Q&A: Jackie Yeaney at Red Hat Decodes Open Source

How to Make Open-Source Software Understandable to Customers

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Jackie Yeaney is executive VP-strategy and corporate marketing at Red Hat, an open-source enterprise software company.

Red Hat, which had revenue of more than $1.5 billion last year, is best known for its operating system Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and it has partnered with technology leaders including Accenture, Cisco, Dell and Intel to develop IT solutions for Fortune 500 clients.

In the following interview, Ms. Yeaney discusses the challenges of marketing open-source software and how she keeps the brand message consistent in a culture in which everyone has a voice.

Advertising Age: Where did the name Red Hat come from?

Ms. Yeaney: Red Hat co-founder Marc Ewing, who developed a Linux operating system distribution product that eventually became Red Hat, attended Carnegie Mellon University. When he was on campus, he used to wear a red cap his grandfather gave him. When people had issues with computer software, they'd say, "Go find the guy with the red hat," and the name stuck. Except now it's a fedora.

Ad Age: How do you make open-source technology understandable to customers?

Ms. Yeaney: First of all, we focus on the benefits of our technology and what it can do for you. Open source is how we do it, but if you're the customer you want to know what it does for you -- is it reliable, secure, cost-effective, and how we offer support. If you choose to use Red Hat, it doesn't mean you have to replace other systems. People will say, "I don't understand open source -- is it secure?" We aim to explain the meritocracy of "The best code wins." There are thousands, if not millions, of people writing code and fixing bugs, meaning bugs are fixed quickly and more easily.

Ad Age: How do you communicate your brand to the marketplace?

Ms. Yeaney: About two years ago, we launched a new brand platform. I didn't have the millions of dollars my competitors had, so I needed to make sure we were all singing from the same sheet of music. In an open-source culture, everybody has a voice. But it's important to have one consistent brand story. If we're all telling great stories but doing it inconsistently, no one will hear it.

I engaged a core group of influencers around the company, and then interviewed another 100 or so people and we had a brainstorming session. We came up with about 15 brand platform ideas, then narrowed it down to three. I took the time, money and effort to bring all three to life, and we launched a new brand platform, "community-powered innovation." This is the core of why we exist and what we're trying to do. We built a common look and feel and brand positioning around that.

Ad Age: What kinds of marketing programs have proven effective for you?

Ms. Yeaney: We do some paid advertising, but we don't do a ton. Competitors like Oracle spend so much, but we can't compete that way, so we have to be craftier. We do some airport; print advertising in focused publications like CIO; and some out-of-home. We recently did a Fortune cover wrap that went over well: "Red Hat is more than Linux," with a customer case story on the back.

Far and away, the aspects that work best for us are customer case studies. We produce videos with customer success stories -- we do a four-minute version, a one-minute version and a 30-second version. We are implementing the notion of bite-sized, snack-sized or meal-sized content. When you go to our website, you'll find engaging bite-sized content -- a video or infographic -- and then you can drill down to get deeper content.

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