Building a B2B Culture Around an “Open” Brand Purpose
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How do you become a $4-billion company by selling free software? It almost sounds like a trick question, but it’s been done. Just ask Tim Yeaton, CMO of Red Hat, a $4-billion, open-source software company. The marketing’s been a major driver of success, and as Tim Yeaton puts it, has been the glue that permeates across the company and enforces everything—from product, to community, to end-user.
Though Yeaton starts out by discussing how marketing supports large tech companies, and how it has fostered a community as unique as Red Hat’s, he starts to break down the individual elements that can be applied to any B2B brand looking to get their marketing gears turning: simultaneous brand building and demand gen, developing a collaborative, meritocratic culture, effective agency collaboration, and perhaps most importantly, the benefits of simply telling a great story. Lastly, though it may not be the most critical driver of success, it is probably worth mentioning that Red Hat is likely the first-ever company with an advisory committee built entirely of employees that have had the logo tattooed on them—now that’s dedication.
Full Transcription: Drew Neisser in conversation with Tim Yeaton
Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and I’m excited about today’s episode, and I know I’m always excited about today’s episode. I’m actually nervous about today’s episode and let me tell you why. You would think after doing 300 interviews, I wouldn’t be nervous, but the guy I’m going to talk to has probably produced some of the best content that I have seen by any brand, not just B2B. It’s like, “Oh, my God, I’m talking to Tim Yeaton, the CMO of Red Hat!” And so I got pretty nervous about this show, so hopefully it doesn’t show after the fact, because Tim’s going to make me feel really comfortable by just being as brilliant as I’m making him out to be. So, Tim, welcome to the show.
Tim Yeaton: Thanks, Drew. First thing I’ll say right off the bat is that there’s nothing to be nervous about because I didn’t create any of that content.
Drew Neisser: Right. Well, that’s a perfect segue. I always check before I interview someone, I go to their LinkedIn profile and see who we know in common. Sure enough, there was this gentleman, Phil Granof, who was in my book. I had interviewed him several years ago when he was at Black Duck and I said, “Hey, Phil, I haven’t talked to you in a while. What was your experience like working with Tim?” because I knew you two had worked together. Here’s what he said. I have to read this.
He said: “I remember wanting very badly to work with him and his team. He was one of the few CEOs that understood marketing and his ability to get the most out of a team is remarkable. Better yet, he always ascribes his success to the team he has around him,” which of course, you just did, “and never takes the credit for himself. On the day he left Black Duck, he brought us all in a room and said, ‘Let’s be honest, guys. It’s always been you that got us here.'”
So, pretty nice words from him, and by the way, that was in the chapter on culture in my book. Kind of a cool place to start. Obviously, you get some of the fundamentals of leadership, build a great team.
Tim Yeaton: Well, I’ll just use that Phil example as a great one. Phil was actually working at an agency, and he had done such great work for us. We’d get together for lunch from time to time and we started asking, what are you thinking of doing next? He actually expressed some interest in being a CMO and I said, “Well, look, you understand the company, you understand what we do uniquely. If you’re going to think about that, why don’t you come here?” One thing led to another, and he was terrific. The thing I loved about Phil that he brought was that he had that agency creativity that just ignited the creative team that we already had. But it really empowered them to go think about things that none of the rest of us were going to.
Drew Neisser: Very cool. So, I’m curious, you worked at Black Duck and Red Hat, do only work with companies that have colors in their name?
Tim Yeaton: Well, to a degree. Black Duck was also an open-source company and the founder, Doug Levin, who I took over from as CEO, has a story where he found out injured American black duck and nurtured it back to health. But it wasn’t lost on him when he went to name his first company that, you know, Red Hat, Black Duck. There was definitely some deeper thinking in there than just that.
