The potential for successfully building or extending a corporate identity based on Open Source depends on a company’s relationship towards an Open Source product. The graph below relates the extend of product ownership to the level of awareness potentially available for marketing:
Basically, the more you own the product, i.e. the more it is directly correlated to your company, the more you can make out of it.
If you’re the creator of the product (e.g. MySQL, the company, is the creator of MySQL, the database), you can utilize maximum awareness in your market. Your whole ecosystem will support your marketing efforts. For example, those providing extensions to your product, will automatically market your product while promoting their extension.
If you’re an external contributor to a product (e.g. providing patches with bug fixes), you might only be known amongst the developers community and your company will have a hard time transforming your contributions into business value via marketing. Nevertheless, being a contributor is not worthless. It allows you to build tight relationships within an OSS community, helping you to spot early trends and to mobilize visionaries and early adopters for whatever your offerings are.
System integrators market their specific expertise and experience, their goal is to build up a good reputation amongst customers. Of course, large system integrators (such as IBM) can leverage quite some awareness with all sorts of marketing tools, while small to medium ones typically try to score with their expertise (see for example Optaros White Papers).
Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) typically market to a certain industry. For example, they provide extensions or add-ons for an OSS product connecting to proprietary CRM systems (e.g. SAP connectors).
Distributors, such as the major Linux distributors, can utilize a similar level of awareness like large system integrators do – of course, depending on the fact whether their offerings are industry-specific or of general nature. Product ownership of distributors is two-fold: They don’t really own the OSS products they assemble, but they do provide tools which they own (e.g. installers, updaters, etc.) and which are crucial for a distribution’s business relevance.
Find more Open Source marketing articles in my Wiki.