Summary:

Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is still a ways behind companies like Samsung and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) when it comes to overall mobile market share, but it’…

Apple BrandZ ranking

Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is still a ways behind companies like Samsung and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) when it comes to overall mobile market share, but it’s a veritable juggernaut when it comes to market cap, and so too, it seems, when it comes to brand value: the company today got named as the top brand in the WPP-owned marketing and advertising research agency Millward Brown’s annual BrandZ rankings.

The 2011 tables, released today, indicate that Apple gained a lead on reigning brand champion Google (NSDQ: GOOG) by growing in “brand value” by 84 percent in the last year, to over $153.3 million. Google, meanwhile, dropped by two percent, to $111.5 million.

What does this mean, exactly? Calculating a company’s brand ranking is done with a bit of math, using a few proprietary indexes from the researchers themselves and numbers off the companies’ balance sheets (and given that Apple has been doing a remarkable job in that department, that gives it a big boost). The basic methodology is mapped out in the graphic below, and further explained in the full report:

Mobile companies, whether they are operators or phone makers, have long been big winners in branding rankings. The BrandZ list is no exception, with 21 companies in the top-100 (13 in the top 50) currently either offering mobile services (including operating systems) or making mobile devices. (On a more general note, technology scores big, with only one non-tech brand, McDonalds, in the top five.)

But some of those mobile rankings go against what you would believe judging by media opinion. AT&T — despite the huge criticism that it has come under for the quality of its network in some parts of the U.S. — is the highest-ranking mobile operator, at number seven. RIM’s BlackBerry, at number 25, is the highest-ranking pure mobile device maker — despite its own declines in profits and market share in some of its key regions.

Partly because of these kinds of idiosyncrasies — and partly because the numbers involve measurements of sentiment rather as well as hard numbers — brand rankings can be easy to slam.

But on the more positive side, can they also be instructive to companies that are eyeing up the mobile space? In other words, given how successful mobile appears already in these rankings, if you are a strong brand already, does that give you a leg up in your mobile strategy, too?

Amazon, at number 14, has for the first time surpassed WalMart (number 15) as the highest-ranking retailer. The company has already launched an app store and by many reports is gearing up to do more in terms of wireless devices (specifically tablets).

Meanwhile, Visa, at number 20, is the highest-ranking payment provider. The company last week hinted that it is about to relaunch its e-commerce strategy, which could see it fleshing out its plans in mobile payments. It is certainly getting closer to something: it also made a significant investment in the mobile payments company Square last week.

Facebook, whose brand grew by an outsized 246 percent in the last year, is currently at number 35. People have long been wondering what it will do in mobile; it may be that it is waiting it out a bit longer, while it moves up in the rankings, to make its big splash.

On the other hand, there could be warning signs contained in this list: HP is currently gearing up to ship the new handsets and a tablet around its latest WebOS product. HP (NYSE: HPQ) has a lot of work to do: its ranking declined by 11 percent in the last year, and it’s currently at number 18 in the list.

You can see a full list of the top-100 brands here.

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