The strongest brands are relentlessly relevant. These brands don't just fill a need – they get us, surprising us with something we didn't know we wanted until we had it in our hands. (Neon-coloured Band-Aids and Starbucks' payment app? You had us at hello.) What's more, they achieve this relentless relevance not via some clumsy reinvention, but by continually being in sync with what people want. They listen.

These brands truly understand that around the world, their role in people's lives is changing. Political and financial upheaval has left many consumers feeling a sense of unpredictability, like riding a rollercoaster during an earthquake. To stay relevant – and build on it – brands have to be intuitive. The successful ones are asking: what are people going through, right now? Can we help? How can we better walk in their shoes?

Asking – and answering – these questions is what propels brands to the top of our recent Prophet Brand Relevance Index™. These brands understand consumers so well that life without them is unimaginable. When looking at the brands that performed well across the countries included in our Index (US, UK, China and Germany; Figure 1), we saw four themes emerge: the most relevant brands have a commitment to meet people's needs, simplify the complex, evolve quickly, and inspire conviction.