If you instead believe the CoreBrand Brand Power ranking released about three weeks earlier, the value of IBM's brand plummeted last year as it fell 18 places to No. 66 on that firm's list. CoreBrand puts Apple, which tops Brand Z's ranking, at No. 33, just behind Sony and just ahead of Lowe's .
Then again, Omnicom's Interbrand also had IBM No. 2 in its brand-valuation ranking released last October, up 8%, but valued Big Blue at just under $70 billion, only about 60 cents on Brand Z's dollar. Interbrand had Coke at No. 1, agreeing with CoreBrand at least on Coke's rank. Brand Z pegs Coca-Cola at only No. 5, albeit still worth $1.3 billion more than Interbrand gives it credit for.
Confused? Well, you're not alone.
The IBM case is but an extreme among many disparities the Marketing Accountability Standards Board has found in publicly available valuations of brands, said Meg Blair, president of the organization, which has been trying to develop a common way of measuring what brands are worth and how those values change.
"Many of the valuators treat them as black boxes, so you don't even know what's in it," she said. "Hopefully if the industry embraces what we're working on, we'll resolve it. If not, I guess it doesn't get resolved in my lifetime."
For their part, executives of Millward Brown and CoreBrand talked some about how their methodologies work and why they're different.
Jim Gregory, CEO of CoreBrand, said his firm's ranking is based on surveys of more than 10,000 people annually, all of them corporate executives at VP level or above, none of them asked to evaluate more than 40 brands at a time to avoid being overwhelmed by the survey.
He acknowledged his system was at odds with some others, which use different survey methodologies and also take publicly available financial data into account. But he said IBM has been slipping in CoreBrand's rankings since it exited its consumer PC business in 2004, a move he said wasn't handled well from a branding standpoint.
There were some other head-scratchers in the CoreBrand rankings, such as Avon Products rising 11 places to No. 41 last year (the rankings released in late April cover 2011, as do BrandZ's), despite a series of earnings disappointments, investigations of bribery allegations in China, and resignations of CEO Andrea Jung (who remains chairman) and Chief Financial Officer Charles Cramb.
"A lot of people still feel good about the brand," Mr. Gregory said, adding that Avon also probably was lifted by good results for its category, including Estee Lauder and L'Oreal.
That Apple trails Sony on the list, he said, is because while Apple has ardent fans, many corporate-executive survey respondents aren't among them.
Eileen Campbell, CEO of Millward Brown, said she's not familiar with all the details of how the others evaluate brands, but said Brand Z incorporates specifically sentiment of people who are customers of a brand among key criteria.
"Some of the things I see in other evaluations in my mind sort of defy logic," she said.
Millward Brown's Brand Z system, which encompasses both consumer surveys and analysis of financial data, did have some surprises of its own this year, such as developing-market brands collectively declining 1.7% last year -- the first time they've ever fallen since results first were published in 2006, though they're still up more than six-fold for the period. Brands from developed markets rose last year, though only a modest 1%, but up 47% since 2006.
Ms. Campbell said declines in several developing-market stock markets accounted for the drop in brand value, while many of the developed-market brands continued to be buoyed by rising sales in developing markets.
Among other highlights in the Brand Z rankings:
Walmart, after slipping behind Amazon for leadership in retail, edged Amazon this year barely on brand leadership to regain the top spot in retail, though both saw their brand value decline. Ms. Campbell said Amazon was dragged down by the cost of its entry into tablet computers.
Credit-card issuers and processors MasterCard, Visa and American Express all saw their brand values rise, ranging from an 18% gain for American Express to a 53% gain for MasterCard, as Ms. Campbell said they appeared helped by growth in their payment-processing businesses. But consumer and investment banks saw their brand values plummet as investor and consumer sentiment turned south, with Bank of America and Goldman Sachs both dropping out of the top 100 brands.
Another Brand Z finding: Brands with women on their corporate boards do better than those that don't, with their values rising on average 66% vs. 6% for the brands with all-male boards.
While developing-market brands on average saw their value decline, Africa got its first entry in the top 100 with South Africa telecom MTN entering at No. 88 with a $9.2 billion valuation.
Whatever Facebook's travails in stock trading, its brand value soared 74% -- faster than any other brand in Brand Z's rankings last year -- to $33.2 billion. That was faster than any other brand in the survey and based on a relatively conservative Millward Brown valuation of $85 billion, which was a bit behind the $92 billion Facebook fell to in late-day trading Monday on its second day as a public company.