While the study was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic, the people behind it say Microsoft and other tech companies are garnering praise for their responses.
A new study on brand intimacy found that tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Netflix rank high on the list of enterprises consumers feel a connection with, despite the industry as a whole lagging behind others.
This is the 10th year that MBLM has released its Brand Intimacy 2020 Study, which is created using a mix of surveys and research on a variety of popular brands. The study found that the top brands in the United States based on customer intimacy are Amazon, Disney, Apple, Ford and Jeep, followed by Netflix, BMW, Chevrolet, Walmart and Playstation.
Within technology and telecommunications, MBLM's study found that Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft are the top brands, with AT&T, Verizon, Dell, LG, HP and Intel rounding out the top 10. Amazon is listed in the retail category so it was not included in the tech rankings despite its dominance in that field.
Mario Natarelli, managing partner at MBLM, explained that the survey and much of the research was done in the fall or earlier this year so it does not take into account the global implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Before the crisis, technology titans were enjoying continued growth and doing their best to offer new hardware and software that would encompass every aspect of our lives. Beyond the consumer focus, most of these brands in the US were busy building dominance in the cloud with business services, content, and everything in between," he said.
"With social distancing separating us from our workplaces, colleagues, and clients, the role technology brands have played in maintaining our connective tissue has become more essential than ever. Collaboration tools have become our ground zero in how we earn a paycheck, teach our kids, and check in with families and friends."
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The study focuses on the emotions behind how consumers view different companies, brands and industries. MBLM explains on its website that "Brand Intimacy" is defined as the emotional science that measures the bonds we form with the brands we use and love.
The Brand Intimacy 2020 Report features a comprehensive ranking of brands based on emotion by analyzing the responses of 6,200 consumers and 56,000 brand evaluations across 15 industries in the US, Mexico, and UAE.
Natarelli said that MBLM's Intimacy ranking had technology and telecommunications behind both the media and entertainment industry, as well as the automotive industry.
The industry has an average Brand Intimacy Quotient of 42.9, which is above the cross-industry average of 31, and both men and women ranked Apple as their favorite intimate brand. Despite falling behind Amazon on the overall rankings, Apple still leads among multiple consumer age groups, with both millennials and those older than 35 choosing it as their most intimate technology and telecommunications brand. Apple is also highly ranked among consumers with incomes both over and under $100,000.
In an interview and detailed blog post, Natarelli said that for the technology industry as a whole, enhancement is the dominant archetype, meaning customers become better through use of the brand—smarter, more capable, and more connected.
"Technology and telecommunications has historically been in the third or fourth place overall as an industry, which is surprising since it has such incredible strong brands like Apple, Google and Microsoft. You would imagine it would perhaps do better than automotive," Natarelli said.
"But as an industry and factoring in some of the weaker performing brands in that category, it clearly falls in the third or fourth area, which is still well above the average, so tech brands generally do very well in building intimacy."
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He added that many of the tech brands that revolve around hardware like smartphones or gaming platforms generally do better than service, software, cloud, or social platform brands.
One of the companies that has done the best job over the years at improving its rankings is Microsoft. Because the survey did not take into account changes related to COVID-19, Natarelli said MBLM conducted an experiment with social listening to see what's being talked about around these brands today and whether it is changing or different with COVID-19-related topics.
He noted that how companies approach their COVID-19 messaging will have a drastic effect on the 2021 rankings. From its most recent look at industries, the organization found that Microsoft is doing far better in the messaging and outreach related to COVID-19 than any of the other tech brands.
"They're doing more and better from a volume perspective but also from the perspective of focusing on key areas like education, government, and privacy. They're also benefiting from a lot of what Bill Gates does and says, which reflects positively on the Microsoft brand even though he's distanced himself from the leadership of Microsoft from a day-to-day perspective," Natarelli said.
"If you were to rank the top tech brands in terms of their messaging or performance post COVID-19, it would be Microsoft first, Google second, and then Apple and Samsung tied for third place."
Natarelli said one thing other tech brands should take from Microsoft going forward is the way the company has been able to humanize its brand and integrate it into important parts of people's lives.
The same goes for Amazon, which reached the top of the retail rankings because of how embedded the company has become in every aspect of life.
The brand, Natarelli noted, is more ubiquitous than it has ever been and is extremely multidimensional, meaning it is involved in a variety of businesses.
"It's informing essential parts of our lives in meaningful ways, and it continues to perform really well in terms of delivering value in fulfilling services sufficiently. So, when you think about a brand that you can't live without, it is clearly becoming one of those that sits in that essential quadrant of your life," Natarelli said.
"It is involved in the way you shop, the services you use that prompt it, the entertainment you consume, the music you listen to and even sometimes the devices that you're doing it all on. That's a very rich tapestry that surrounds us in both essential and effective ways."
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