Drew Neisser: Just a random name. I see. There’s a relationship between those two. Now, you’re also one of the few CMOs that I’ve talked to that were CEOs and that’s an interesting a little bit there. I mean, you obviously knew marketing when you were CEO. Talk a little bit about the distinctions between those two brands, and having been a CEO, you must bring some interesting insights to your current CEO.
Tim Yeaton: Yeah, well, first of all, it’s a great experience. For me, I was a CEO before my first large company CMO role. I’ve grown up in general management. As you can tell, you do have a little trouble with career direction, but I think I’m getting it figured out now.
Drew Neisser: Got it nailed down.
Tim Yeaton: Yeah. My first time, I went in completely naive, and we just worked to figure it out. I inherited a good team and made a couple of good hires and the irony is, my first CEO stance was back in… I should know this, right? 2002 to 2004, and several of the employees that I had there are at Red Hat today.
Craig Muzilla, who is Senior Vice President of our club platform software, he was actually my CMO when I was CEO. Now, people that know us say, “Well, wait a minute, how did this happen? Craig’s the quintessential GM product manager type, and you’re much more up and out.” The truth is, I thought at the time I had a pretty good sense of what I could do and what I needed, and I needed someone with that skill set. Rather than worry about titles and things, he took on these responsibilities.
Our VP of Engineering at the time, one of our services leads, they all came over, so as I say about our industry in the tech side, there are never six degrees of separation. There are only two, usually.
Drew Neisser: A lot of the CMOs that I talk to do want to be CEO and it doesn’t happen that often. You’re unique in the sense that you’ve already had general management experience. Talk a little bit about the differences between your role and past roles. What do you really see your mission as today at Red Hot?
Tim Yeaton: Yes. I’d cast it in two contexts. One is the role that I think marketing plays in large tech companies. It’s the glue between all the other elements of the company. In our case, the glue between our very strong product and technologies capabilities and the way they leverage open source as a development model with how we package and tell stories around how we’ve turned those into mission-critical enterprise products, and then how we equip our sales force and our partner sellers to go to market. We’re the glue where that’s concerned, and I think that’s the contrast in many ways to the CEO role.
The CEO, you’re trying to create an environment, a culture, a direction that marketing has a unique role in fulfilling. For me, it’s oftentimes when I look back at the CEO role, I find it to be more straightforward in many ways because as long as you’ve got a solid team that knows where they want to go, you’re orchestrating. In marketing, you have to be influential because you’re trying to get peers to translate language into things that humans can understand and all the things that go with particularly a technology-centered company steeped in an open-source-based development and turning those into enterprise consumables that real customers understand.
Drew Neisser: Speaking of understanding, my dad, who’s 92, was featured in episode 100. We had a wonderful conversation, but I always try to remember that he might be listening and it’s possible, even though he just read a book on AI and how it’s changing the world, how would you describe open source and what you all do to a total tech novice?
Tim Yeaton: The first thing I’ll do is just offer a bit of history. I’ve often described myself as the Forest Gump of open source. I’ve been in the open-source corner of software almost my whole career, almost 39 years, and was witness to many of these tectonic events I never was really sure how I became part of, so that’s the Forest Gump reference. But if you boil it down to its essence, open-source development started around Unix and distributed system technology to find ways to allow for greater interoperability in a client-server world.
Back in those days, the Unix vendors, of which I was one or part of one, couldn’t resist the temptation to find gratuitous ways to differentiate at a detailed technical level. Well, open-source educated us all on how we could collaborate on a common piece of technology to make it more interoperable and then go compete at higher levels or go compete on service levels. But it started life just as a way to create low-cost alternatives to traditional software in operating systems and distributed computing.
What happened was, we learned, as a generation of technologists, how to collaborate. If you look at the 80s and 90s and 2000s, the open-source development model started to take preeminence as a way for new innovations happening. Fast forward to today, and in areas like AI and machine learning and data management, most of the original innovations are happening in these open communities. Then, companies like ours and others taking similar approaches turn those into mission-critical products.
