Rating the Region’s Power Brands

These businesses drive commerce and culture in the Pacific Northwest.

By Michael Rodenburgh March 22, 2016


This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Seattle magazine.

If youre even this far into an article about the most influential brands in the Pacific Northwest, theres a good chance you work at a company that made the list, or at one that might like to be included. You may have strong opinions about who should or shouldnt have made this list. You may feel proud, surprised, not surprised and relieved to see some of the names here. And, when you think about it, you may or may not be able to put a finger on why you feel the way you do.

Thats the thing about brands. Our connections to them are as elusive as they are tangible. Theyre more than names, logos, employers, product lines and promotions. More than revenues and performance projections. We have relationships with brands, even ones we dont engage with directly.

This fact is especially true when you place brands in a regional context, which is exactly what a team of market researchers at Ipsos has done here. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you dont have to be a season-ticket holder to feel some connection to the Seahawks, Mariners or Sounders FC. You dont have to buy Starbucks coffee or shop at Costco and Amazon to appreciate that these brands play a significant role not just in the lives of their customers, but also in the commercial and cultural makeup of the Pacific Northwest.

Late last year, Ipsos asked 1,500 Pacific Northwest residents to identify and rank 75 Washington- and Oregon-based brands according to the influence in their lives and communities. The companies range dramatically in size, revenue, industry and offering, which itself is an interesting indicator of the diverse, complex commercial and cultural makeup of our corner of the continental United States. How else would we find Allrecipes on the same list with Microsoft, Alaska Airlines and Nordstrom? Ipsos asked study participants to consider these brands using specific criteria designed to quantify influence. A few examples of these criteria include:

Is it relevant to my life?
Is it really important in the world today?
Do I identify with it?

Not surprisingly, several brands with a large international presence float to the top of the list. Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks and Nike are among the most influential brands in the entire world. The fact that theyre based here in the Pacific Northwest might be considered coincidental, but it may not be that simple. While theres no denying their influence on our local and regional economies, its also hard to imagine at least a few of these global powerhouses existing anywhere but right here. They draw as much on the Northwests unique culture as people around the world draw on their product offerings. Their direct participation in the development of our communities is as strategically beneficial as it is civic-minded.

Of course, the presence of the Seahawks and Mariners in the Top 20 goes to show the power of home-field advantage. A Super Bowl victory parade with 700,000 fans clearly demonstrates how much our teams drive civic pride.

And Costco? Nordstrom? Alaska Airlines? These are our Main Street brands. Sure, Alaska Airlines might fly to dozens of cities, but it was born here and was raised among us. This is true for Nordstrom and Costco, too. Were proud of them.

Overall, we identified five drivers of influence, each defined in order of importance from most to least:

1. Engagement represents the desire that consumers have to engage with your brand via online and in-person channels.
2. Leading edge involves the extent to which consumers view your brand as advanced, unique and setting the trends (as opposed to following them).
3. Trustworthiness is the extent to which consumers trust your brand.
4. Corporate citizenship reflects how much consumers view your brand as giving back to the community, protecting the environment and acting with values that align to them.
5. Presence is all about visibility, through advertising but also the brands physical presence.

Whats interesting is that engagement was the No. 1 element to driving influence, while presence is the smallest driver of influence. What our data say, therefore, is that if you want to be an influential brand, the path to success isnt through traditional marketing and advertising strategies. Instead, it suggests that you think of new ways to get your consumer to engage with your brand in meaningful ways. And the more people interact with your brand, the more influence your brand will have over their lives.

The Pacific Northwests most influential brands have something else in common besides geographical proximity: They treat their brands as tangible business assets that must be cultivated and protected.

While it may be hard to quantify the impact of brand assets, theres no denying that theyre crucial to bottom-line success. The best brands create relevance and differentiation simultaneously. They make it easy for us to act, and to choose from seemingly limitless options that might otherwise paralyze us or turn us off entirely. The most influential brands behave like great brands everywhere by prioritizing their more intangible, emotional connections to their customers.

