Harnessing the Power of Open Source for your B2B Brand

Check out any of the content curated by Red Hat’s in-house team, and you’ll see the same message over and over again: collaborative problem solving is the engine for innovation. Their Open Source Stories showcase community innovation at work in poignant, inspiring ways. Their transparency during their rebrand reflects their commitment to living their code. And their annual Women in Open Source Awards invites us to focus on the women making waves in a space with historically low female representation.

These are just a few of the many examples that give a true sense of Red Hat’s inclusive, purpose-driven culture. The fact that they are a $4-billion company that “sells” free software is a clear indication that practicing what they preach works. Tim Yeaton talked with us in-depth about the mantra of the widely-recognized open source enterprise, as well as lessons he’s learned through the years as Red Hat’s CMO you can apply to any B2B demand generation strategy. See some highlights from our conversation below, or listen to the full interview, here.

How has Red Hat stayed true to open source while building a multibillion-dollar business?

We view ourselves as an enterprise software company with an open-source development model. We need to do that to build a company, and that’s how we focus our go-to-market, but we’re absolutely true to the upstream development process. Every product that we create, every technology company that we buy, we will eventually open-source all the code, so all of our development is done in collaboration with anybody who wants to participate. Red Hat paid employees author, on average, less than 30% of the code that we ship and every change we make in that code, to make it mission-critical consumable and extend its lifecycle, we then give back to that upstream computer. We create this iterative cycle that is beneficial to everybody and that is deep in our culture.

What role does marketing play?

Marketing is the glue between all the other elements of large tech companies. In our case, it’s the glue between our very strong product and technology capabilities, the way they leverage open source as a development model, how we package and tell the stories of mission-critical enterprise products, and then how we equip our sales force and partner sellers to go-to-market. Because innovation is happening in these open source communities, it’s no longer just in software technology. It’s in agriculture, AI, and science, so it’s permeating all these other facets of life, and what we realized was that we can create brand association by telling those stories, connecting our brand more directly to the world we live in.

 Any examples of ways it’s ingrained into your culture?

You’ll hear us say things like, “upstream first”. That means every development effort that we do has to be associated with one of those communities, and then we pull it into our machinery to create product. Our company works a lot like these upstream communities where the best ideas win, everybody has a right to be heard, all kinds of things that now permeate our own culture. We’re in the process of redoing our whole branding taxonomy right now. We hadn’t modernized our mark in almost 19 years, and the last thing I wanted to do was change those sorts of things due to the original mark’s strong association with Red Hat and open source, but there were many technical reasons why we had to, so we decided, in true Red Hat fashion, to figure out an open way to do it. We’ll officially start rolling out our mark mid-2019, but I announced this project internally in December of 2017 and externally last year. 

How did you involve your employees in the process?

We’ve surveyed our employees multiple times and surveyed our customers and prospects at our user conference, so we’ve done this completely out in the open. The way we involve our employees is guided by this notion of open culture and open organization. Brands are very emotional things, and since we recognized that was going to be emotional, we were quite explicit. We put together a committee of employees with tattoos of the old mark and got their support. We did a lot of surveys. If you navigate on our open website to the Open Brand project, we’ve documented everything for external consumption. For about a year now, we’ve been tracking at about 80% for internal people enthusiastic about the change, about the same percentage externally.

What can CMOs in closed worlds learn from your experience?

The notion of community is very powerful, and it goes far beyond just the creation of code. A lot of very proprietary software companies have been very good at building communities of user expertise, and these are hugely important from a marketability standpoint. When we have a property that’s designed for community engagement, we never try to convert opportunities on those sites. It’s all about if you can create interesting enough content for those communities that would get them to eventually opt-in on their own. Of course, once they opt-in, we’ve got a very modern demand gen system waiting for them, but we’re very disciplined about not pushing banner ads in front of developers on a developer site.

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