Examples of companies with a range of products under an umbrella?
September 7, 2017 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Through a friend, I got thrown a random freelance assignment to do some competitive analysis for a major enterprise technology company. I'm looking for examples of companies- not just enterprise tech companies, but a few of those would be helpful- that have aligned a variety of products under a conceptual umbrella, a messaging architecture that people seem to just get, even though there are clear conflicts and divides between those product lines when you really get down on it.

I've never done anything like this before and would really appreciate your help as I would like to knock the ball out of the park on this one. I'm primarily interested in corporate messaging, namely, how these companies describe their services and how they integrate them on their websites. So I'm looking for examples of corporate websites that have a clean visual display of their products and how they relate, as well as to identify companies whose overall messaging depicts clear thinking about how their products connect — less visual, more about narrative and talking points. The models the client mentioned as models/peers are Uber (yes, primarily ridesharing, but also self-driving cars and food delivery) and Amazon. My initial assignment is to get a sense of why the company's messaging works, and to develop a list of best practices.

Thank you!
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Grab Bag (13 answers total)
Google used to describe its mission (maybe they still do?) as "organizing the world's information". So they present their various products (search, Google News, Maps, Gmail, even Google+) as ways to organize info. Of course, they're organizing info to make it easier to make you view ads, but they dropped the "don't be evil" part of the mission a while ago.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:57 AM on September 7, 2017

Virgin Group, maybe? I don't know how much they talk about the relationship between their offerings, but the brand is very clear.
posted by pinochiette at 12:07 PM on September 7, 2017

Apple. Computers. Phones. Fitness tracking via the watch thing. Music/TV/movies streaming via iTunes and apple TV. More, I'm sure, and messaging that seems to work.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:24 PM on September 7, 2017

Hopefully this helps:

I work for an e-commerce company that sells plants. Over the years we branched out into garden supplies (shovels, gloves, etc), and then a few years later we expanded into outdoor decor (patio chairs, firepits, garden gnomes, etc). Some of this was under different brands, just to keep things clean, but it's all pretty related to "stuff you'd find in a typical American backyard."

And then we really mixed things up and acquired a healthcare supply company. This had no relation to our previous products, but we were really good at customer service and shipping widgets. So we figured why not branch out and diversify.

So I think you'll find many of these brands you talk about can distill everything they offer into a chief area of expertise: Uber, transportation (people, food, kittens) on demand. Google, stockpiling information to server better advertising. My employer? Taking orders and delivering product.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:28 PM on September 7, 2017

The company I work with has a HUGE range of services that I've pulled together under a single tagline that really speaks to their target market.

My goal is always to create a gestalt picture of the 'mission' of the company, rather than to focus on particular verticals. A mission statement should be able to encompass expansion, diversity, pivots, and transitions. If they don't have one, help them create it!
posted by ananci at 12:40 PM on September 7, 2017

IBM used to do this well, before they sold out to wall st.
Johnson & Johnson
The Japanese electronics majors used to do this well (Sony, Panasonic, etc)
L/G maybe?
posted by cfraenkel at 12:40 PM on September 7, 2017

primarily interested in corporate messaging, namely, how these companies describe their services and how they integrate them on their websites. So I'm looking for examples of corporate websites that have a clean visual display of their products and how they relate, as well as to identify companies whose overall messaging depicts clear thinking about how their products connect — less visual, more about narrative and talking points.

This is a tough question, because it seems like it's not super well-defined, or because the examples, to me, don't fit this narrative. I'd define a company's business as how they generate revenue, and not their ideas or R&D projects.

To me, Uber seems like a bad example of a broad business with a unified marketing message. Self-driving cars are a gamble and an idea, not a current revenue generator, and the front page of their website is effectively all about the taxi service. Same with food delivery. It's an afterthought at best on their website. Uber is also a rare exception in the sense that they've been the recipient of what is likely hundreds of millions of dollars in free media coverage. I'm not sure how a company can use that as a model for much. "Get free media coverage" isn't really an achievable messaging goal. It's difficult to separate Uber's corporate messaging from the free coverage in terms of their success.

I'd define Uber's revenue success as the result of having a great idea, being first to market, successfully ignoring laws and regulations, executing that idea and then riding a wave of billions of dollars of VC losses to keep the business running. Little or none of that success is due to messaging or marketing, in my opinion.

Amazon really does three things: 1. Sell and deliver physical goods, 2. Sell digital goods like Kindle books, 3. Cloud services. The first two are pretty closely linked, so really it's kind of two things. I'd argue that two things are actually not terribly diverse, and the sales and cloud services areas really don't overlap. Amazon is very, very good at cloud services, but getting socks delivered the same day has nothing to do with whether or not I would tie my company's IT infrastructure to Amazon. I would argue that Amazon has succeeded mostly by being first and really good at both things, but again, that's not a marketing or messaging win. (And Amazon has only burned a fraction of the cash Uber has, in many more years). Amazon's website pushes the sales piece and not the cloud services piece, so again I don't see a unified marketing message or website resulting in success here.

