the gaming brand’s success has been fueled by the increasing popularity of multiplayer and professional gaming, as well as new product innovation—with five of the ten best selling consoles owned by PlayStation.
|#1||PlayStation||78.3||Media and Entertainment|
|#4||Disney||67.8||Media and Entertainment|
|#8||YouTube||63.0||Media and Entertainment|
|#9||Xbox||59.8||Media and Entertainment|
|#10||Nintendo||56.8||Media and Entertainment|
Interestingly, when Gen Z (18-24) are singled out, Microsoft-owned Xbox ranks as #1, increasing its score to 73.5 in 2020 from 49.7 in 2018.
Gen X (35-54)
As the generational middle child, Gen X did not grow up with the same access to technology. However, their tech adoption is almost on par with Millennials, with similar adoption rates across tablet and smartphone ownership.
It is no surprise therefore, that Apple has captured the hearts of this generation, sitting proudly in first place. When the iPhone launched in 2007, this group was between 22-41 years old, so they have likely been loyal followers of the tech brand since its earlier days.
|#3||Netlix||66.1||Media and Entertainment|
|#5||Disney||65.0||Media and Entertainment|
|#8||Xbox||57.0||Media and Entertainment|
While this generation has no qualms about shopping online, 72% of them shop in brick and mortar stores and are satisfied with doing so—which may be part of the reason why retail giant Walmart joins Amazon in the top 10.
Baby Boomers (55-64)
Controlling almost 70% of disposable income in the U.S., Baby Boomers are arguably the most influential of all consumer groups.
While they feel the most emotionally connected to Amazon, it’s also true that Apple was another tech brand to win the affection of this age group.
|#6||Hershey’s||54.8||Consumer Packaged Goods|
|#8||Pillsbury||51.8||Consumer Packaged Goods|
|#9||Kellogg’s||50.0||Consumer Packaged Goods|
|#10||Pepsi||50.0||Consumer Packaged Goods|
This generation dominates almost 50% of consumer packaged goods (CPG) sales in the U.S.—which likely explains why the rest of their top brands are more traditional household names, such as Macy’s, Hershey’s, and Kellogg’s.
It is also clear from the ranking that this group values brands with nostalgic qualities, as well as the ability to provide them with moments of indulgence.
The Changing Brand Landscape
The brand and consumer relationship has shifted with the ages, but each generation’s unique value system has remained the most important piece of the puzzle.
It is worth noting that none of the Baby Boomer’s favorite brands appear in the ranking for those aged 18-24 (Gen Z). Are the preferences of younger generations signalling a cultural shift, in which we place more value on distraction rather than satisfaction?
Note: The 2020 Brand Intimacy Report covers an age range of 18-64. The way that the ranking is structured makes it difficult to reflect conventional demographic groups (e.g. Gen Z, the Silent Generation etc.)
Ranked: The Most Valuable Brands in the World
This infographic ranks some of the world’s biggest companies by brand value in 2020 and visualizes the movers and shakers over the past year.
Ranking The World’s Most Valuable Brands
Due to its intangible nature, the power of a brand can be difficult to translate to a balance sheet. That said, a brand that truly connects with consumers and stands the test of time can deliver immense financial value.
Today’s graphic pulls data from the 2020 edition of Brand Finance’s annual Global 500 report, which ranks the world’s top brands by value using a multi-dimensional formula.
By quantifying the true value of a brand, investors and key decision makers can identify value that extends beyond quarterly earnings reports.
How much are brands really worth?
A Closer Look at the Leaderboard
With 18% growth in the last year resulting in an eye-watering brand value of $220 billion, Amazon is a clear winner as the world’s most valuable brand—towering over Google and Apple’s brand valuations. As the largest online marketplace on the planet, Amazon relies on innovative technologies and investments in fast-growing sectors, such as healthcare, to create a diverse retail ecosystem.
Although tech companies command five of the top 10 spots in the ranking, brands from more traditional industries are hot on their tails.