But we have a very clear distinction in our minds around upstream communities, basically the communities of collaborators, which is how we do our development. We have a lot of engineers who associate themselves more with the open-source project that they’re working on than who pays their paycheck. And we’re okay with that because we understand that that’s the power of the model. Our job is to turn those into things that customers want, consume, and can live with for a decade.
Drew Neisser: It’s really in contrast to say, closed systems, the original Microsoft products where this is what it was, or even Apple where this is just what it is. It’s this collaboration opportunity. It’s a very different thing, and I think it has informed your brand. And I think what we’ll do is, we’ll take a quick break, and then we’ll come back and we’ll explore how open source—because you give your product away in many cases—how you walk this fine line between being this open, giving it away, and building a company at the same time. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: We’re back, and we’ve been talking about open source software with Tim Yeaton. Your PR people, by the way, I have to do a shout out to them because they really prepared me, even though it doesn’t sound like it. It was one of the best prep documents I’ve seen. What they did is they outlined the vision of building a brand and doing it in an open way, yet you still, somehow or other, grew the business. Sometimes people see, in B2B, that there’s brand building and then there’s demand generation. It feels like, at least, from the way they packaged the story, that you’ve been able to do both. Can you talk about how you’ve stayed true to what I’m going to call the granola sharing crunchy family feel of open source, and yet built a multibillion-dollar business?
Tim Yeaton: Yeah. I think that’s what makes Red Hat unique and that’s why for someone like me… I’m back, actually, for my second time. I did a second CEO stint in-between, but I always knew I was going to come back because it’s just such an incredibly unique and powerful model. The first thing to keep in mind is how we view ourselves. We are an enterprise software company with an open-source development model. It makes it sound like we emphasize the enterprise part more than open-source and that’s actually not the case. 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 single product that we create, and/or every single technology company that we buy, we will eventually open-source all the code, so all of our development is done in collaboration with anybody else who wants to participate.
I’ll give you some examples. In our systems software, operating systems, distribute commuting infrastructure, Red Hat-paid employees author, on average, less than 30% of the code that we ship in enterprise, and every change we make in that code to make it mission-critical consumable, to be able to extend its lifecycle to 10 to 12 years, things that the communities don’t do that we do, every change we make, we then give back to that upstream. We create this iterative cycle that that makes everybody able to benefit and that is deep, deep, deep, deep, deep in our culture.
It’s always interesting to have someone come in from a more traditional software company and they either get it right away and they’re totally immersed, or it’s like a foreign language. It’s just that binary, but the people here understand. I’ll give you one quick example: when I talk to product managers, new product managers coming in, I’ll say, “Look, this is like no product management job you’ve ever done. You’re not going to go interview customers, write a market requirements document, give it to engineering, and wait nine months for a product. It’s completely different. You’re going to go work with our engineers to understand what they are building.” We’re not going to get to change that.
If our engineers have their ears to the market, they’ll have a pretty good sense of what to prioritize, but as a product manager, we depend on the community being self-directed in a way that’s beneficial. Then we bring it back into our production process and turn that into an enterprise product. We’re very disciplined. 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 just pull it into our machinery to create product and we’re absolutely true to it.
What’s interesting is, that’s how we do development, but that’s also how we operate. Jim, my boss, Jim Whitehurst, wrote a book called The Open Organization, and it’s been an incredible success. It really talks about the different ways we manage. It’s meritocratic. Our company works a lot like these upstream communities do, where the best ideas win, everybody has a right to be heard, all kinds of things that now just permeate our own culture.
Drew Neisser: As I’m thinking about it, I’m thinking, if someone’s listening to this and they go, “Well we don’t have an open-source product, our product is fixed. It’s a software service and we’re in this world…what are the things that we could take away and learn? I mean, it’s so funny because you have to align with your communities. If you get out of step with them, they will call you on it in a heartbeat. A lot of brands aren’t as fortunate as you are to be open source from the beginning and, therefore, have communities and, therefore, you can work with them to make it better. It’s this whole wonderful iteration process and in the end, there’s some revenue.
