David Blecken
Sep 26, 2017

B2B brand transition proves tough for Canon and Panasonic: Interbrand

A global study by the branding specialist shows the hardware giants struggling, but Japanese carmakers give cause for optimism.

Image from Canon's recent Millennial-focused campaign in Europe
Image from Canon's recent Millennial-focused campaign in Europe

Canon and Panasonic are finding it difficult to mobilise themselves as credible B2B brands, according to analysis from Interbrand.

Interbrand’s annual ‘Best Global Brands’ ranking of 100 brands worldwide saw Canon slide 10 places to 52 and Panasonic seven places to 75.

In an interview following a press conference in Tokyo, Masahito Namiki, president and CEO of Interbrand Japan, suggested the companies were struggling to leverage the equity they had built up as B2C brands as they turn their focus to the B2B space.

"In general, Japanese companies are paying more attention to what the brand is, what it stands for," said Namiki. "But I think the struggle is when companies try to shift their business focus more into B2B—how not to lose the brand or how to leverage the brand. I think there's a struggle in the case of Panasonic or Canon...Their business shift is good, but it's a question of how much they are going to leverage the brand they have."

He sees Panasonic as having been more successful in that sense. But the brand still appears to be in something of a no-man’s land. Major Western markets no longer see it as a B2C brand, Interbrand’s chief strategy officer Yuko Watanabe noted. But they don’t yet see it as an important B2B brand either. It has retained its B2C status in Japan, but has all but abandoned it in the US and Europe, she said.

That is not to say Canon and Panasonic have ditched B2C altogether. Canon, for example, recently launched a major European campaign aimed at smartphone-toting Millennials; and Panasonic has been working to foster a culture of open innovation with a view to creating more dynamic products.

Four other Japanese brands featured in Interbrand’s ranking: Toyota (7), down two; Nissan (39), up four; Honda (20), up one; Sony (61) down three. All downward movers lost brand value except Sony, which saw it increase 2 percent to $8.4 billion.

Apple came top overall, followed by Google, and Microsoft, which rose one place. Amazon (5) climbed three. Facebook leapt from 15 to 8 and saw the biggest increase to its brand value—48 percent to $48.1 billion. IBM fell four to 10. Netflix and Ferrari entered the top 100 at 78 and 88, respectively, while MTV, Ralph Lauren and Xerox all dropped out.

Namiki expressed disappointment that Japanese brands as a whole had not performed better. But he said Nissan (a client of Omnicom Group, to which Interbrand belongs) had shown clarity of focus. The company has concentrated on two things—EV and intelligent mobility—and communicated those well, he said. “They’ve established what they stand for…it’s a textbook approach and I think they’ve been successful in execution.”

Nissan’s brand value as calculated by Interbrand increased 4 percent to US$11.5 billion. Honda’s performance was also encouraging. Watanabe said the company’s motorbike business was a key driver, while its car business is also growing. In that sense, Honda has something of an advantage over its closest domestic competitors. While Toyota is still the strongest car brand, its growth potential over the next five years is relatively low, Watanabe said.

Despite the fall in its ranking, Namiki said he thinks Sony is well positioned for a sustainable turnaround, because it has made an effort not to lose sight of its DNA. “It can happen that Japanese companies focus too much on business and don’t pay enough attention to the brand, especially in the turnaround phase. But Sony didn’t do that,” he said.

Interbrand’s ranking takes into account three factors that contribute to a brand’s cumulative value: financial performance of branded products and services; the brand’s role in influencing customer choice; and the strength the brand has to command a premium price or secure company earnings. Interbrand was unable to specify which of the brands discussed are current clients.

Campaign Japan

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