Hottest. Coolest. Biggest. Newest. These are the qualities most often celebrated in the lists of top brands put out by agencies, analysts, and media outlets. Although those attributes often correlate with success, we have always taken a wider view. What does a brand mean? More than ever, companies have the power to connect deeply with people and bring about change. They can influence the direction of larger culture and make an impact on the way other businesses think and operate. We decided to highlight the brands that truly matter most right now. Since what “matters” can be subjective—and somewhat intangible—we started by gathering input from our Most Creative People in Business community. We asked them to apply four criteria: brands that are recognizable, deliver a quality product, make a positive difference in the world, and push their industries forward. Then our own editors analyzed the results. Most important, we wanted to identify those brands that are leading with courage and confidence in a fast-changing and uncertain environment. Some brands react to disruption; these are the ones driving it, creating a world of the future that is impossible to ignore.
Slideshow: Some people love to wear T-shirts or hats bearing the logos of their favorite companies. These passionate fans have gone a step further.
No other company better represents the idea of progress in the digital age. Google—and its parent company, Alphabet—is synonymous with finding new ways to interact with the world, and with each other.
As the way we buy stuff continues to shift fundamentally, the e-commerce giant consistently gets people excited about spending their money.
The world’s most valuable company is also one of the most beloved, due to its gorgeous products, intuitive services, and enduring halo of cool.
Thanks to visionary CEO Elon Musk, eco-friendly products can be luxury items, inspiring both pleasure and envy.
The streaming pioneer, now also known for its original programming, keeps rewriting the playbook for the entertainment business.
By encouraging strangers to open their homes to each other, the sharing-economy icon isn’t just shaking up the travel biz; it represents an inclusive vision of the future.
Humans crave connection—and this is where it increasingly happens (for better or worse).
More than just a caffeine break, the “third place” is creating community in unexpected ways and places.
Pictures are the key to contemporary communication, as this Facebook-owned platform continues to prove.
With journalism under fire and public-arts funding in jeopardy, the radio (and podcasting) stalwart offers a safe space for quality storytelling.
The socially conscious outdoor-goods purveyor is leading by example in the notoriously wasteful apparel business.
12. Warby Parker
Glasses were utilitarian or absurdly expensive before Warby upended the industry. Now it’s the standard-bearer for conscious online style brands.
You will never be Serena or LeBron or Ronaldo. You can, however, wear their technologically advanced, design-forward shoes.
For 140 million users, the green-circle logo represents listening bliss: unlimited on-demand music and eerily accurate recommendations.
TV’s dominant personal brand used to be Oprah; today it is Shonda Rhimes.
No other media company has expanded its identity so dramatically. It’s now known for serious news (not to mention cooking videos) as much as silly memes.
With high-profile creative-class partnerships (Kanye West, Raf Simons) and an emphasis on style along with performance, it’s carved out a unique space in a crowded field.
Game of Thrones may be winding down, but the net-work remains the quintes-sence of bingeable prestige television.
Who knew a sleep startup could make so much noise?
Its breakthrough idea: exercise as communal, sweat-soaked enlightenment. Not just a gym—it’s a lifestyle.
The Swedish retailer has transformed cheap furniture into covetable entry-level design. Come for the Poäng chair, stay for the meatballs.
In the right hands, just about any product can take on real social significance. As Chobani churns out ever more varieties of yogurt, it also spreads a message of inclusiveness and human dignity.
What do Marvel, Star Wars, and singing princesses have in common? A parent company that prioritizes quality, appeals broadly, and pushes forward while respecting its past.
Inspiring consumers—and, finally, the FDA—to embrace mass-market genetic testing.
Contemporary culture’s loudest, fastest communication tool may not have the most users in the social media world, but it’s undeniably the center of today’s news marketplace, a vital global watercooler for anyone to engage with real-time information and opinion.