I can just hear some of the others CMO’s going, “Yeah, that’s fine for them.” But what are the lessons for those folks who are not in an open-source world? They’re in a closed world, they have to sell the software, they’ve got to get their leads into the pipeline. What can they learn from your experience?
Tim Yeaton: Well, I’ll offer a couple of thoughts because I think this 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 users. Expert users. If you look at Microsoft back in the day when they were very proprietary, they had a very compelling developer community that they built around MSDN.
Communities can be about communities of interest, common interests. I think those are hugely important from a marketability standpoint and just on that particular point, I’ll riff on that one just for an additional second, we think about that, too. How do we create communities of interested users? We actually have some web properties that we’ve built, but we’re very conscious. When we have a property that’s designed for community engagement, we never try to convert opportunities on those sites.
I refer to this internally as our too hot model. It’s all about, can you create interesting enough content for those communities, be they developers, be they open source hobbyists, in our case, that would cause them to say, “Gee, that’s an interesting point or an interesting topic. Let me go search for that,” and find that we have some really compelling content on Red Hat.com, and then they opt-in. Of course, once they opt-in, we’ve got a very modern demand gen system just waiting for them, right? But we’re very disciplined about, don’t ever push banner ads in front of developers on a developer site. They’re there to learn and they get very offended when you do that.
So, knowing that you’re building community, knowing how you want to engage them, and if you want to be true to serving their community interests, you create levels of steps that make the marketing to them something that they volunteer to. In the world of GDPR, that’s also kind of required, so we’ve been doing that just as a matter, of course, to maintain that the integrity of those communities whether they’re coders, whether they’re system administrators learning best practices, whether they’re hobbyists playing with open source hardware. We’re trying to create watering holes for people with like interests, and then hopefully we’ve created enough interest in content or topics that cause them to opt-in on their own.
Drew Neisser: I looked at a lot of the content that you created, and I have to say, it was such a relief because there was some really sophisticated storytelling going on, particularly in the Open Source Stories. It was hard not to cry at a couple of them. I see that a lot of people put some constraints on there. We’ve got to do it in 30 to 60 seconds because nobody is going to watch long-form content. We can’t afford to do professional shoots, so we’re going to let a student do it. I saw really well shot and edited things with really good emphasis on storytelling and some of these videos were 18 minutes long and I was still watching. Talk a little bit about the investment that you’ve made in building a whole content engine in-house, which I believe you must have.
Tim Yeaton: We do. I’ll tell you, all those questions you were asking yourself, you can probably imagine I’ve asked the team at least once or twice. Do we really need to do this in-house? I used to joke, when I first came back into this role over two years ago, I said, “Isn’t this what God created advertising agencies for?”
But what I learned it—and again, I can take no credit for the ideas other than once they get some momentum supporting them—the whole notion of telling open-source stories is really about connecting our brand more directly to the world we live in and because innovation is happening in these open source communities, it’s no longer just in software technology. It’s in agriculture, it’s in 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 being the ones telling those stories, number one.
Number two: because our story was so unique, we decided early on to go with an internal agency model. We still have external agencies but if you look, we’ve got a core, we’ve got a whole team of videographers, editors, job titles that I don’t even understand that support all that. We have our own studio and we have our own studio process that we call, cleverly enough, The Open Studio. We’re doing things like we’re creating iconography. We’ve got our own font. We open-source all of that, so we’re trying to live in marketing the way we live as an organization, the way we live in these communities.
Drew Neisser: I was just going to say, how big is just the video content team alone?
Tim Yeaton: The creative services team, which is mostly video and some other digital content, it’s in the 30 or 40-person range so it’s a pretty big commitment.
