Pandemic Proof: The Most Loved Brands of COVID-19
View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.
Since March of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people to physically distance themselves from others, yet many feel closer to their loved ones than ever before.
When it comes to brands, consumers have forged relationships that could be just as meaningful. In fact, consumers demonstrated a 23% increase in the number of brands they have an emotional connection with—so what does this mean for brands?
The graphic above highlights data from MBLM’s Brand Intimacy COVID Study which measures how emotionally connected consumers in the U.S. are to the brands they use, and how brands can benefit.
The Power of Love
While attracting eyeballs or increasing foot traffic may carry a lot of weight when it comes to determining the success of certain brands, the real metric that should be paid attention to is love.
Brands that nurture emotional bonds with their customers tend to outperform top companies listed on the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 in both revenue and profit. Not only that, they can also build higher levels of trust, which in turn breeds a more loyal consumer base over time.
“The concept of brand intimacy is important for marketers because emotion has been proven to drive purchase decisions, and also long-term customer bonds.”
—MBLM Managing Partner, Mario Natarelli
As the global pandemic rages on, this idea has become more relevant than ever before. Consumers have been using their newfound time to deepen their relationship with brands, but who has managed to win their hearts?
Brand Love in the Time of COVID-19
Apple has been named as the most loved brand during COVID-19, moving up from third place before the pandemic. Even though the tech giant beat Disney and Amazon for the top spot, its success can mostly be attributed to female and millennial consumers, while Amazon was voted the most loved brand for male consumers.
The list of most loved brands has seen three new additions throughout the year: Google, YouTube, and Toyota, which means that media and entertainment brands now dominate the list. The retail industry has also increased intimacy score performance by 9.4% during the pandemic, with Walmart flying the flag for retail brands in fourth place.
The Formula for a Happy Relationship
When it comes to giving consumers what they want, Apple ticks the box for three important need states highlighted in the report:
- Fulfilment: A brand that exceeds expectations by delivering on superior service, quality, and efficacy.
- Ritual: When a person ingrains a brand into his or her daily actions, it becomes a vitally important part of their everyday life.
- Enhancement: Customers become better through use of the brand—smarter, more capable, and more connected.
Interestingly, brands that are part of the smartphone ecosystem generally outperform brands that are not, and the ecosystem has only increased in strength during the pandemic. Moreover, brands that fall into the “devices” or “content/information” categories have higher intimacy scores, and are therefore more loved.
There has also been an increase in the performance of brands in the “access” category—such as Verizon and AT&T—which may be attributed to the value people are placing on communication during the pandemic.
It’s also worth noting that consumers have increased their usage of virtual conferencing brand Zoom more than any other brand in the study.
While hand sanitizer brand Purell did not make the list of most loved brands, it ranked in first place when it comes to the best response to the pandemic and is the brand consumers are most willing to pay 20% more for.
Overall, it is clear that COVID-19 has had a huge influence on the brands that consumers connect with most. With their preferences now leaning towards brands in the smartphone ecosystem, one has to wonder: will marketers of the future place more value on winning the hearts of consumers, or simply getting in their hands?
The Evolution of Media: Visualizing a Data-Driven Future
Media and information delivery is transforming at an increasing pace. Here’s why the future will be more data-driven, transparent, and verifiable.
In today’s highly-connected and instantaneous world, we have access to a massive amount of information at our fingertips.
Historically, however, this hasn’t always been the case.
Time travel back just 20 years ago to 2002, and you’d notice the vast majority of people were still waiting on the daily paper or the evening news to help fill the information void.
In fact, for most of 2002, Google was trailing in search engine market share behind Yahoo! and MSN. Meanwhile, early social media incarnations (MySpace, Friendster, etc.) were just starting to come online, and all of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the iPhone did not yet exist.
The Waves of Media So Far
Every so often, the dominant form of communication is upended by new technological developments and changing societal preferences.
These transitions seem to be happening faster over time, aligning with the accelerated progress of technology.
- Proto-Media (50,000+ years)
Humans could only spread their message through human activity. Speech, oral tradition, and manually written text were most common mediums to pass on a message.
- Analog and Early Digital Media (1430-2004)
The invention of the printing press, and later the radio, television, and computer unlock powerful forms of one-way and cheap communication to the masses.
