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Umbrella messaging does not make you strategic

by Mark P. McDonald  |  August 26, 2020  |  1 Comment

Tech companies want to be strategic.  Strategic in the sense of being known to the C-suite, being seen as vital to a customer and, being differentiated from the competition. These aspirations exist as leaders believe that being strategic is the best way to survive now and in the future.  Tech companies know that they are not strategic now.  They do not have C-suite relationships, they are not on the Board’s agenda in a positive way.  Sure, they get to the board when there is a breach or a failure.  In those cases, technology is critical.  Criticality does not mean strategic.

A unique path everyone follows cannot be strategic

Tech companies follow a similar plan in order to become strategic. The idea is to define the right umbrella message which should be strategic and then transfer that strategic important to the underlying products. The thinking is if you start with the product, then you are by definition tactical and less important.  Tactical means commodity and commodity means death.  So, we spend time creating and deploying a strategic umbrella.

An umbrella message is appealing to tech companies.  Sales likes umbrella messaging as it gives them new things to say.  It justifies marketing budgets and campaigns.  Senior executives like umbrella messaging for similar reasons. Talking in umbrella strategy terms feels good and it makes the company look important.

Umbrella concepts like Digital Transformation, Agile Company, The Resilient Company etc.  becomes a set of ‘magic words’ intended to turn skeptical buyers into strategic customers.  Everyone has an umbrella from the largest software suites to back office support tools.  When everyone has it, then it’s a competitive advantage to no one.

Umbrellas have their limits

The appeal of umbrella messaging reflects an engineering mindset.  “The right message will give us the right result.”  Tech firms create umbrella messages from the bottom up.  A key framework diagram is essential.  It is a picture connecting products or services with higher level concepts.  You have seen these diagrams, a pyramid, a cube, a star, a multisided square, overlapping circles, etc.

An engineered umbrella message is appealing in its simplicity.  The result is messages that are easy to tell and sell. You can walk a customer or prospect through the diagram, and it all makes sense.  An umbrella gives the impression that customers and prospects get it.

An umbrella message requires customers to buy twice.  Buying into the umbrella message and then buying into the connection of your products with that message.  This two-step purchase is challenging when there is only one message in the market.  It becomes problematic when most competitors are pitching their umbrellas against your own. Umbrella messaging may simplify your pronouncements, but they do little to deliver the promise of your brand.

Competing from customer needs not strategic statements

An engineered umbrella message is artificial.  It comes from the company’s products not from the customer’s need. This is why it is possible for customers to understand the message while being reluctant to act.

You are not strategic because you say you are.  There are no magic words that change a company’s position with its customers.  There is only hard work, value creation and consistent focus.  That work and focus starts with an understanding customer needs, problems, opportunities and pain.  These are the sources of value, the basis for an outside in perspective purchase.  If customers recognize the need, then they can see the importance and value of your product.

Too much of tech marketing is marketing technology.  It needs to be more about marketing results.

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Category: marketing  message-and-channel-management  sales-strategy-and-design  strategy  

Mark McDonald
VP Analyst
12 years at Gartner
33 years IT Industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Umbrella messaging does not make you strategic


  1. This is actually awesome advice, love it.



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