Drew Neisser: It is, and one of the things that I’ve been talking to a lot of CMOs about, and this will be an interesting one for you to think about is, if and when the recession comes, and you have built these in-house teams and the CFO comes to you and says, “I need a budget with 10%, 20% less of where you were,” these have become really critical roles. What do you do?
Tim Yeaton: Well, I’ll tell you, being very pragmatic for my counterparts out there. When I first came into this role, I spoke with our CFO. We have a terrific CFO, a very business savvy fellow, and we benchmark ourselves like crazy, we’re a very data-driven marketing organization. If I can point to something that I brought to the table, it was ensuring that we were focused on instrumenting everything, measuring everything, and also benchmark ourselves quite considerably. So, what I did with him was say, “Look, when you want to look at our metrics relative to industry norms, marketing as a percentage of revenue, any of those things, one thing you have to understand is that we made a conscious decision to build an internal agency that actually is very cost-efficient because we’re paying for people.”
We’re paying for their time. I often say, “In our creative team, we burn calories, not cash.” When budgets get tight, he knows that we carry it as a separate line. We call it the internal agency. It’s called out, and we know that if we were to go do that all with an outside agency, you’d probably multiply by two, and you’re starting to count from there, particularly for things like one long-form content. We feel like we can uniquely tell these longer stories.
This is one of the things that’s happening now and you’ll see it play out over the course of the next many years, we’re in the process of redoing not just our mark and our font, but our whole branding taxonomy. We decided, well, we hadn’t modernized our mark in almost 19 years, and it wasn’t rendering well digitally and there were all these technical reasons why we knew we had to refresh. But a lot of people have a lot of, in fact, I’ve got it on my shirt today. The original mark has a strong association with Red Hat and open source.
What we realized is that it doesn’t work digitally anymore so the last thing I wanted to do coming into this job was to say, “Hey while we’re at it, let’s go change the mark and change the fonts and all those sorts of things.” But we realized we had to so we decided, “Well, in true Red Hat fashion, let’s figure out an open way to do this.”
We’ll officially start rolling out our mark mid-2019 but I announced this project internally to the company December of 2017. I announced it externally at our user conference last year. We’ve surveyed employees multiple times as we’ve gone through the process. We’ve surveyed customers and prospects at our user conference, so we’ve done this completely out in the open, and employees have been able to see the progress, and it’s been, I think, a really worthwhile thing. No one had tried it before, but we thought, well, let’s give it a shot. It’s been very, very exciting.
Drew Neisser: It’s very clear to me that you have a North Star for just about everything you do. We’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, we’re going to dive into some of the details and I’m going to start summarizing some of the very cool things you just threw right in there. Stay with us.
Drew Neisser: We’re back, and my guest continues to be Tim Yeaton of Red Hat. As I’m hearing you talk, one of the things is “open” is a North Star that guides how you develop your marketing, how you think about the brand, and that’s such a terrific advantage in some ways. A lot of brands don’t have that, which is sad.
The second thing that you said that we emphasized a lot, my second book really talks a lot about that, is the critical importance of involving employees prior to launching a new brand. If you’re going to rebrand and you don’t get employee input, you’re going to have some angry employees. Secondly, if you don’t get them involved along the way you’re in trouble because generally, you’re rebranding because you want to rethink the way you think about the company internally and the way people think about it externally. You can’t do that without employees, so I admire that and that recognition. It’s hard though because everybody has an opinion, right? You could end up with some people who say, “Well, you didn’t listen to me. I told you that we should be using blue, not red, for Red Hat.”
Tim Yeaton: Well, I think that it actually is exacerbated by this notion of open culture and open organization. Everyone feels not just able, but in fact, entitled to have an opinion and point of view, so it was very important for us to do things carefully. Brands are very emotional things, and I’ll tell you, like I said, I was the last person that wanted to be fiddling with our mark until we realized we had to just for digital engagement.
