Brand Popularity Contest: Who's in with Small Business Owners
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Marketers can learn a lot from Southwest Airlines: The innovative, low-cost airline cruised in first yet again in American City Business Journals' sixth annual survey of small and midsize business owners on brand strength.
Godfrey Phillips, vice president for research at ACBJ, gave a few reasons why on Portfolio.com: "One, it's a value brand, which is critical; two, it was built by an entrepreneur and has an entrepreneurial attitude; and three, they don't nickel-and-dime you -- and these guys hate to be nickel-and-dimed." After all, what message does it send to customers when you charge $8 for a pillow and blanket (American Airlines starting May 1), $30-$45 to put a bag in the overhead space (Spirit Airlines starting August 1) and $2 for water (US Airways)? To be fair, US Airways dropped the charge after just six months, having realized the failure of its experimental "beverage program."
Southwest Airlines, while by no means flawless, tends to make smart, consistent choices when it comes to building an award-winning brand that people like (which can be hard to do in the airline industry). And it's still the only airline that lets domestic passengers check their first two bags for free -- good news for non-elite fliers.
Of course, Southwest isn't the only brand to earn high marks by SMBs. The other brands rounding out the top 10 are (in order): Apple, UPS, Intuit, Apple iPhone, Adobe, Federal Express, Microsoft, Dell and Sony. The results are based on a survey that asked more than 1,700 business owners and top executives from small and midsize companies (less than 500 employees) to evaluate 200-plus brands.
Seven factors were evaluated: customer service, differentiation, ethics, leadership, momentum, relevance and value. ACBJ reported in a press release that "perceptions of brand ethics rebounded versus 2009, suggesting that business owners are once again having more trust in brands." Consumer trust and confidence have always been critical to a brand's success, especially in tough economic times.
Speaking of tough economic times, SMBs -- especially tech-savvy ones -- are actually a sweet spot for marketers; They're expected to play a critical role in the economic recovery. Intuit, Network Solutions, and Microsoft are just three examples of major tech firms studying the spending trends and health of small and midsize businesses. Not surprisingly, tech brands (including Microsoft) landed in seven of the top 10 spots in the survey results.
Attitudes and perceptions of brand value change with time, so you can expect some surprises next year. Aflac, Enterprise, Salesforce.com and Visa Business Card, all in the 2009 top 25, dropped further down in this year's list.
Top 25 Brands Among SMBs:
5. Apple iPhone
7. Federal Express
11. UPS Store
15. Best Buy
16. FedEx Office
17. Office Depot
18. Courtyard by Marriott
19. HP Printers
22. JetBlue Airways
25. HP Computers
Source: "SMB Insights: The Business of Brands," American City Business Journals, 2010