South Africa’s MTN has entered the list of the world’s most valuable brands, making it the first African brand to do so.

MTN came in at a respectable number 88, with a brand value of $9,2-billion, according to Millward Brown’s annual BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands study.

Other brands are also thriving south of the Sahara. About 40% of Guinness’s sales come from Africa; Airtel’s third quarter results showed a 16% increase in revenue in Africa; Orange enjoyed rapid growth in Africa in 2011; while Walmart invested in Africa with the acquisition of Massmart.

Apple has consolidated its position as the world’s most valuable brand, rising 19% in value for a worth of $182,9-billion. IBM grew 15% in value to $115,9-billion and overtook Google, which dropped to third place and is now worth $107,8-billion.

Ahead of its IPO, eight year old Facebook rose 74% in value, making it the fastest brand value riser in the ranking. Worth $33,2-billion the social network moved up to number 19 from number 35.

The study, commissioned by WPP and conducted by Millward Brown Optimor and now in its seventh year, identifies and ranks the world’s most valuable brands by their dollar value, an analysis based on financial data, market intelligence and consumer measures of brand equity.

The 2012 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking demonstrates the power of strong brands as both a driver of new business growth and a critical support in hard times. Between 2006 and 2012, the total value of the BrandZ Top 100 rose 66% and is now worth $2,4-trillion.

“Brands are an insurance policy for businesses,” says Eileen Campbell, Global CEO of brand research company Millward Brown. “Despite a prolonged period of economic stress, political uncertainty and natural disasters that buffeted brands across many categories, the value of the world’s leading brands keeps rising across many categories, sustaining and nurturing businesses.”

Technology companies are well represented in the top 10 of the listing. Microsoft comes in at number five, AT&T at number seven, Verizon at number eight and China Mobile at number 10.

David Roth of WPP comments: “Brands help businesses create competitive differentiation, command a price premium and become more resilient to crises or economic turbulence. This year, those businesses that leveraged technology, focused on the customer experience or boosted control of their brands thrived.

“Apple continues to innovate and maintain its ‘luxury’ brand status, but faces future competition from Samsung. Now worth more than $14,1-billion, thanks in part to the success of its Galaxy handsets, Samsung is successfully outpacing Apple in a significant number of markets by positioning as a cool, well-priced alternative to the ubiquitous iPhone.”

Key findings from this year’s study include:

* Seven of the top 10 brands are technology or telecoms brands. However, the power of smart, simple-to-use technology can also be seen beyond these two sectors. In other categories – cars, financial services, luxury and retail for example – we can also see that brands are gaining significant advantages by using smart technology to enhance their customer experience. For example, Burberry – up 21% to $4-billion – created a virtual world where younger brand followers can view fashion shows and more.

* The future is mobile: The future of the internet will be predominantly mobile rather than computer based. Mobile, to some extent, has been shielded from the recession as one of the few items consumers don’t want to give up or cut back on. The most valuable telecoms brand is AT&T worth $68,8-billion. While the US’s largest mobile service provider, Verizon, increased its brand value by 15% in the last year and is now worth $49,1-billion.

* Retail: constructing an omni-channel business: The customer experience is a new focus for many retailers as they recognise its importance in keeping customers loyal and the need to be present anywhere and everywhere on the path to purchase. Walmart knocked Amazon from the top position and its brand is now worth $34,4-billion while Amazon is now worth $34-billion.

* Brands with women on the board outperform: As the number of women on corporate boards continues to rise,the BrandZ Top100 study this year reveals the success that  women bring to brands. 77% of the brands appearing in the BrandZ[TM]Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands have women in the boardroom. The average value of brands with women on the boards is $27-billion, double that of those companies without female directors. Not only that, these brands also show an average five-year growth of 66% compared to an average growth of only 6% for those BrandZ Top100 brands that don’t have a woman on the board.

* Strong brands provide better shareholder value: An analysis of BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands as a ‘stock portfolio’ over the last seven years shows a favourable performance compared to a current stock market index, the S&P500. While the total return on investment (ROI) for all companies in the S&P500 index was just 2,3%, the BrandZ Portfolio provided a 36,3% ROI, proving that companies with strong brands are able to deliver better value to their shareholders.