New Bruised & Battered Brands Poll Finds Industry Slump Severely Hurt Top High-Tech Brands; Companies Must Regain Trust of Marketplace and Focus on Customers

SILICON VALLEY, Calif. (Dec. 17, 2001) – Global technology marketing executives are acutely aware that their industry’s top brands have suffered in 2001, and they’re willing to shoulder some of the blame, according to the results of a new survey study entitled The Bruised and Battered Brands Poll.

The poll results were released today by Liquid Agency, a premier San Jose-based technology brand marketing firm that fielded the study in conjunction with The Sausalito Group, a strategic intelligence company, and Neale-May & Partners, a strategic marketing and communications company.

The new report captures the opinions of more than 800 leading technology marketers in 17 countries and provides perspectives on what may be high-tech’s biggest “brand recession” ever. It also reveals the strategies for brand survival and recovery. Survey respondents ranked both the best and worst brand performances for technology companies and high-tech CEOs in 2001 and provided the most important brand revitalization strategies and Insights into brand leadership and letdown.

Survey Result Highlights
* 80 percent of marketing respondents strongly agree that the industry downturn has hurt technology brands.

* While financial losses and stock price depreciation were major causes for brand erosion, industry “hype” comes in a close third, according to respondents.

* Getting close to the customer shows up in two of the three top strategies for sustaining brand value in the current downturn.

* Public relations was identified as the most effective way to market and create demand for technology brands in a tight economic climate, followed by customer relationship management and brand advertising.

* Bill Gates of Microsoft and Larry Ellison of Oracle showed up in the top three list of CEOs who best personify their company brands and the top three list of those who most damaged or compromised their brands in 2001.

* Marketers ranked the top three technology CEOs that best personify their brands as 1) Bill Gates, 2) Larry Ellison and 3) Michael Dell.

* They ranked the top three CEOs who most harmed their brands in 2001 as 1) Carly Fiorina, 2) Larry Ellison and 3) Bill Gates.

* The three companies voted as having best maintain brand value in 2001 were Microsoft, IBM and Dell.

* The three technology companies voted worst at maintaining brand value were HP, Compaq and Cisco, and all three decreased in market value over the same period.

“This year has highlighted more than any other the need among technology companies to embrace a brand business strategy,” said Alfredo Muccino, Creative Director at Liquid Agency. “The results of the study reflect that brands can be compromised by a litany of business problems, and as such branding needs to become more of a boardroom issue in the strategic business decision process.”

Brand Building and Recovery Strategies
The poll, completed by over 700 technology marketers in the U.S. and abroad showed that two of the top three rated strategies for sustaining brands in challenging times involved customer relationship building. At the same time the respondents found that it’s more important than ever to reduce confusion about what the brand stands for, build credibility, and speak with a clear consistent voice that communicates real differentiation.

“We believe that due to technology’s legacy to engineering and the focus on features, technology brands have primarily focused on innovation or performance as opposed to building relationships based on trust and confidence,” said Muccino. “The fact that many technology marketers are emphasizing growing and nurturing the relationship with key customers seems to be a reflection of a growing awareness that brands are built over time by taking care of customer’s real needs and concerns and by being consistent with the brand essence and values.”

CEO Ratings
Respondents rated trust as the overwhelming critical element of CEO branding, followed by market insight and vision and demonstrated leadership.

In terms of representing their corporate brands, some CEOs elicited both good and bad reactions, suggesting that CEO brand visibility can lead to strong positive or negative brand swings (or both). For example, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Oracle’s Larry Ellison clearly are polarizing the industry, with both executives ranking among the top three CEOs who best personify their companies’ brands and that most compromised their brands in 2001.

On Larry Ellison, one poll taker wrote, “Oracle is much like him: brash, loud, and immensely optimistic, even in the face of insurmountable odds.”

Michael Dell was also ranked among the top three CEOs who best personified their brands, but didn’t weigh in as an executive who damaged his brand.

