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Big brands from small players, while Microsoft, Disney, Ford trail

Brand perception is probably the most volatile facet of any business. Controlling brand perception amongst your customers / clients and prospects is key to so many things. And in the age of the social web, being the biggest business in the world doesn’t always mean you’re the best known…

Brand perception is probably the most volatile facet of any business. Controlling brand perception amongst your customers / clients and prospects is key to so many things. And in the age of the social web, being the biggest business in the world doesn’t always mean you’re the best known…

I’ve just scanned through the list of top brands on the Social Radar Top 50 Social Brands for March 2009, and as expected, Apple are high on that list. What was a surprise for me was the number of peripheral Apple brands on that list, including: iPhone, Mac, iPod, as well as Apple itself.

Taking the top three spots were the usual suspects: Twitter, Google and Obama, with the iPhone beating out Facebook for fourth place.

Apple logoSo why all the Apple focus? First of all, because Apple produce really good products. What’s probably most galling of all — especially for Dell, languishing in eighteenth — is that Apple have almost no interest in social media marketing. Instead, they leave that to their standing army of super advocates, all of which are only too willing to shout from rooftop aplenty about how much they love their Apple iPhone / Mac / iPod et cetera.

Secondly, it’s much easier to talk about Apple stuff because they have simple names that are easy to remember and find on Google. As for Dell, Vostro and OptiPlex hardly trip off the tongue. Google will no doubt try its hardest to resolve search results by trying to spell check those names. But ultimately, Vostro sounds more like a Serbian football midfielder, while OptiPlex sounds more like a make of military-grade safety glass.

In fairness, Dell are probably amongst a select few PC makers who use semi-sensible names for their boxen. The rest are usually indecipherable letters and numbers, more akin to passwords than brand names.

Interestingly, the same problem might apply to car names. I was following a 4×4 yesterday, and there must have been half a dozen different letters on the back. Why? Does it matter if they’re there or not, given that most people won’t know what the hell they mean. For me, brands like Audi and BMW have it nailed with simple names like S3 and 325 respectively — incidentally, Audi are propping up the list in fiftieth, while BMW didn’t even make the list at all, but we’ll talk more about car makers shortly.

Holding their own is Yahoo! in twelfth, which really is a surprise. There’s a company with massive brand awareness, mostly being undermined by inept business management.

microsoft logoIn respect to Microsoft’s reverse “halo” effect, they must be pleased to see their company name in eighth, with Windows ninth. However, I find it perplexing to see their Xbox trailing in fourteenth. With all of the added out-and-out consumer focus, I really would have expected the Xbox to lead both Microsoft on Windows.

Of all the car manufacturers — most of which are taking a kicking right now — Ford are topping the table in twenty-fourth spot. Here, I am least surprised. Of all the auto makers, Ford appear to be the most switched when it comes to social media awareness:

“Sure, it’s a given Ford would have won the legal battle, had things gone that way. But in winning the battle, Ford would have risked losing the social media war. And on the web, the survivability of a brand is all to do with winning the hearts and the minds of the very people you’re appealing to. Scott Monty, Ford Motor Company’s social media strategist knew this only too well.”

Ford are an everyman maker of cars, while Audi and BMW are marque brands, more associated with quality and much higher levels of engineering prowess. For the likes of Audi, BMW and Jaguar, their priorities will most likely lay in high gloss double-page spreads in luxury lifestyle magazines:

“The lower tier but still renown, large marque manufacturers also avoid the showy stuff and instead talk in terms of lifestyle and technical prowess. In this instance, I’m thinking of the likes of Porsche, Audi and BMW, and more recently Volkswagen.

Clearly, people are prepared to pay large amounts of money for a certain brand of car. One that’s got a roof, four wheels, seats and an engine just like every other car.”

skype logoOf all the brands, Skype saw the biggest leap, with an eleven point jump, to see them take thirty-seventh place. I like Skype, which I use all of the time for my business communications. Why the leap? I’d say it’s linked to their recent application release for .. yes, you’ve guessed it, Apple’s iPhone.

But, we need to keep in mind that these are monthly figures for March, with no real indication as to historical numbers, other than the plus and minus values, which I assume hint at their respective standings for February. If you have the time (which I don’t), you could take a look at Infegy and see if you can track down some historical data.

Also, these figures have a very obvious and heavy US bias, skewing the over all popularity of certain brands, such as Audi and NFL, for example.

What do we take away from this list of brand names? With the power of the social web, anyone can succeed. Brand penetration, subject to target audience, is longer about spending huge amounts of money, although that still helps. Increasing brand awareness can work virally, as is most likely the case with Twitter, Facebook, the iPhone as well as Barack Obama, and look where that got him…

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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