I’m not sure I ever have a workday where I’m not wearing some piece of Red Hat branded clothing, so I’m all in and I’ve got a huge wardrobe change ahead of me. We recognized that this was going to be actually emotional for many people, so we were quite explicit. We did a lot of surveys. But also, in fact, this is available publicly on our website, if you navigate to the Open Brand project, we’ve documented this for external consumption. You can see what the surveys told us, how is the brand perceived aided and unaided.
We had a lot of data saying, “Well, this is what the data’s telling us, and here’s why we felt we had to strike on this path” and then we kept the process open. Now, I tell you, almost for a year now, we’ve been tracking at about 80% of people are enthusiastic about the change internally, about the same percentage externally and then there are those that, you know, just still struggle with, “Why do we have to change? You know, I see all the data but, why? I love the brand so much.” We’ve got employees with tattoos of the original mark.
Drew Neisser: Oh, that’s a bummer.
Tim Yeaton: On behalf of the company, we’ve offered for any and all of those, if they want to get the new mark, it’ll be on Red Hat and they can have the historical mark and the new one side by side.
Drew Neisser: I see a whole social campaign around that.
Tim Yeaton: And I’ll tell you, just to put a fine point on that, when we built the teams to help advise us on the brand process, we actually had a tattoo committee. We took all of the known people who had existing tattoos for whom this was likely to be the most sensitive. They had put the mark on their bodies, so we went through them and said, “Here’s what we’re thinking,” and virtually all of them were supportive because we could take them through, and then that’s when we started publishing data. Very well thought out, very deeply thought out.
Drew Neisser: First of all, this is the first mention in 100+ episodes of Renegade Thinkers Unite, of a tattoo committee. How many people do you actually think have tattoos of Red Hat?
Tim Yeaton: Well, I’m supposed to know this number, but I’m getting old. It’s in the 15 to 20ish range I would imagine.
Drew Neisser: All right. So that’s a manageable committee, and they can do wonders with tattoos these days. But that’s just hilarious and definitely speaks to your sensitivity because those people are, you know, as the old joke goes with the ham and the eggs, they’re the ham. They’re in. They’re committed.
Tim Yeaton: Absolutely.
Drew Neisser: Before we wrap this up, your PR people sent three examples of how you were using content to reinforce the overall brand idea and that that has helped build your brand. I want to go through them one by one and I would love it if you could say one thing that you wish you knew you had learned before you started on these things. We can use these as summaries. So, the Open Source Stories, which are the community stories, we will link to those. I watched the one on the mechanical hands. It did make me cry. What’s the big thing that you wish you knew when you started on the Open Source Stories?
Tim Yeaton: I speak from me personally, not being intimate with the creative team’s process. I was really worried about starting with long-form content. The stories I think are amazing and the people we feature in them are amazing but if it takes 20 minutes to tell a story, that’s an awfully long attention span for someone. It’s truly a story. Look at how open-source technology has improved artificial limbs and look at how it has improved the efficiency of agriculture.
They’re big stories. but I was very worried about long-form content. What we found is that we probably should’ve relaxed on that because the stories are—and I think it has a lot to do with the team’s work, too—the stories are so well done, they’re very captivating, they’re very powerful, and they, I think, just naturally hold people’s attention throughout.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, I would echo that. I mean, it’s not about length, it’s about the quality of the storytelling, and it is an important story. The pieces seem to build as you go, but this is the work of professionals. This is not amateur hour storytelling, so I want to point that out. Also, when I look at your YouTube page and look at the counts of the videos, the long-form ones seem to do better. It’s not a correlation. It’s just that those are the better stories. Many of them have like 100 or 200 views and those are kind of very close in product ones. Again, YouTube is a mass channel and that’s probably a bad reflection and maybe the community got behind it, but there is seemingly no correlation on your website, on YouTube and your videos and the length, in terms of the views.
