Apple reclaimed the top-rated brand value spot in Millward Brown's annual review on the back of exceptional iPhone 6 sales last year.
The Cupertino, Calif. company, which lost the No. 1 position in 2014 to Google, climbed to an estimated $247 billion in brand value, said the research firm, which specializes in advertising effectiveness and brand equity.
Google slipped to No. 2 with its $174 billion value, while Microsoft climbed a spot to No. 3 ($116 billion). Other technology companies in the Top 20 included IBM (No. 4), Tencent (No. 11), Facebook (No. 12) Alibaba (No. 13) and Amazon (No. 14).
Brand value, as Millward Brown defined it, is the portion of a company's overall valuation due to the brand name itself, a metric comprising several pieces, including opinions of a consumer panel that totals more than 3 million people worldwide.
"Apple displayed remarkable brand strength, returning to the number one position in the ranking based on consumer regard for the brand and its devices," Millward Brown's report read (download PDF). "The brand's iPhone 6 success contributed to an $18 billion quarterly net profit, the largest quarterly profit for a public company ever recorded."
Millward Brown cited several other factors it thought contributed to Apple's 67% year-over-year increase in brand value, ranging from Apple Pay to the Apple-IBM partnership announced a year ago.
Apple holds the record for the largest increase in brand value: 1,446% over the last 10 years. "Most astonishingly, 10 years ago, Apple, the world's most valuable brand, did not even rank in the ... global top 100," said the research firm.
Microsoft, which like Apple moved up a spot this year, also got a thumbs up from Millward Brown, which applauded the leadership change at the 40-year-old Redmond, Wash. company. "In the first year under its new CEO [Satya Nadella], Microsoft refreshed its culture and exhibited greater willingness to be more open and collaborative with its partners and customers," the report said.
Microsoft, No. 1 in Millward Brown's first report of 2006 with a brand value of $62 billion, recorded a number nearly double that for 2015.
"Microsoft rose ... on the strength of three things: a shift in focus to the cloud, a more collaborative corporate philosophy, and an aura of optimism surrounding the installation of a new CEO," the research company said.
In particular, Millward Brown highlighted the March 2014 debut of Office on the iPad, and in more general terms, the sweeping changes Microsoft made to its pricing practice and the discarding of its Windows-first (and in many cases, Windows-only) philosophy. Also in the mix: The decision to give away upgrades to Windows 10 to consumers and small businesses.
"Microsoft announced plans to distribute the next version of its Windows 10 as a free upgrade for the first year to people who already own Windows," the researcher said. "The initiative ensures a high adoption rate and the Microsoft brand looks more generous."