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What’s Your Brand’s Unifying Theme?

by Hank Barnes  |  November 24, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

Lately, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with some of the largest providers in the tech industry.   For them, messaging and positioning challenges are different.   They have a number of different product lines.   They have products in many different levels of maturity.  They often have a complex branding challenge due to acquisitions.   And usually, there is one big source of revenue that dwarfs most of the others.   That revenue source is usually the first thing people think of when they hear the company name.

And, as a result, every other group feels shortchanged.  To stand out, they usually create a very different story that is not connected to the  core of the company–they want to stand apart.  They spend most of their time focused on major external competitors.  And, often, they continue to not be recognized by customers to the degree they feel they should be.

I am not sure of a definite resolution to this challenge, but I do believe there may be a way to improve things.   It relates back to the overall brand promise.   I believe that every company needs to have one, and only one, unifying theme.  A big idea that captures the essence of the company and what makes it important and memorable.   Everything –all products and services–need to start from this theme, link to it, and then build their own identity from there—expanding on the theme v. contradicting it.   If you can’t support the theme, then you probably should be operating as a separate brand.


This problem also occurs when big marketing campaigns are launched.   They carry with them a big idea.  But often, only part of the company is behind that idea.  Or, they support it, but only if asked and it becomes a secondary (or tertiary–or worse) association.   As a result, customers get confused.

Customers don’t think of companies as “oh, those guys are the collaboration and infrastructure and application development and services company.”   They usually think of companies based on one key attribute.   It’s hard to expand that perception.  Maybe it is time to stop trying.  Instead, build off of that.

As things change, you may need to change the perception–build a new brand association.   Fine, go for it.  But don’t try to do that by expanding the definition.   Establish the new association and, like before, make sure that everything you do establishes links to that new idea as the starting point for their stories.

For growing companies, this is less of a problem.  They usually have one product or product line.  As they grow, this issue can start to emerge.  We need new revenue sources, so we expand focus.   When that happens, don’t forget to maintain a unifying theme.

Services companies can suffer from this when they offer a broad range of services (implementation, support, strategy, etc.), even when they are small.   A theme can galvanize your team and the market, driving growth.  A company we work wiht at Gartner really fueled their growth when they went from being (what I would call) “just another IT services company” to “Data Center Migration Specialists.”  Everything they did was cast under the eye of Data Center Migrations (they have sense evolved to Data Center Transformations –with Data Center Migrations being one major type of transformation).  The market went from associating them with every other IT services company to thinking of them as a specialist–the company to call when a complex data center tranformation was needed.

Do you have a unifying theme that your customers associate with everything you do?  Or are you operating in a disconnected fashion that causes customers to have different perceptions of you or forces them to try to remember you for doing multiple things?

Create a theme.  Make yourself more memorable.   Embrace the theme and cascade to individual product and service details.



Additional Resources

Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: brand-promise  brand-strategy  messaging  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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