Drew Neisser: Now Women in Open Source is an award program. Always, to me, that’s one of the things that will definitely be in the playbook, in the ridiculously simple playbook, which is my second book. The reason awards are so good is that you can get customer stories. You can recognize people. What’s the one thing you’ve learned from that particular program?
Tim Yeaton: We as an industry know we’ve got a women in STEM challenge and I think we’re able to feature role models that aren’t just professional speakers. If you meet the people that we’ve had, sometimes they may be a great stage presence or not, but it’s really about their story and how they persevered. I just think they’re so inspirational and I’ve got to say, I have one child remaining at home, a 16-and-a-half-year-old who’s right this moment, thinking about college and I’m having her see these things.
I just think the exposure that we’re able to give, it takes a village, right, and every company in tech needs to be doing the same thing, but I think that because we’re able to give these awards, tell these stories, and relive them in videos, it goes a long way to making them stick. I think that’s been huge and I will tell you, particularly our user conference now, it’s one of the most anticipated things that we do over the course of the week.
Drew Neisser: That’s very cool. The last thing on the list of three demonstrations of open content is the Command Line Heroes podcast. I notice you’ve done 18 episodes. What’s the one thing you wish you knew before you started that program?
Tim Yeaton: That podcasts were going to be successful. I’ll point to me first. We had been doing occasional podcasts in some areas where someone had some passion, and I just hadn’t seen a lot of momentum for the kind of things that we were doing.
The concept that the team came up with intrigued me because it was a parallel to my own career journey and open source. Remember my analogy about being the Forest Gump in open source? Pretty much everything that Saron has gone through in the pod series, I was there, I was a part of it, so, for me, it was really interesting, but I’m there thinking, I’m not sure about podcasts as a form factor anymore because video is dominating. I’m not sure anybody younger than me is going to give a damn about the story that we’re telling. I was just a skeptic.
The team was convinced, and so I said, “Okay let’s do it.” To the point where they didn’t even feel like they needed to consult me on the facts of history, some of the first people I interviewed were people that had actually worked for me, or that I worked with, they just ran with it. Then it was a huge success and now we’re navigating topics that are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. Language choices and development and all those things. It’s just become a movement of its own. Other than the fact that I didn’t think the content would be interesting, nor the form factor, I was 100% on board.
Drew Neisser: Right, well, I think, you know, as a podcaster—and I’ve mentioned this in other episodes—there are a lot of things that you don’t see coming when it comes to podcasts, but first of all is the amount of work it takes to produce a good one. It’s a lot of energy, so to the extent that when you start out and you think about planning a podcast, obviously it helps to know that you’re in a territory that someone hasn’t covered five different ways to Sunday, and two, that you think about how this content can be extended. If it’s just a podcast, but if it has other applications, if you can take the text, we’re trying to get more video out of our podcast, then it is definitely worth the investment. Certainly, for you all, it seems to be working well.
Tim Yeaton: And as you can gather, I’m a 100% believer now.
Drew Neisser: Now you are. Well, that’s good. But, you know, I could argue that that is, again, the strength of you as a leader. As for advice to CMOs that have been doing this a while, just remind yourself to be experimenting, to have the courage to try new things. What was the worst that happened if the podcast didn’t work, really? You wasted some money. The risk was kind of modest.
I have a bunch of things that are clean takeaways from this conversation, but I know there’s a question or two I should have asked you that I didn’t. As you think about our conversation, is there something that you would advise this group of CMOs who are listening in every week?
Tim Yeaton: Well, all I can point to are the kinds of things that are top of mind for me and I think for us. I’m putting a lot of energy, along with a team, into how we develop marketers. We had a joke about my meandering career path, but we’re trying to think about how we can make those kinds of experiences more overt, and create more opportunities for people to cross-pollinate different marketing functions but have a cadre of really well-experienced marketers where the vertical line of the T is as bright as it can be.
