A Commitment to Change Despite Uncertainty

By Jez Frampton

We have a fascinating job at Interbrand. Our annual studies never fail to illuminate the regenerative power of brands, sterling assets in the turbulent and intricate global markets of today. The discussion we lead becomes even more compelling when it’s about retail. For it is at this moment, the point of sale, where the rubber meets the road and a brand’s value translates into a decision to buy.

Retail encompasses so much of life and culture, influencing taste, preferences, habits and behavior. More than just a practical means to keep fed and clothed, shopping is symbolic and aspirational. It represents the search for a better life, the promise of a brighter tomorrow. That’s why brands loom large in our imagination and are woven into the fabric of major life events. As an everyday cultural practice, shopping is a shared experience, whether online, at the mall or in the store. Retail even shapes memories, as we fondly recall favorite objects, trends and experiences.

For those on the other side of the counter, the creation of an immersive shopping experience requires a talent for originality, a spirit of inventiveness and sensitivity to human needs and desires. From product demonstrations to the helpful guidance of a sales professional, retail experiences can be educational and uplifting, inspiring us to be more stylish, organized, connected, healthy or environmentally aware.

The best retail brands are not unlike people: living, evolving and involving; initiating change and responding to it. That’s why, even when markets are as volatile as they are today, we can confidently say that brands, just like you and I, have the potential to change the world.

Outstanding retail brands, such as those on our list, are marked by their ability to transform the ordinary into the desirable. One of Brazil’s top names, Havaianas, reinvented the humble flip flop, for example, turning a simple functional item into a sought–after fashion staple. Uniquely Brazilian yet universally appealing, its brand messaging is creative and engaging and its social responsibility platform isn’t just PR—it’s a part of the company’s ethos.

Great brands don’t simply talk to people. They inspire participation and invite people into an experience. Canada’s Lululemon Athletica is more than just yoga wear and athletic apparel—it celebrates those whose lifestyles reflect the brand’s culture and holds events and classes that are unique to each neighborhood, allowing the brand to establish strong local ties to every community it serves.

Rather than remain one–dimensional, the world’s leading retailers have a living, flexing expression of their brands that enables them to fulfill different roles and be more in tune with customers’ lives. Shoppers in South East Asia love their neighborhood hypermarket, Big C, which has become part of everyday life in Thailand. But in times of crisis, such as the floods of 2011, Big C worked with the Red Cross, providing shelter, medical supplies and emergency donations. Big C, by its actions, also stands for “community care.”

As such examples illustrate, the best retail brands exist for more than one purpose. More often than not, they serve a purpose higher than profit—a human purpose—and never remain stuck in time. They evolve with the world, remaining relevant and responsive even through economic, social and digital disruption. It’s not just about minding the shop—it’s about bringing the best and brightest human minds together to reinvent the very notion of what shopping means today.

While all successful retail brands emphasize operational ingenuity and profitability, the remarkably high performance of the world’s best can be measured by their willingness to change and their ability to understand why change is needed. It is these exceptional brands that start new conversations, innovate new models and inspire us all to participate in the cultural experience we call shopping. They are the ones that truly drive demand and create desire.

Congratulations to this year’s Best Retail Brands—we can’t wait to see what’s (quite literally) in store in the year ahead.

Jez Frampton

Global Chief Executive