- Connected Media (2004-current)
The birth of Web 2.0 and social media enables participation and content creation for everyone. One tweet, blog post, or TikTok video by anyone can go viral, reaching the whole world.
Each new wave of media comes with its own pros and cons.
For example, Connected Media was a huge step forward in that it enabled everyone to be a part of the conversation. On the other hand, algorithms and the sheer amount of content to sift through has created a lot of downsides as well. To name just a few problems with media today: filter bubbles, sensationalism, clickbait, and so on.
Before we dive into what we think is the next wave of media, let’s first break down the common attributes and problems with prior waves.
Wave Zero: Proto-Media
Before the first wave of media, amplifying a message took devotion and a lifetime.
Add in the fact that even by the year 1500, only 4% of global citizens lived in cities, and you can see how hard it would be to communicate effectively with the masses during this era.
Or, to paint a more vivid picture of what proto-media was like: information could only travel as fast as the speed of a horse.
Wave 1: Analog and Early Digital Media
In this first wave, new technological advancements enabled widescale communication for the first time in history.
Newspapers, books, magazines, radios, televisions, movies, and early websites all fit within this framework, enabling the owners of these assets to broadcast their message at scale.
With large amounts of infrastructure required to print books or broadcast television news programs, it took capital or connections to gain access. For this reason, large corporations and governments were usually the gatekeepers, and ordinary citizens had limited influence.
|📡 Information Flow||One-way|
|💰 Barriers to Entry||Very high|
|📰 Distribution||Controlled by mass media companies and government|
|🏆 Incentive||To cast a wide net, and to not alienate viewers or advertisers|
Importantly, these mediums only allowed one-way communication—meaning that they could broadcast a message, but the general public was restricted in how they could respond (i.e. a letter to the editor, or a phone call to a radio station).
Wave 2: Connected Media
Innovations like Web 2.0 and social media changed the game.
Starting in the mid-2000s, barriers to entry began to drop, and it eventually became free and easy for anyone to broadcast their opinion online. As the internet exploded with content, sorting through it became the number one problem to solve.
For better or worse, algorithms began to feed people what they loved, so they could consume even more. The ripple effect of this was that everyone competing for eyeballs suddenly found themselves optimizing content to try and “win” the algorithm game to get virality.
|📡 Information Flow||Two-way|
|💰 Barriers to Entry||Very low|
|📰 Distribution||Controlled by technology companies and algorithms|
|🏆 Incentive||To cast a narrow net, to engage and mobilize a specific audience|
Viral content is often engaging and interesting, but it comes with tradeoffs. Content can be made artificially engaging by sensationalizing, using clickbait, or playing loose with the facts. It can be ultra-targeted to resonate emotionally within one particular filter bubble. It can be designed to enrage a certain group, and mobilize them towards action—even if it is extreme.
Despite the many benefits of Connected Media, we are seeing more polarization than ever before in society. Groups of people can’t relate to each other or discuss issues, because they can’t even agree on basic facts.
Perhaps most frustrating of all? Many people don’t know they are deep within their own bubble in which they are only fed information they agree with. They are unaware that other legitimate points of view exist. Everything is black and white, and grey thinking is rarer and rarer.
Wave 3: Data Media
Between 2015 and 2025, the amount of data captured, created, and replicated globally will increase by 1,600%.
For the first time ever, a significant quantity of data is becoming “open source” and available to anyone. There have been massive advancements in how to store and verify data, and even the ownership of information can now be tracked on the blockchain. Both media and the population are becoming more data literate, and they are also becoming aware of the societal drawbacks stemming from Connected Media.
As this new wave emerges, it’s worth examining some of its attributes and connecting concepts in more detail:
Data literate users will begin to demand that data is transparent and originating from trustworthy, factual sources. Or if a source is not rock solid, users will demand that limitations of methodology or possible biases are openly revealed and discussed.
- Verifiability and Trust:
How do we know data shown is legitimate and bonafide? Platforms and media will increasingly want to prove to users that data has been verified, going all the way back to the original source.