That being said, Amazon will drop and subsequently compete with UPS, Fedex and USPS as a delivery company in the next few years. Amazon's major advantage will be Uberizing last mile delivery. Instead of paying delivery drivers a living wage and owning and maintaining a fleet of trucks, Amazon will do to delivery what Uber did to taxis. They'll underpay part time workers, and hide expensive, long-term personal vehicle maintenance costs inside short-term, hourly pay. Doing delivery gives Amazon a third major business, and it will put the three other major delivery companies in very serious jeopardy.

Back to the question. If you're looking for companies like Uber and Amazon, the obvious choices are Apple, Google and Microsoft. Each of them has two or three main businesses. You'd probably include Facebook as well, but again, their revenue generating business is primary selling information about you to advertisers who then advertise to you. At the same time, Facbook probably has the greatest number of active users on their various services by an order of magnitude, so they may be the best example of the bunch.

To me, companies like GE or Samsung are much more diversified in terms of what they do to make money than any of the tech companies listed above. But again, the criteria doesn't seem to fit the models you provided.
posted by cnc at 12:41 PM on September 7, 2017

Unilever: source of teenager smells (Axe), disbelief in butter substitutes (I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!), clean clothes (Surf), some sort of disgusting goo (Marmite), summer snacks (Popsicle), soft skin (Dove)....etc, etc. Arguably, many have their origins in fatty, non-petroleum animal and plant byproducts, but their usages is quite widely spread.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:36 PM on September 7, 2017

From a consumer standpoint, BASF ("We don't make the products you use, we make them better") is in this genre. (From a business standpoint it's a chemical company and that makes sense, but consumers are less likely to see, say, automotive cable sheathing and moisturizer thickener as part of the same universe of products.)

Their newer branding puts chemistry front and center (BASF: The Chemical Company," "BASF: We Create Chemistry") - apparently their name had really high recognition but nobody actually knew what they made.
posted by lakeroon at 3:23 PM on September 7, 2017

This is very helpful. CNC, your point is well taken- the rhetoric in my question is taken directly from the language of the assignment and it deserves unpacking. Additional specific samples are welcome.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:55 PM on September 7, 2017

One thing to consider about websites, too, is that teaching consumers about products is difficult--people just don't stick around to read a lot of content when they're looking to buy. So in the websites you peruse, you may notice that they are heavy on visuals and specifications, but light on deep dives into their products.

As far as bringing disparate products and services under an umbrella, I should think that most major retailers fit that description, and developing a cohesive brand identity and strategy around selling and supporting other people's stuff is very familiar territory in that arena. For example, a Home Depot sells lumber, appliances, lighting, housing materials and fixtures, outdoor furnishings, and also things like electronics--and they rent trucks and have affiliations with contractors. Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc. all have considerable overlap, but they too have things like delivery, product support/repair, their own branded credit card, rewards program, and so forth.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:11 PM on September 7, 2017

Oracle maybe?
posted by Xany at 11:43 PM on September 7, 2017

Search for "Brand architecture" esp for images -- you'll find examples under different ways that companies use their parent brand with their sub-brands. Unilever or P&G might not be the best example as most consumers don't have a notion of these parent brands, and instead, their product brands stand out more, e.g., Dove vs. Axe for Unilever; Tide vs. Crest. It's only when you read the little tiny label on the black that you realize that everything you buy is owned by like 3 companies -- did you know Clorox owns Burt's Bees?

Other examples of what you're looking for are: Mattel, Nestle, Salesforce, Samsung, Microsoft, etc.

Keep in mind that brand architectures can really be quite complex and you really do need to separate the "brand" from the "company", esp. when you get to really really large companies. For instance, Disney -- theme parks, movies, TV shows, toys -- but guess what, Walt Disney Company also owns ABC, Marvel, Star Wars, Touchstone Pictures, but the Disney name isn't plastered over those brands. They could have very easily branded "Marvel by Disney" or "Disney ABC" or "Touchstone Pictures, a Disney Company" but they decided not to.

Often times, thinking about why a company would want to create SEPARATE brands (much much more expensive to maintain) is more enlightening for why they want to create and invest in a SINGLE brand (more efficient to invest, but a single ding can scar the whole brand, e.g., Samsung's phone recall). Did you know Coors owns Blue Moon, which totally looks like a hipster/indie brewing company, but in reality they're just part of the alcohol monolith of Coors? Why did Coors feel the need to separate themselves from the Blue Moon brand for consumers?
posted by ellerhodes at 8:46 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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