WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) — In addition to an economic slump, many top technology companies have taken a dive in the reputation of their brand identity, according to a poll released Tuesday by Liquid Agency, a California technology marketing firm.

The new “Bruised & Battered Brands Poll” found that beside an industry economic recession, the tech industry is experiencing a “brand recession,” and must regain the trust of the marketplace and increase the industry focus on customers.

Liquid Agency, a San Jose-based technology brand marketing firm, conducted this study along with the Sausalito Group, a strategic intelligence company, and Neale-May & Partners, a strategic marketing and communications company. The report captures the opinions of more than 800 technology marketers in 17 countries.

According to the report, 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. Of those polled, 80 percent of marketing respondents strongly agree that the industry downturn has hurt technology brands.

The survey also reported that while financial losses and stock price depreciation were major causes for brand erosion, industry “hype” comes in a close third, according to respondents; that getting close to the customer shows up in two of the three top strategies for sustaining brand value in the current downturn; and that 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.

“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,” said Alfredo Muccino, Liquid Agency’s creative director.

The survey also reported on how marketers viewed company CEOs.

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 the brand of their respective companies brands and that most compromised their brands in 2001, according to the Liquid survey. The marketers polled ranked the top three technology CEOs that best personify their brands as 1) Bill Gates, 2) Larry Ellison and 3) Michael Dell.

Of Dell, one respondent described the CEO as “the founder with the company name that is swift, young, persistent, confident, optimistic and solid.

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

For instance, regarding Fiorina, 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 (to merge with Compaq), while it may be good, was not communicated in a clear and articulate manner, leading to the current negative perceptions.”

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

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

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

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