Top 10 Brands I Identify With
To identify with a brand is to get personal with it, to confess an attachment to something that isnt human or animal. It may be one of the most powerful indicators of a brands success by any measure, tangible or intangible. It explains why Costco can float to the top of a list that includes international giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks. We in the Pacific Northwest travel to Costco. We plan to go there. We rely on Costco to meet so many daily personal needs. We hear stories about how well it treats its employees. We meet those employees and interact with them.
A willingness to get personal also explains the presence of the Seahawks and the Mariners on this list. These brands are composed of players and coaches and owners and fans, people we can connect to, admire, talk about, dress like and cheer for. We see them frequently, both on and off the field. And, of course, when were willing to wear a brand it, communicates that we identify with it, assuming we like the design and functionality of our Nike trainers or Columbia anorak.

1 Costco
2 Amazon
3 Microsoft
4 Starbucks
5 Seattle Seahawks
6 Alaska Airlines
7 Columbia Sportswear
9 Nike
1o Seattle Mariners

Top 10 Most Relevant Brands
In a brand context, usefulness and a strong, consistent presence are at the heart of relevance measures. Frequent interactions with Microsoft and Amazon in the digital space, and with Costco and Starbucks in the physical retail space, make it no surprise that these brands skew high on a relevance scale. Its also a good bet that these companies employ some percentage of the study participants, a fact that would obviously affect relevance.

1 Microsoft
2 Amazon
3 Costco
4 Starbucks
5 Alaska Airlines
7 Nike
9 Seattle Seahawks
10 Salvation Army

Top 10 Brands That Are Part of My Everyday Language
Venti. 12th Man. Word. Mario. Prime. Just Do It. Never mind whether any brand actually holds rights to these cornerstones of our cultural lexicon. They exist, and we use them all the time, both inside and outside of our transactions with these brands. Thats power. Thats influence. Thats good business. Any time a brand has the opportunity to align itself so strongly to aspirational shorthand, it should take it.

1 Amazon
2 Microsoft
3 Starbucks
4 Costco
5 Nike
6 Seattle Seahawks
8 Salvation Army
9 Adidas
10 Nintendo of America

Top 10 Most Important Brands
Perceptions of global impact drive notions of importance and here again, Microsoft and Amazon stand out. Both brands reach around the world every day, and expanding international influence has been a key, evergreen strategy for decades. But notions of altruism, humanism and global citizenship also affect measures of importance. This would account for the presence of the Salvation Army, YMCA, United Way and Group Health on any list of most important brands.

1 Microsoft
2 Amazon
3 Salvation Army
4 Costco
5 Nike
6 Starbucks
7 United Way
9 Alaska Airlines
10 Group Health

Survey Methodology
Ipsos interviewed 1,500 Washington and Oregon residents in November 2015.

The sample was balanced on core demographics to ensure proper representation. Seventy-five brands were included in the study. Each respondent was randomly assigned 10 brands to evaluate. (Asking each respondent to evaluate all 75 brands would have been infeasible due to survey fatigue.) Respondents were asked to evaluate each of the
10 brands on a variety of attributes. The brands evaluated:

Alaska Airlines
American Seafoods
Bartell Drugs
Big Fish Games
Blue Nile
Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Company
Capital One Investing
Car Toys
Cascade Designs
Columbia Sportswear
Eddie Bauer
Getty Images
Group Health
Holland America Line
Jones Soda
K2 Sports
Mikes Hard Lemonade
Nintendo of America
Oberto Sausage Company
Pagliacci Pizza
PopCap Games
Portland Timbers
Premera Blue Cross
Regence Blue Shield
Rhapsody International
Russell Investments
Salomon Snowboards
Salvation Army
Seattle Mariners
Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Sounders FC
Sucker Punch Productions
Sur La Table
T-Mobile US
Tazo Tea Company
Theo Chocolate
Tom Douglas Restaurants
Tommy Bahama
Trident Seafoods
Tullys Coffee
Umpqua Bank
United Way
of King County
Value Village
Washington Federal

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