- Decentralization and Web3:
Anyone can tap into large amounts of public data available today, which means that reporting, analysis, ideas, and insights can come from an increasingly growing set of actors. Web3 and decentralized ledgers will allow us to provide trust, attribution, accountability, and even ownership of content when necessary. This can remove the middleman, which is often large tech companies, and can allow users to monetize their content more directly.
- Data Storytelling
Growing data literacy, and the explosion of data storytelling is a key approach to making sense of vast amounts of data, by combining data visualization, narrative, and powerful insights.
- Data Creator Economy:
Democratized data and the rise of storytelling are intersecting to create a potential new ecosystem for data storytellers. This is increasingly what we are focused on at Visual Capitalist, and we encourage you to support our Kickstarter project on this (just 6 days left, as of publishing time)
- Open-Ended Ecosystem:
Just like open source has revolutionized the software industry, we will begin to see more and more data available broadly. Incentives may shift in some cases from keeping data proprietary, to getting it out in the open so that others can use, remix, and publish it, and attributing it back to the original source.
- Data > Opinion:
Data Media will have a bias towards facts over opinion. It’s less about punditry, bias, spin, and telling others what they should think, and more about allowing an increasingly data literate population to have access to the facts themselves, and to develop their own nuanced opinion on them.
- Global Data Standards:
As data continues to proliferate, it will be important to codify and unify it when possible. This will lead to global standards that will make communicating it even easier.
Early Pioneers of Data Media
The Data Media ecosystem is just beginning to emerge, but here are some early pioneers we like:
- Our World in Data:
Led by economist Max Roser, OWiD is doing an excellent job amalgamating global economic data in one place, and making it easy for others to remix and communicate those insights effectively.
Founded by Steve Ballmer of Microsoft fame to be a non-partisan source of U.S. government data.
This tool by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is just one example of many tools that have cropped up over the years to democratize data that were previously proprietary or hard to access. Other similar tools have been created by the IMF, World Bank, and so on.
FiveThirtyEight uses statistical analysis, data journalism, and predictions to cover politics, sports, and other topics in a unique way.
At FlowingData, data viz expert Nathan Yau explores a wide variety of data and visualization themes.
- Data Journalists:
There are incredible data journalists at publications like The Economist, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Reuters that are tapping into the early beginnings of what is possible. Many of these publications also made their COVID-19 work freely available during the pandemic, which is certainly commendable.
Growth in data journalism and the emergence of these pioneers helps give you a sense of the beginnings of Data Media, but we believe they are only scratching the surface of what is possible.
What Data Media is Not
In a sense, it’s easier to define what Data Media isn’t.
Data Media is not partisan pundits arguing over each other on a newscast, and it’s not fake news, misinformation, or clickbait that is engineered to drive easy clicks. Data media is not an echo chamber that only reinforces existing biases. Because data is also less subjective, it’s less likely to be censored in the way we see today.
Data is not perfect, but it can help change the conversations we are having as a society to be more constructive and inclusive. We hope you agree!
Ranked: The Reputation of 100 Major Brands in the U.S.
What comes to mind when you think of a good or bad brand? This poll ranks the brand reputation of 100 major companies in America.
Ranked: The Reputation of 100 Major Brands in the U.S.
Whether you’re a country or a company, brand reputation is crucial. For corporations trying to stand out amongst an array of competitors, name recognition can be make or break.
The Axios Harris Poll polled a nationally representative sample of nearly 43,000 Americans to find out which 100 companies emerge as top of mind—for better or for worse.
How is Brand Reputation Measured?
The polling process started by asking respondents which two companies they felt excelled or faltered in the U.S.—in other words, which companies were the most “visible” in their eyes.
The top 100 brands that emerged from this framework were then judged by poll respondents across seven dimensions, over three key pillars:
Includes a company’s culture, ethics, and citizenship (whether a consumer shares a company’s values or the company supports good causes)
Includes a company’s growth prospects, vision for the future, and product and service offerings (whether they are innovative, and of high quality)
Does a consumer trust the brand in the first place?
