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Tech companies this decade have bought into the hype and hope of brand marketing, but relatively few executives seem to think they've hit the formula to blast past the competition.

In a new global survey of tech marketers, just 16% of executives said their companies' brand equity was "much stronger" than those of rivals. Little more than half felt their brand was at least "somewhat stronger" than that of competitors.

The study, being unveiled Feb. 11 at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' Media Conference in Anaheim, Calif., offers a snapshot of where marketers see tech branding. It's based on interviews of 372 responses worldwide; Nelson & Co., a marketing consultancy, and researcher Socratic Technologies did the study.

Two-thirds of the marketers surveyed reported having a long-term brand identity strategy in place.

Echoing the global aspect of technology, the survey found comparatively few large geographic differences in attitudes about branding. Size of company, the survey shows, is more important than country in measuring how much attention is paid to brand issues.

Brand ad campaigns are standard operating procedure for big companies such as IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., but the survey demonstrates they're the exception. A small minority of tech companies -- 14% -- report spending money on communications strictly dealing with brand.

The most popular approach, used by 37% of those surveyed, is to blend brand, feature and technology messages in communications, such as running product ads that also play up brand or image.

While small tech companies rarely field brand ad campaigns, they are thinking about brand alongside the products and services they sell. The survey found brand tends to become a topic of conversation as tech companies reach about 200 employees.

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