Here are the top 100 most valuable brands according to the report:
|Ranking||Brand||2020 Brand Value||YoY % Change||Country||Sector|
|#13||China Construction Bank||$62B||-10.2%||China||Banking|
|#18||Agricultural Bank of China||$55B||-0.7%||China||Banking|
|#20||Bank of China||$51B||-0.7%||China||Banking|
|#21||The Home Depot||$50B||7.3%||United States||Retail|
|#23||Shell||$47B||12.4%||Netherlands||Oil & Gas|
|#24||Saudi Aramco||$47B||N/A||Saudi Arabia||Oil & Gas|
|#29||Wells Fargo||$41B||2.3%||United States||Banking|
|#33||PetroChina||$38B||3.3%||China||Oil & Gas|
|#34||Coca-Cola||$38B||4.8%||United States||Soft Drinks|
|#39||Bank of America||$35B||-3.6%||United States||Banking|
|#42||Sinopec||$33B||14.7%||China||Oil & Gas|
|#47||Deloitte||$32B||9.6%||United States||Commercial Services|
|#51||American Express||$29B||6.2%||United States||Commercial Services|
|#53||United Healthcare||$28B||-7.4%||United States||Healthcare|
|#54||Sumitomo Group||$28B||4.5%||Japan||Mining, Iron & Steel|
|#56||VISA||$27B||-3%||United States||Commercial Services|
|#59||Accenture||$25B||-3.8%||United States||IT Services|
|#61||CSCEC||$25B||-3.3%||China||Engineering & Construction|
|#62||PWC||$25B||-0.3%||United States||Commercial Services|
|#64||Mitsui||$24B||15.8%||Japan||Mining, Iron & Steel|
|#65||General Electric||$24B||-14.4%||United States||Engineering & Construction|
|#66||EY||$24B||2.1%||United Kingdom||Commercial Services|
|#69||BP||$23B||2.6%||United Kingdom||Oil & Gas|
|#71||Total||$23B||8.1%||France||Oil & Gas|
|#74||China Merchants Bank||$23B||1.8%||China||Banking|
|#75||JP Morgan||$23B||15.3%||United States||Banking|
|#76||Boeing||$23B||-29%||United States||Aerospace & Defence|
|#78||SK Group||$22B||-17.5%||South Korea||Telecoms|
|#82||Hyundai Group||$21B||-2.8%||South Korea||Automobiles|
|#84||Siemens||$21B||-7.2%||Germany||Engineering & Construction|
|#85||TATA Group||$21B||2.3%||India||Engineering & Construction|
|#86||Mastercard||$21B||8.4%||United States||Commercial Services|
|#87||Bosch||$20B||-14.6%||Germany||Engineering & Construction|
|#92||Pepsi||$19B||2.2%||United States||Soft Drinks|
|#98||Chevron||$18B||4.7%||United States||Oil & Gas|
|#100||Dell Technologies||$18B||-22.9%||United States||Tech|
American retail giant Walmart enters 2020’s top 10 ranking with an impressive brand value increase of 14% to $77.5 billion. The retailer’s recent success could be partially attributed to its growing strategic partnership with Microsoft—which currently sits in sixth place. By tapping into Microsoft’s cloud services, Walmart can now provide a digital first retail experience for its customers.
Another brand that has experienced remarkable growth is China’s leading insurance company, Ping An. With 19.8% growth, resulting in a brand value of $69 billion, the financial conglomerate’s aggressive focus on fintech R&D has garnered the company 200 million retail customers and 500 million internet users—making it one of the largest financial services companies in the world.
While the majority of the world’s most valuable brands hail from the U.S. or China, which brands lead by region?
Most Valuable Brands by Region
Not surprisingly, Amazon leads as the most valuable B2C brand across the Americas, with the exception of Latin America. Beer brand Corona, was crowned as the leader in this region, boasting a brand value of $8.1 billion.
In Europe, German companies outperformed other countries, with automotive brand Mercedes-Benz holding the title for the most valuable B2C brand for that continent—despite China being its biggest market.
On the other side of the world, Samsung reigns as Asia’s most valuable B2C brand. The company owns 54% of the nascent 5G market globally, having shipped 6.7 million 5G phones in the last year alone.
A Brand Eat Brand World
Whether brands are regional or global leaders, they still face the threat of being knocked of their perch by brands experiencing significant growth.
Climbing to the Top
With an increase of 65% to $12.4 billion, Tesla is officially the fastest-growing brand in the world. Despite concerns over not being able to keep up with demand, the electric car company is expected to exceed 500,000 vehicle deliveries in 2020. Having recently posted over $7 billion of revenue in the fourth quarter of 2019, the success of Tesla’s innovative models is sure to rattle the automotive brands in the ranking.
However, not everything comes down to innovation. European retailers Lidl and Aldi have seen growth of 40% and 37% respectively, and are only getting started.
After disrupting Europe’s entire supermarket industry by offering quality products at significantly lower prices, the chains now have their sights set on the U.S. market, with Aldi expected to surpass Kroger in sales.
Despite the unprecedented disruption caused by e-commerce, the popular assertion that entering digital operations brings instant success while bricks and mortar stores are doomed for extinction is being proved wrong
—David Haigh, CEO Brand Finance
In contrast, there are also well established brands that have struggled to retain brand value.
Racing to the Bottom
Chinese search engine Baidu—also known as the Google of China—recorded the largest drop in brand value, decreasing by 54% to $8.9 billion. The brand has struggled with a poor reputation and intensifying market competition. As a result, the brand’s revenues and subsequently its brand value were heavily impacted.
Boeing is a prime example of the unpredictability of brand value. As a company that once imbued trust and excellent safety standards, the brand’s value has dropped by 29% due to the recent reports of accidents that have tarnished its reputation.
The True Power of Brand
Boeing’s recent hardships reflect the volatile nature of brand value. While 244 brands in the entire ranking have increased their brand value year-over-year, another 212 have taken a hit.
Part of a brand’s purpose is to manage reputation, retain loyal customers, and generate awareness. Given that a brand is the sum of its parts, the ranking proves that an issue with any of these things could trigger a chain reaction, negatively impacting a brand’s bottom line.
So is it worth companies investing in their brand? All signs point to yes, for now.
Markets1 year ago
The Jeff Bezos Empire in One Giant Chart
Maps1 year ago
Mercator Misconceptions: Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries
Advertising1 year ago
Meet Generation Z: The Newest Member to the Workforce
Misc1 year ago
24 Cognitive Biases That Are Warping Your Perception of Reality
Technology1 year ago
The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web
Chart of the Week1 year ago
Chart: The World’s Largest 10 Economies in 2030
Environment1 year ago
The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side
Chart of the Week10 months ago
All the World’s Carbon Emissions in One Chart