Relevant brands make bold moves that amaze customers, push competitors out of consideration, and – at times – define entirely new categories and markets. And they do it while remaining unwaveringly authentic to who they are. Those companies that have built relentlessly relevant brands generally have four common characteristics:

Customer Obsessed

Brands We Can't Imagine Living Without

Everything these brands invest in, create and bring to market is designed to meet important needs in people’s lives.


While Netflix found its way into America’s living rooms as a renegade, it’s now an old friend and in 75 percent of homes that use streaming services. Coming in as the fourth most relevant brand for the third time in a row, it’s clear its compelling—okay, addictive–programming is winning over both viewers and critics. (See its 91 Emmy nominations this year, more than any other network.) With The Crown, Stranger Things and Master of None, it is sparking a creative renaissance that just keeps getting stronger.


Like its Pixar division, Disney outperforms in customer obsession, ranking No. 2 for “makes me happy.” This year, hit movies powered its performance, with four films topping $1 billion, including Rogue One, its first stand-alone Star Wars film. Zootopia won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, while the live-action Beauty and the Beast broke records. Plus, its digitally-connected theme parks and cruise line continue to be vacation destinations for millions of fans big and small.


Plenty of consumers go crazy for Keurig at home, with its promise of a perfectly brewed beverage every time. But they also love the way it has expanded its offerings, providing them a more convenient and cheaper way to drink favorite brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. And it’s giving the eco-conscious who shun it 10 billion reasons to reconsider: Keurig is changing the plastic in its K-cups to make them more recyclable.


The highest-ranking auto brand, Toyota continues to satisfy owner demand for reliability, with three of its models–Camry, Corolla and RAV4–among this year’s 10 best-selling vehicles. Consumers say “I know I can depend on it,” and while sales of the Prius have withered, Toyota still scores well with eco-conscious drivers. It has been named Fortune’s most-admired car company three years in a row, and with its increasing commitment to American-based manufacturing, it’s thriving.

Ruthlessly Pragmatic

Brands We Depend On

These brands make sure their products are available where and when customers need them, deliver consistent experiences and simply make life easier for their customers.


While dominating all four principles of brand relevance, Alipay performs exceptionally well on pragmatism – more people say that this brand makes their lives easier than any brand we studied in any market. Now used by some 450 million consumers, Alipay not only makes Chinese consumers’ lives easier both at home and abroad, but is becoming a “must-have” for foreign businesses to attract Chinese consumers. Finnair just became the first airline company to introduce Alipay for all in-flight purchases. With its growing international footprint across the world, Alipay is a force of change that is shaping the future of mobile payment.


Amazon has found ways to extend into what may feel like every aspect of our lives, from delivering entertainment like The Big Sick to helping us manage household chores with Alexa. But what fuels Amazon’s relevance is its drive to make life easier. It’s taking Prime membership, reportedly at 65 million, into rival Walmart’s territory, wooing new segments with cheaper options. And the biggest news, of course, is buying Whole Foods Market, shouting to the world how serious it is about reshaping America’s grocery shopping habits.


With a 40 percent market share, Tide could get away with slacking. But it understands that while people don’t take laundry very seriously, they do some seriously gross things with towels. And it harnesses pop culture in a way few others can. (Who else could cast the NFL’s Rob Gronkowski opposite Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor in a Super Bowl spot for a win?) Most of all, it cleans clothes, ranking in our top three for ruthless pragmatism.


Intel may be the best reminder that delighted customers often know more about what they want than all the pundits combined. Experts continually count Intel out, because it was way too late to the mobile party, and may have missed the bus on car electronics. But it’s rising in our ranking because it means so much when people shop for computers. With sales of higher-end desktops blazing, Intel is hitting record revenues.

Distinctively Inspired

Brands That Inspire Us

These brands make emotional connections, earn trust and often exist to fulfill a larger purpose.


Notice the popularity of quinoa bowls, reclaimed-wood countertops or Icelandic vacations lately? Thank Pinterest, whose inspirational powers push it up three spots in this year’s ranking. The highest rated social media platform on the list, it beats other brands by being both inspirational and pragmatic. Pinterest asks its audience (which is 71 percent women) “What if?” and then helps them discover new recipes, décor ideas, party decorations and more.


With millions trying to live healthier, Fitbit is one of the fastest climbers in our Index, and ranks No. 2 in “has a purpose I believe in.” Its growing level of relevance, even as sales slow, is proof that people love the way Fitbit motivates them through sluggish workdays and weekend downtime. And we’re keeping our eyes on the watch—the looming Fitbit smartwatch that many believe will give Apple a run for its money.


Not only do these beloved bricks get the highest score for “connects with me emotionally,” LEGO tops the “has a purpose I believe in” charts. That purpose, of course, is to unleash the creativity that lives inside all of us. The company is also intensifying its role as a champion of children by providing toys for Syrian refugees, deepening its commitment to the environment, and stepping up efforts to keep kids safe in the realm of digital play.


With its finger firmly on the customer pulse, IKEA is constantly learning from its customers – described by the brand as ‘partners’ – to ensure the invention of new and better sources of value, from concept pop-up solutions, order and collection points to surprising dining clubs. The ‘Wonderful Everyday’ platform continues to show its knowledge of – and interest in – customers’ lives. The Swedish retailer’s winning combination of good design, low prices and tasty meatballs show no sign of wavering anytime soon. UK sales have continued to climb steadily for the past five years.

Pervasively Innovative

Brands That Consistently Innovate

These brands don’t rest on their laurels. Even as industry leaders, they push the status quo, engage with customers in new and creative ways and find new ways to address unmet needs.


Spotify is back in the top 10 this year. With 60 million subscribers – twice as many as Apple Music – it puts more tunes into people’s ears. Features like Discover Weekly and Release Radar link listeners to the very latest music, and it managed to recruit hold-out artists like Taylor Swift. As a premier sponsor of Google Home, it’s also making voice-controlled music a part of America’s daily life.


Scoring high for both pragmatism and innovation, Samsung reigns as the favorite of phone geeks. Sure, the Galaxy Note7 recall was a major fiasco, but brands this relevant bounce back. While 60 percent of Samsung phone owners have a negative perception about the massive recall, 86 percent plan to buy a Samsung phone again. And its other consumer electronics—tablets, TVs, appliances and smart-home devices—are winning plenty of awards and attention.

Southwest Airlines

It’s taken three years, but we’re delighted that an airline—one of the most loathed categories of brands we measure—has finally clawed its way into the top 50. And we’re not surprised that it’s Southwest, which continues to build on its deeply personal approach to customer experience. In a year when other carriers made news by assaulting and humiliating passengers, Southwest continues to find multiple ways to win hearts and minds. And tout their differences in funny, yet effective ads.


As the No. 3 best-selling smartphone brand in the world after Samsung and Apple, Huawei has turned “Made in China” into “Created in China.” In our Index, consumers consider Huawei a brand “I know I can depend on.” In addition to boosting the sophistication of its design and quality, Huawei has also partnered with aspirational high-end lifestyle brands like Leica, GoPro and Porsche to improve the image and perception of its products. Huawei strives to become a lifestyle symbol and
appeal to more affluent consumers in China and beyond.