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Tech Notebook: As Facebook's brand power rises, where's Apple?

Palo Alto social-networking powerhouse Facebook has become the technology industry’s most powerful brand — at least according to a study this week from two Bay Area firms.

Liquid Agency, a downtown San Jose branding firm, and Socratic Technologies, a San Francisco market researcher, ranked tech companies and their products on four factors: awareness, consideration, preference and purchase intent.

“Social media is no longer a trend,” Martha Bowman, Liquid’s director of brand strategy, noted in the report. “It is part of our everyday lives, and it is firmly entrenched in our cultural ethos.” As for Facebook, it “has become one of the most valuable brands in the world,” Bowman wrote.

In 2009 and 2007, the study concluded that Mountain View Internet juggernaut Google had the most powerful tech brand. Seattle online retail giant was No. 1 in 2008. In the latest study, Amazon was No. 2, followed by San Jose software maker Adobe Systems, Google and Santa Clara chip behemoth Intel.

Conspicuously missing in the Top 5 was Apple (which Tech Notebook has been led to believe has a very powerful brand, at least judging by the numerous page views — er, passionate reader interest — we get when we write about the Cupertino maker of Mac computers and “i” devices).

Bowman explained why in an e-mail. The study “measures a brand’s performance in its particular category — against its specific competitors. Apple today is a diversified company that we measure in nine different categories,” she wrote. “While the Apple brand is well-loved and a strong competitor overall, it does not dominate in any one category to the degree Facebook does in social media or Intel in semiconductors.”

Apple’s brand impact has grown significantly since the agency’s first study in 2007, she noted. Then, “Apple was found in just three categories — today, the brand’s footprint extends to nine categories, many in which it is setting the pace.”

Dell advances, thanks to Apple: According to a report this week from El Segundo industry researcher IHS iSuppli, Texas computer maker Dell returned to its No. 2 spot in the global PC market in the fourth quarter. Acer — which had climbed to No. 2 in the third quarter of 2009 on the strength of its netbook offerings — fell back to No. 3, in part due to the popularity of Apple’s iPad.

“With momentum for consumer PCs waning and in light of growing competition from media tablets, Acer’s gains have been reversed,” Matthew Wilkins, IHS’s principal analyst for computing platforms, said in an e-mail.

Palo Alto tech pioneer Hewlett-Packard kept its global lead, shipping 18 million PCs — followed by Dell, Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba. Total PC industry shipments reached 93.1 million, up 4.7 percent from a year earlier, as businesses replaced outdated machines.

Rent or buy?: Seattle online real estate site Zillow is known for its “Zestimate” home values. In this market, though, considering how far underwater our home value is compared with our mortgage, Tech Notebook tries not to look.

This week, Zillow added estimated monthly rents to its site as a tool for would-be landlords and tenants.

“Buyers and renters are not exclusive categories — many people are considering both options when shopping for a new home. Similarly, many would-be sellers in today’s housing market are considering whether to become landlords rather than sell at a loss,” Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff said in a news release.

Frank Russell writes the 60-Second Business Break, posted weekdays by 2 p.m. at and Contact him at 408-920-5876.

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