Despite a number of challenges over the past year, digital and tech companies dominate this year's YouGov BrandIndex, an annual list that ranks the health of global brands across 26 different countries.
Based on more than six million interviews over the 12 months to the end of June 2018, rankings for individual countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and UAE, were published alongside global results.
Scores take the average number attributed to brands by consumers across six different indices: impression, quality, value, satisfaction, recommend, and reputation. A zero score means equal positive and negative feedback.
In the Middle East, more than 1,300 brands are tracked every single day, Scott Booth, head of data products at YouGov Middle East and Africa region, tells ZDNet.
"Achieving high performance is an indication of the overall health of a given brand in the marketplace," he says.
Here are the key findings from the research.
Top brands in Egypt
As with the global rankings, Egypt's top six places are occupied by tech companies. However, there are some key differences. Although Facebook fell two places this year to be ranked fifth globally, the social network leads the pack in Egypt.
Facebook's score of 58.8 puts it comfortably ahead of Google's 52.4 and WhatsApp's 51.8.
In a separate index, led by regional and international food brands, YouTube was the only tech and telecoms company in a top 10 of companies recording the largest improvements to their score.
Top brands in Saudi Arabia
Tech and telecoms companies have once again performed well in Saudi Arabia, with six spots in the Top 10.
But, in contrast to Egypt, the top spots are held by the dairy company Almarai, and Al Baik, a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants. Almarai has topped the Saudi charts four years in a row.
The biggest tech winners are YouTube, WhatsApp and Google. YouTube, more popular in Saudi Arabia than anywhere else in the world based on viewing minutes per capita, rose four spots to third. WhatsApp remains steady in fourth place, and Google is up three spots to fifth. The biggest losers are Apple's iPhone, down two to seventh, and Samsung, which dropped three spots to ninth.
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Of greater interest, perhaps, is the Index Improvers chart, which features four tech and IT-related companies in the top 10. Of these, Saudi Telecom, Huawei, and the Saudi Payments Network, known as mada, are ranked in the top four.
It will be interesting to see if these brands, along with Western Union in sixth place and Google in ninth, can maintain this momentum in the coming year.
Mada, a central payment service that links all ATMs and POS terminals throughout the country, is a key component in KSA's fintech plans.
Meanwhile, "Huawei, while still a secondary player in the market, has grown steadily in the past 18 to 24 months, particularly in Saudi Arabia", notes Booth.
Top brands in UAE
In UAE, YouGov captured the performance of 550 brands, compared with 500 in Saudi Arabia and 290 in Egypt, allowing for the breakdown of a number of verticals including Internet & Social Media, as well as Telecoms & Handset Providers and Consumer Electronics & Appliances.
"In terms of handsets, iPhone firmly dominates Saudi Arabia and Egypt in terms of consumer perception," observes Booth.
"In the UAE, the competition is much tighter, with Samsung Galaxy actually showing higher index scores than iPhone from March to July of this year," he says.
"Our takeaway would be that Samsung's marketing efforts have been stronger and more successful in the UAE than elsewhere in the region," he tells ZDNet, "while iPhone has managed to maintain some positive traction in other markets. Scores for iPhone are slightly lower in Saudi and Egypt compared with the UAE, while Samsung's numbers are substantially lower outside the UAE."
Although the iPhone is UAE's highest ranked brand in the Telecoms & Handset Providers indices for the whole year, Samsung pips Apple to the post to top the rankings in the field of Consumer Electronics & Appliances.
As Booth notes, it may not be "particularly surprising, but Samsung has continued to recover from the 2016 Note 7 debacle with strong releases now two years running".
Elsewhere, Instagram makes an appearance at number five in the rankings for Internet & Social Media, and UAE's Top Ten features prominent rankings for Google in second place, WhatsApp in third, YouTube fourth, Samsung fifth, Apple sixth, Facebook eighth, and the iPhone ninth.
The only non-tech brands in the top overall brand rankings are Emirates Airlines occupying top spot, Almarai at seventh, and the hypermarket chain Carrefour at tenth.
With Carrefour dropping three spots in the past year, it's worth noting that the Retailers enjoying the biggest change in their brand score tend to have a strong digital focus.
Possibly indicating a greater acceptance of e-commerce and the potential for online shopping, Souq.com, Amazon, the online grocery store Choithrams, and the new portal Noon.com all see an improvement in the perception of their brands this year.
Looking at tech and telecoms, Booth notes that since YouGov started tracking these fields in 2010, "the most significant changes are the rise of Samsung and the fall of players like Nokia and Blackberry in the handset space".
"The iPhone has been relatively steady, ranking in the top five every year, while Samsung Galaxy has featured in the top five since 2012 with the introduction of the Galaxy S3," he says.
However, Nokia, which once ranked at or above iPhone levels, has spent the period from 2013 to present well outside of the top ranks.
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"Only now, with the new line of Nokia handsets from HMD Global, are we seeing Nokia's numbers recover slightly," he says.
"Blackberry, meanwhile, has experienced a steady decline since 2013 without a marked recovery."
In a landscape overwhelmingly dominated at a top level by the popularity of international brands, these insights may help local and regional business to narrow the perception gap between their own brand and those of some of Silicon Valley's biggest players.
However, the popularity of airlines like Emirates, Saudia, and Almarai also demonstrate that it's also possible for national and regional brands to sit alongside the global titans.
Learning from these local brands, as well as exploiting sentiment analysis and other insight tools, should be at the heart of any brand's strategy to grow their impact and further improve consumer opinion of their products and services.
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