One comment described Michael Dell as “the founder with the company name that is swift, young, persistent, confident, optimistic, and solid.” In short “He is Dell,” said another.

Hewlett-Packard’s Carly Fiorina, on the other hand, currently embroiled in controversy around the company’s performance and proposed merger with Compaq, was ranked number one for having compromised her company’s brand in 2001. One survey response stated: “She has taken a brand that was growing steadily and cast it into chaos for no good reason, as the deal, while it may be good, was not communicated in a clear and articulate manner, leading to the current negative perceptions.”

Many high-tech CEOs evidently need help to effectively communicate and embody the brand values of their company. For example, some 43 percent of respondents indicated that their top executive was not highly effective, as a brand emissary for their company, though over 50 percent believed that their CEO believes in the company brand.

How Companies Fared
Marketing executives’ choices for the best and worst high-tech brands of 2001 seemed to have a strong basis in financial performance and industry hype.

Microsoft, IBM and Dell were identified by marketing executives as the three leading technology companies that best maintained brand value during the past year.

Commented one participant: “Microsoft has excellent earnings, beat the Justice Department rap, delivers new products, and extends market reach. “IBM has diversified applications, a smart focus on easy in easy out processes, and a strong team. Dell has good PR.”

The three companies most frequently mentioned as doing a poor job of maintaining brand value, on the other hand, suffered declines in share price.

Presumably, the recent negative media and sentiments around the challenged HP/Compaq merger have taken a toll on brand value as well.

One poll taker mentioned, “Is there anyone besides Michael Capellas and Carly Fiorina that thinks the merger is a good idea?” A second respondent said, “John Chambers couldn’t foresee Cisco revenues would drop off a cliff they don’t manufacture.”

Partners and Report Information
The complete results report of the Bruised & Battered Brands Poll is available at www.liquidagency.com.

The 2001 Bruised and Battered Brands was fielded online from November 19-30, 2001 by The Sausalito Group, a strategic intelligence firm. Cooperating partners in the poll include Liquid Agency, Neale-May & Partners, the American Marketing Association, InfoWorld, Technology Marketing Magazine, Tech Conference, and GlobalFluency, The Independent Network of Influence.

About Liquid Agency Inc.
Liquid Agency, Inc. is a brand-marketing firm providing strategy, design and implementation of comprehensive brand marketing programs. Liquid Agency’s services include strategic brand development, brand identity, advertising, packaging, Web and interactive services, and all types of marketing communications collateral. Based in San Jose, Calif., Liquid Agency plans to expand its operations to better service clients in San Francisco, New York and
Chicago. Current client engagements include projects for Adobe, Intel, Lucent, and Seagate. Additionally, Liquid Agency is working on projects for the San Jose Downtown Business Association, The Redevelopment Office for the City of San Jose, and Federal Realty Investment Trust (Santana Row).

About The Sausalito Group
The Sausalito Group is a leader in providing senior management with rapid strategic intelligence to help them make faster, more effective decisions. The Sausalito Groups enterprise-wide programs simultaneously yield deeper, more immediate insights into the motivations, needs and wants of customers, = employees and prospects. The Sausalito Group’s proprietary on-line technology combines both qualitative and quantitative methodologies that help increase satisfaction, build customer loyalty and create a sustainable competitive advantage. Its instruments have been deployed in more than 27 countries worldwide and currently serve some of the world’s leading companies, including NEC, J.P.Morgan Chase, United Airlines, Philips, E-TRADE Group, and Palm, Inc.

About Neale-May & Partners
Neale-May & Partners is a leading strategic marketing and communications company focused on shaping perceptions in the global technology market. The $15 million firm helps technology-driven clients create brand equity and market value through inventive go-to-market programs and public relations campaigns. Neale-May represents clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies from its Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and New York City offices. Neale-May & Partners has been ranked as one of Silicon Valley’s top three technology PR firms and ranked among the top 10 independent PR firms nation wide. For additional information, visit www.nealemay.com or call (650) 328-5555 x110.