tedster - 7:21 pm on Aug 5, 2012 (gmt 0)
I think you're onto something key here. A recent Forrester report showed that 30% of all online shoppers start at Amazon to research products. In contrast, Google attracted only 13% as the first stop for product research. This is big change from 2009, when Google led Amazon 24% to 18%.
Google MUST see this shift and one reason for the "brand" emphasis we've been seeing this year may be a reflection of this preference among consumers.
Google does not need to make an intentional decision to emphasize "brands". All they need to do is build an algorithm that pays attention to what their users prefer, and brands would naturally get stronger results. This would not be because "Google hates small businesses" but rather because their users love businesses that they've already heard good things about.