NEW YORK: Apple, Microsoft and Coca-Cola are the three most valuable brands in the world, according to a new study.

Forbes, the magazine, partnered with Jeffrey Parkhurst, managing director of business strategy at Mindshare, to identify the intangible assets that could claim the greatest financial muscle.

Their assessment covered 100 market leaders in different sectors, all of which had a presence in the United States, argued to be a key requirement of possessing a truly global reach.

Apple, the electronics giant, led the rankings on $57.4bn, credited for developing pioneering products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad and building strong bonds with consumers.

The company also showed how a brand can "survive and thrive" after a crisis, as its sales tumbled by 46% in a four-year period in the late-1990s, including seven losses in eight quarters.

Steve Jobs returned in 1997, the iMac was released in 1998, and the Cupertino-based firm has unveiled a "string of monster hits".

Apple has also generated revenues of $57bn in the last 12 months.

Microsoft occupied second place on $56.6bn thanks to its high operating margins and impressive market penetration, followed by Coca-Cola in third on $55.4bn.

IBM took fourth spot on $43bn, boosted in particular by its focus on innovation.

The firm has registered the most patents in the US for 17 years in a row.

Google closed out the top five on $39.7bn, and has recorded an increase of 450% on this measure since 2005, when Forbes valued the search provider's brand at $8.7bn.

McDonald's, which has over 60m customers every day, was next on $35.9bn, ahead of General Electric on $33.7bn.

The fast food chain has experienced a decline of more than $350bn in its market capitalisation in a decade.

Marlboro, in eighth, achieved a net worth of $29.1bn, and boasts a share of 42.8% in its category, a larger total than its 12 biggest rivals combined, and up from 33.8% in 2008.

The cigarette firm has demonstrated it is possible to prosper in challenging times, as the scrutiny of voluntary organisations, legislators and health experts on the tobacco industry has grown rapidly.

In response, it has shifted its advertising away from mainstream media and towards direct marketing, having accumulated a database with details of 25m smokers.

Chip maker Intel grabbed ninth on $28.6bn, and Nokia completed the top ten on $27.4bn, and both companies were praised for their continuing desire to develop new technology.

Toyota, the automaker, came just outside of this group on $24.1bn, after facing significant difficulties in the last year as a result of recalls that ultimately affected ten million cars worldwide.

As well as decreasing consumer confidence, the need to withdraw so many vehicles undermined the very proposition on which the Japanese enterprise had based its marketing.

"Toyota always promoted quality, and then they delivered exactly the opposite," said Parkhurst.

If the central messaging in its previous communications centred upon speed or performance, the decline in popular perceptions may not have been as severe, he added.

Toyota has invested heavily in advertising in an effort to recover its status, and sales levels are improving in many markets, indicating its longer term position could be more secure.

Alongside a range of earnings data from the last three years, the study analysed factors like the relative importance of brands in each industry, which was found to vary greatly by sector.

Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by Warc staff