In this ranking, Microsoft tops Apple

Apple (AAPL) remains the biggest company in the world as ranked by market capitalization, but a report by brand consultancy FutureBrand suggests it is slipping behind other players, including key competitors, as measured by other criteria.

When factors such as consumer perceptions, thought leadership, innovation, purpose, and managerial experience are taken into account, Apple ranks behind Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), and the Walt Disney Company (DIS), the consulting firm says.

The rationale for looking beyond financial strength in assessing the top companies is that "there is more to gauging opinion about a company and its prospects than financial worth, and that a more refined understanding is required about the contribution that brand makes to the latter," according to a statement from FutureBrand.

The firm took a ranking by strict market capitalization created by PwC and re-ordered it by consumer perception about a number of factors. That let FutureBrand look at the potential gap between the views of buyers and financial markets.

In looking at these more expansive but subjective measures, American high-tech companies dominate the top 10 of the 100 highest-ranked companies (listed below in their FutureBrand combination rank order, with each followed by its separate PwC market capitalization rank):

  • Google -- 3
  • Microsoft -- 4
  • Walt Disney -- 40
  • Apple -- 1
  • Samsung -- 18
  • Intel -- 49
  • Toyota -- 21
  • Johnson & Johnson -- 7
  • Unilever -- 52
  • IBM -- 24

If restricted to American companies, the top 10 would also include Facebook, Boeing and Visa. According to FutureBrand, the top 10 features numerous tech companies because of their deepening connections with consumers.

Interestingly, some of the top performers are companies that do not sell directly to consumers, yet still exhibit strong brand appeal. Indeed, SABIC (Saudi Arabian basic materials), AbbVie (health care) and Gilead (health care) have low "household awareness" but ranked above McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co, Walmart and Amazon.

If tech companies are the top of the heap, energy and financial services companies fare poorly in FutureBrand's ranking. Here are the 10 lowest-ranked companies along with their PwC market cap rankings:

  • British American Tobacco -- 68
  • Petro China -- 13
  • ENI -- 92
  • Phillip Morris -- 45
  • Union Pacific -- 98
  • Comcast -- 44
  • Gazprom -- 84
  • Bank of China -- 57
  • ConocoPhillips -- 99
  • BNP -- 69
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.