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Originally published Monday, March 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Microsoft brand sinks in this survey

A survey of U.S. corporate brand recognition shows Microsoft on a five-year skid, even as it ranks highly on other such lists. CoreBrand, based in Stamford...

Keeping watch

THE GLOBAL video-surveillance market is projected by one estimate to grow from $13.5 billion in sales in 2006 to $46 billion in 2013.

Source: ABI Research

A survey of U.S. corporate brand recognition shows Microsoft on a five-year skid, even as it ranks highly on other such lists.

CoreBrand, based in Stamford, Conn., last week released results from its survey of U.S. business leaders, showing Microsoft fell from 38th in 2006 to 59th in 2007, just behind Fruit of the Loom among U.S.-based corporate (as opposed to product) brands.

Google ranked 195th, Apple was 118th and IBM came in 18th.

While the comparison with other companies is interesting, the data behind Microsoft's ranking is even more so.

Microsoft hit its peak in "Brand Power" at 81 in 1996, the year after people lined up at midnight for Windows 95.

The score is based on telephone surveys with execs — VP-level and above — at the top 20 percent of U.S. companies.

Survey respondents are asked to rate a company's reputation; their perception of its management; and investment potential. These attributes are combined to form the Brand Power score. About 400 respondents rate each company.

Microsoft drifted down and stabilized in the 76-77 point range from 1997 through about 2003, said CoreBrand CEO Jim Gregory.

Also notable, from 2000 to 2003, the company's rating for perception of management increased. Recall that current CEO Steve Ballmer took over from Chairman Bill Gates in January 2000. (By the way, happy birthday, Steve.)

But beginning in 2003, the company's Brand Power ranking started a decline that has continued through 2007. Its score declined from 76 in 2004 to 69 last year.

"It's not so much an issue of familiarity because they still are nearly universally known, but their favorability is what is dropping off," Gregory said. "... We see a trend here that is really disturbing for a company that is as strong as Microsoft and such an important corporation."

The data don't indicate what is behind the decline. Gregory suggested in a news release that Apple's "I'm a Mac" ad campaign had something to do with it, but that wouldn't account for the longer-term trend.

Other possibilities include a hangover from Microsoft's antitrust battles, security lapses in Windows XP, and delays and underwhelming response to Windows Vista.

Asked for a response, a Microsoft spokeswoman pointed to three brand surveys published in the last year that ranked it 10th or higher.

From rain to storm

Remember about three weeks ago when The Wall Street Journal reported that Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz was brought on to advise Microsoft in its bid for Yahoo?

(It was buried in the 11th paragraph of a story and attributed to an anonymous source. Please pass the grain of salt.)

But, if true, might Bear Stearns' meltdown and fire sale to JPMorgan Chase have any impact on Schwartz's behind-the-scenes role in the Microsoft-Yahoo bid? More to the point, does Schwartz' credibility suffer in light of his bank's assurances that all was well at Bear four days before its brink-of-bankruptcy sale?

Here's why that question could be important:

When Schwartz's role in Microsoft-Yahoo was reported, the Tech Confidential blog noted he was likely brought on for his status as a "rainmaker" — one of only a few "bankers with the reputation and game to operate at the very highest levels of the profession."

"Schwartz can serve Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as consigliere on the deal. The banker will be versed in the subtle machinations behind any major merger. He also might function as a go-between among advisers and shareholders involved in the transaction," Tech Confidential wrote.

Given that Schwartz, if he's still involved (or ever was), is likely working way behind the scenes, it would be difficult to determine what impact the implosion of his bank would have on his role advising Microsoft. Maybe he now finds himself with some extra time on his hands ...

Download, a column of news bits, observations and miscellany, is gathered by The Seattle Times technology staff. We can be reached at 206-464-2265 or biztech@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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