Microsoft founder Bill Gates and arch rival Larry Ellison of Oracle best represent their companies’ respective brands, say 800 marketers in a poll set for release today.

But Gates and Ellison, along with Hewlett-Packard’s Carly Fiorina, are also among the three corporate leaders who most damaged their brands.

That’s according to “Bruised and Battered Brands,” a study by San Jose, Calif. brand-marketing firm Liquid Agency Inc. and three other marketing firms.

The study tracks damage to all-important corporate brands — defined as the overall perception of a company or product — during one of the worst years on record for technology.

“We think it’s important to create a baseline” for future studies to be made annually, said Alfredo Muccino, Liquid Agency’s chief creative director.

The study found a strong correlation between a company’s chief executive and the strength of the company’s brand.

“Through words and actions, the CEO has the power to build trust, communicate vision and demonstrate leadership — (the three top-ranked) elements of growing and sustaining the brand,” the study says.

HP’s Fiorina was ranked the chief executive who most damaged her company’s brand in 2001.

“She has taken a brand that was growing steadily and cast it into chaos, for no good reason,” one respondent wrote.

The companies that best maintained their brand value this year were Microsoft, IBM and Dell, in that order.

Compaq and Cisco Systems were judged worst at brand-value maintenance.

Though financial losses and stock declines were the two biggest factors cited in causing brand erosion, “industry hype” ranked a close third.

Muccino said hype is “building expectations that are not met. There has been a tendency to overpromise benefits or performance in the tech industry. That creates disappointment.”

Respondents said brands can best be rebuilt by strengthening relationships with customers, and by sharp, consistent messages about the brand.

Over half the respondents to the poll identified themselves as directors of their ad or marketing agency. Nearly 90 percent were from the United States.