I've never believed branding on the internet was effective. For instance, name 10 brands other than a search engine and Amazon that were built solely
using the net or leveraging the value of its technology or services. Most were built with offline media playing a huge role.
IMO, Most "web" branding is ignored by users since they scan pages and tend to ignore banners or anything that looks like an ad. Brand not only equates to "recognition" it also is about loyalty which Internet users are more interested in service and price point then the brand itself, consumer products and "recognized" offline brands being an acception. Loyalty IMO, is indicated by repeat business or use and few can argue there is a lot of that because they have a catchy or easily remembered url, it helps but it isn't the be all, end all, because user loyalty is reflected in the bookmarks of every user, not whether they can recall your domain name.
I work for a large real estate developer. They use every media type in their advertising and all media use the domain name (it's name starts with HR, so human resources sites had the name covered 5 ways from sunday) and we use a dashy domain in all media, funny thing is they have other divisions in the same category without the dashes and they don't generate 1/10 the leads the dashy domain does. The Company name is very well known in the area, if users search on that all the dashy domains come up, each with the company name(- the dashes) in the Title/link and decription in the SERP. IMO, that is the most important part of the branding not the domain name. The URL text is so small it reminds me of an advertising disclaimer.
As to the article Mr. Merkini points to the dashy domain but that wasn't the problem. IMO, they didn't "recognize" the names, at least that's what they said. They made no references to the dashes. That, IMO, was an assumption on his part. To think that joeblowsbikes.com is any more "recogizable" than joe-blows-bikes.com based solely on the - domains is strecthing things a bit. IMO, Neither is "recognized" unless joe blow is combining that with other media or driving people to the site where they see the content and remember the name/url because of it or more likely bookmark it.
Only people in the business know about the dashy domains IMO, users don't look at this the same way or pay much attention to what is in the SERP beyond the title in the link and the description. Segregated PPC ads are possiblity better than algo results for branding, IMO, simply because they are segregated so they draw more attention to them.
The bottom line is branding is more important for some sites than others. The gains from a dashy domain are not that great but if it means you get a name that describes your business and the ones without the dash are gone I'd rather have the dashy .com then the non-dashy .info TLD. That IMO is much dodgier looking than a few dashes.
I've yet to see any research on branding in SERPs likely due to what was covered in the article. Until such time as it is more than a guess or what I may think when I see the link with the dashes, I'll ask the client what they want. I believe you can brand on the site by giving users what they want. They'll remember that better than your domain name. I'm still of the opinion keywords anywhere in a url matter and it is no better to have them in the domain then it is to have them in a directory or filename. Should I leave - out of them as well for branding purposes? I think not, but it's not only my decision. I leave that up to clients to decide after I provide them with the pros and cons.
I suppose I'll take some flak for providing a contrarian view but... not the first, nor last time, that will happen!