Once these dimensions are taken into account, the final scores portray how these “visible brands” rank in terms of their reputation among a representative sample of Americans:
- Score range: 80.0 and above
- Score range: 75.0-79.9
Reputation: Very Good
- Score range: 70.0-74.9
- Score range: 65.0-69.9
- Score range: 64.9 and below
Companies with a Very Poor reputation (a score below 50) didn’t make it into the list. Here’s how the 100 most visible companies stack up in terms of brand reputation:
|2021 Rank||Company||2021 Score||Overall Reputation|
|#2||Honda Motor Company||81.6||Excellent|
|#17||In-n-Out Burger||78.7||Very Good|
|#18||Toyota Motor Corporation||78.7||Very Good|
|#23||Publix Supermarkets||78.2||Very Good|
|#24||CVS (CVS Health)||78.2||Very Good|
|#25||3M Company||78.1||Very Good|
|#26||HP, Inc.||78.1||Very Good|
|#27||Berkshire Hathaway||78.0||Very Good|
|#30||The Kroger Company||77.5||Very Good|
|#33||FedEx Corporation||77.4||Very Good|
|#35||Procter & Gamble Co.||77.0||Very Good|
|#37||The Walt Disney Company||76.7||Very Good|
|#40||General Electric||76.1||Very Good|
|#44||American Express||75.6||Very Good|
|#45||The Home Depot||75.4||Very Good|
|#47||Kaiser Permanente||75.3||Very Good|
|#48||Best Buy||75.2||Very Good|
|#50||Ford Motor Company||75.1||Very Good|
|#51||Electronic Arts, Inc.||74.7||Good|
|#52||State Farm Insurance||74.7||Good|
|#54||JPMorgan Chase & Co.||74.5||Good|
|#58||The Coca-Cola Company||73.7||Good|
|#69||Royal Dutch Shell||71.6||Good|
|#72||Johnson & Johnson||71.4||Good|
|#75||Fiat Chrysler Automobiles||70.8||Good|
|#77||Bank of America||70.5||Good|
|#81||Delta Air Lines||70.4||Good|
|#95||Wells Fargo & Company||63.0||Poor|
|#96||Sears Holdings Corporation||61.2||Poor|
|#100||The Trump Organization||56.9||Poor|
While the ranking itself highlights well-respected and poorly-viewed brands overall, another perspective is to look at which brands shot up in the list, and which ones plummeted.
Fastest Risers in Brand Reputation
Unwavering and bold commitments to the environment has helped Patagonia to top the charts as the #1 brand, rising 31 ranks since 2020. From funneling 1% of sales into environmental donations to ensuring ethical supply chains, Patagonia’s culture, ethics, and citizenship all align with its business model in consumers’ eyes.
With over 33 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered daily around the world, Pfizer’s contribution to the ongoing immunization progress is undeniable. As a result, its overall ranking has swelled by 54 places since 2020.
|Rank in 2021||Brand||2021 Score||Change|
|#2||Honda Motor Company||81.6||+14|
|#24||CVS (CVS Health)||78.2||+13|
|#50||Ford Motor Company||75.1||+13|
Dollar General might seem like a surprising addition to this table, but in terms of sheer growth, discount stores are thriving. Across America, dollar stores are opening at a rate of three per day, faster than any Starbucks or McDonalds.
There’s a crucial reason for this: in many rural areas, millions rely on dollar stores for food and other essentials, as the nearest grocery store can be nearly an hour’s drive away.
Biggest Decliners in Brand Reputation
Despite steady revenue growth, Google is among a handful of Big Tech companies whose reputations are backsliding, dropping 36 places in the past year. The outsize power and influence these companies hold is increasingly coming under regulatory scrutiny.
|Rank in 2021||Brand||2021 Score||Change|
|#35||Procter & Gamble Co.||77||-27|
|#81||Delta Air Lines||70.4||-24|
|#30||The Kroger Company||77.5||-21|
|#58||The Coca-Cola Company||73.7||-17|
Although Netflix pioneered the world of streaming, it is now facing stiff competition from emerging subscription services. Amazon’s latest acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM Studios) will especially bolster the content catalog available on Prime Video.
Building a Brand Reputation Doesn’t Come Easy
Near the bottom of the 100 companies leaderboard, the struggles of mainstream media and modern information dissemination are strongly reflected. Despite their diverse audiences and established histories, brand reputations of both Facebook and Fox News have eroded in recent years.
This example highlights how the nature of a brand’s reputation can evolve over time. Building a strong and reputable brand may be subjective, but its effects on consumer loyalty are powerful.
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