The whole development area is the next one we’re tackling. I think we feel like we’ve spent the last two and half years really modernizing our marketing, being data-driven, going all-in digitally, so if you looked at us from a demand gen lens, we’d look a lot like everybody else in this thing. It’s really that community front and how we’re telling stories and the fact that we’re marketing and selling free software, as a $4 billion company, is what makes this role unique and what makes my job so much fun.
Drew Neisser: Well, I’m going to put this in the context of what I call the “Give to Get Economy.” There’s nothing better than that. I’ve had the same conversation with Meagen Eisenberg at MongoDB. They have a free product as well and the result is about 45,000 downloads a day. That’s a pretty good place to start to mine.
So, you know, in the “Give to Get Economy,” if you can give away your product to get someone started, that’s awesome. If you can’t give away your product, you can create content that is of significant value. What you have is the one-two punch. Well, it’s actually a one, two, three, four punch, but it goes like this: you have a clear understanding of your brand, who you are, and who your users are, so you always know you have this North Star. Is it open or is it not? If it is off strategy, it feels like you don’t do it.
Drew Neisser: You don’t have this issue where you did a micro-vertical campaign that has nothing to do with the mass brand. I could find open, and open thinking, in every little thing I did, and I have to tell you, that’s extremely rare. So, you have the North Star, you have this culture that is very deep in the company, and as a result, you know that you can’t pass go without going through your employees with the rebrand and through your users and your community. I mean, I think most brands would kill to have the community that you have, but most brands aren’t willing to take the risk of giving their product away to build it. There’s a lot going on.
Another lesson that I see here is don’t worry about length in your content. Worry about the quality. Let the story drive the length, right? If we’re worried about, “Oh, we got to produce six seconds or 30 seconds,” I think you’re not framing the right problem.
Tim Yeaton: Absolutely, and I think that’s something we’ve learned quite well in the last few years.
Drew Neisser: Wrapping it up, and I have to say, again, kudos to you, because this is one of the strongest content programs I have seen across the landscape. I’m delighted to be able do it and we’ll link to Open Source Stories and Women in Open Source and Command Line Heroes in the podcast. All three of those will be on the show notes on the website.
There’s a strategy behind this, a really clear strategy, number one. There’s really smart execution, number two, that you can brand and drive demand assuming that when you are doing brand, you’re delivering value. It’s sort of like you’re pumping equity in the Goodwill Bank and this “Give to Get” mentality. Then you’ve earned permission to have a conversation and say, “Hey, let’s talk about how we can monetize our product now.” It sounds simple, but you guys seem to be doing it better than most.
Tim Yeaton: Well, that’s what makes this place so fun. Because just that combination of attributes, it’s hard to get right, it’s hard to maintain, it’s hard to bring people into the culture but it’s also what makes it so much fun. I will say one last cautionary tale. If any of your listeners out there read Jim Whitehurst’s book on open organization, it’s open, it’s engaging, everybody has an opinion, but as I remind Jim—Jim’s offices down in Raleigh, you know, the southern hospitality, then there’s myself and the head of sales of products we’re up here in the Boston area— in Boston, the open culture is a little bit harsher because it’s all about the best ideas winning so, it’s an apolitical debate, but people are afraid to tell people what they think of your idea. If you’re comfortable in that, it’s really empowering, but it can be tough if you’re new to it and you’re not ready for it.
Drew Neisser: Yes, well, is it “through adversity, we grow stronger?” I’m not sure. All right. Well, first of all, thank you so much for being on the show, Tim. It’s really great talking to you.
Tim Yeaton: Oh, you too, Drew. I had a blast. Hopefully my colleagues out there got something from it and the good news is that a lot of what we talked about you can find on our website. A lot of what we talked about is actually out there and visible.
Drew Neisser: Very good. It’s “open.” All right. Speaking of open, I’m going to be open about the fact that I would love for you to finish after you’re done with the show, go on iTunes or your favorite platform and write a review this week. That would be really cool. Those are really helpful to the show. And of course, until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.