Google, Ikea, Apple: The World’s 10 Simplest Brands

A new report quantifies design and marketing’s most deceptively elusive quality.

In good design and branding, we talk a lot about “simplicity,” so much so that the word begins to feel like a lukewarm cup of coffee on our tongues. But the Siegel+Gale Global Brand Simplicity Index attempts to actually define simplicity by polling more than 6,000 consumers on the brands they find most simple (from the clarity of promotional materials to the usability of websites to the actual experience with the company’s products). The report then quantifies simplicity’s dollar value across industries. Their findings are enlightening.


The simplest brands, U.S.

Let’s start with the top 10 simplest brands* in the U.S.:

  1. Subway
  2. Dunkin’ Donuts
  3. Google
  4. Amazon
  5. Netflix
  6. Publix
  7. Apple
  8. McDonald’s
  9. Starbucks
  10. Zappos

Other than Publix–which feels like an outlier produced by a cohort of grandparents in Florida who respond to branding polls–that top 10 makes sense through and through. Subway’s $5 footlong campaign is marketing at its finest. Google’s main page is still an unadorned search bar. And even Starbucks is pretty navigable, once you get the vernacular down. At minimum, you know they sell coffee.

This top 10 represents some incredibly successful companies, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Siegel+Gale did find that consumers are willing to pay a premium for simpler experiences–an average of 3-4.1% more, or what could theoretically equate to $30 billion in revenue. The report singles out health insurance and banking as two industries standing to make the greatest gains from “simpler products and experiences.”

But what may be even more telling is that social media, despite its meteoric rise to prominence in popular culture, was rated horribly. Twitter fell 23 spots to #93 overall. And Facebook is ranked #118 out of 125 brands, actually dropping 31 spots from last year’s branding index. One of the most recognizable brands in the world is getting destroyed in terms of creating a comprehensible product.

The simplest brands, globally.

“Users say they’re frustrated by Facebook’s ‘incomprehensible’ personal privacy policies, frequent changes to the interface, and a lack of usability in general,” summarizes the report authors. “It’s just been one big ‘dislike’ for those seeking simplicity.” (Zing.)

I can’t help but wonder if Facebook is a special case in our culture altogether. It’s less a company selling a good than it is a civil service providing an entire infrastructure for our digital lives. I’m not sure the average New Yorker would call their subway system “simple,” but that doesn’t mean they’re going to start taking cabs everywhere.


So should simplicity be the end-all-be-all goal for companies? Maybe not. But if you’re selling meatball sandwiches for a living, it certainly won’t hurt.

* Many sectors were excluded. The study focused on brands “within the travel and hospitality, retail banking, and restaurant and grocery industries.”

Get the full report here.

[Image: Billboard via Shutterstock]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.