The most compelling brands in the world tell compelling stories. Whether the brand is Nike (the Greek winged goddess of victory was named Nike, and it all rolls from there) or IBM (Thomas Watson and THINK) or [your favorite brand here], the most interesting brands have great mythologies built up over time. The brand story is deeply ingrained in their actions, voice, look, and culture.
It’s been almost eight years since we created the first Red Hat Brand Book. The original book was an attempt to capture the essence of our Red Hat story, to explain what Red Hat believes, where we came from, and why we do what we do.
It had a secondary mission as an early brand usage guide, explaining what Red Hat should look and sound like at a time when the company was expanding rapidly around the world and brand consistency was becoming harder to achieve.
When most companies create this sort of document, they call it a “Brand Standards Manual”, or something like that. But we were young, foolish, and drunk on the meritocracy of open source, so in the first version of the Brand Book, we emblazoned the words “This is not a manual” on the front cover.
Why? We wanted to be very clear this book was the starting point for an ongoing conversation about what the Red Hat brand stood for, looked like, and sounded like, rather than a prescriptive “Thou shalt not…” kind of standards guide.
I hate brand standards that sound like legal documents. I’ve always felt like the role of our group was to educate and inspire, not to police, and we tried to create a document that embodied that spirit.
This year we launched the biggest update yet to the Brand Book. In doing so, we actually split it into two projects:
The BBC conducted a great interview with Red Hat Chairman Matthew Szulik while he was attending the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year awards recently (representing the United States as our winner). You can listen to it here.
This interview is a wonderful reminder of the powerful impact of a corporate vision that extends beyond just making money. And a great reminder for me of how lucky I have been to learn about leadership, community, culture, and brand from the 2008 United States Entrepreneur of the Year.
If you are interested in learning more about Matthew Szulik, his vision, and how it evolved, here is a wonderful oral history of his life that was commissioned a few years ago.
In the physics/astronomy nerd category: The 2009 TED Global conference just wrapped up last week, and, on a fishing trip to see if they had posted any of the new talks yet (yes, I am a junkie), I found one from earlier this year with a short explanation by Brian Cox for why the Large Hadron Collider (the huge particle accelerator in Europe that we discussed here and here) failed. Thought I’d post it, even though his estimates for when it would be back online are kinda wrong.
And here’s a classic TED talk about dark matter and dark energy from last year’s conference by Patricia Burchat. I love this one.
In brand positioning tips 1-3, we discussed the 4 elements of good brand positioning: points of difference, points of parity, the competitive frame of reference, and the brand mantra. In this post, we are going to switch gears and talk about a subject called brand permission.
When attempting to position your brand in a new competitive frame of reference (or, in non-marketing-ese, when you want to start selling stuff in a new market), consider whether your brand has earned permission to enter that market.
How do you know if you have permission? And who do you need permission from? Well, let’s look at a few examples.
Back in the early 1990s, Clorox underwent a failed experiment in extending the Clorox brand into detergent. There is a nice short writeup of it here. Why did the detergent product fail?
I just finished reading your new book Tribes. Normally when I read a book that relates to the Dark Matter Matters subjects (and Tribes talks about leadership and community and all kinds of good stuff), I write a review and post it here. I’m not going to do that this time. I think the reviews on Amazon pretty well cover it, so I’ll just point people there.
Seth, I have something a bit more personal I’d like to discuss with you. If I may be so bold.
But, honestly, I always get this weird, hollow feeling after reading a book of yours. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I finished this one.
OK, let me just spit it out. I think your books can be kind of superficial and tend to preach to the choir a lot.
There. I said it. I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be a hater.
You even call out haters in this book. Said that you shouldn’t let people like that get you down. So please don’t get down, like I said, I really respect your work, it’s just I think you might be limiting your audience. You could be bigger.
So in the hope that I’m being a heretic (in the way you talk about in the book), rather than a hater, I’d humbly suggest some constructive ideas.
Seth, I’d like you to write a book that will do more than rally the tribe that thinks like you. I think you have a book in you that will educate those that don’t think like you. They need your help.
Today we will be covering the 4th element of good brand positioning: the brand mantra.
What is a brand mantra?
A brand mantra is a 3-5 word shorthand encapsulation of your brand position. It is not an advertising slogan, and, in most cases, it won’t be something you use publicly.
Ten years ago today, I showed up for my first day of work at Red Hat.
The office was an ugly one-story building in the back of an office park in Durham, NC, a far cry from the monstrous IBM campus I had just left. No longer would I be walking 10 minutes through a parking lot to get to my car, instead we were only a few steps from the front door, which was kind of a big deal for me at the time.
I was 27 years old, and ready to change the world.
At the time, this building was both the only office and the global headquarters for Red Hat, although this would change quickly as we opened offices in Asia and Europe over the next few months. There were about 125 or so people working for the whole company. In the marketing group that I joined, I think there were eight of us, and my first boss was Red Hat employee #1, Lisa Sullivan, who now runs two independent bookstores in Vermont. She had started working for Bob Young in Connecticut, before he joined up with Marc Ewing and moved the company down to North Carolina.
At the time, Marc Ewing and Bob Young still roamed the halls, in fact, Marc sat just a few cubes over from me next to Bascha Harris, who still works with me at Red Hat today. Marc tended to leave his empty drink cans stacked on his desk for weeks, so sometime swarms of fruit flies would descend on my desk after gorging on his leftovers. I’m not sure Marc even knew who I was. To Red Hat folks, I was just another guy coming in from a big company, itching to ruin everything.
The interview process was tough. I distinctly remember being interviewed over the phone by Matthew Szulik. He was Red Hat’s president at the time, and had only been with the company about a year. I still remember him asking me one of his famous interview questions, something like “How will you know if your life has been successful?” I have no idea how I answered that, but I’d really like to hear my answer now.
A few weeks ago I finished the new Jim Collins book How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In. If you read this blog much, you’re probably sick of me prattling on about how much I love Jim Collins’ work (here, here, and here). Over the years at Red Hat, we’ve based many projects related to the values, mission, and other corporate-level structural thinking on ideas we got from him.
Well, it’s been almost eight years since Collins wrote his last full-length book, Good to Great (which ranked number one on my list of the top ten books behind Dark Matter Matters). How the Mighty Fall is a short book, and in it, Collins is clearly a bit on the defensive about his previous work. The issue? In the economic meltdown last year, some of his Built to Last companies didn’t last, and some of his Good to Great companies are back to good… or gone.
Collins explains it this way:
…the principles in Good to Great were derived primarily from studying specific periods in history when the good-to-great companies showed a substantial transformation into an era of superior performance that lasted fifteen years. The research did not attempt to predict which companies would remain great after their fifteen-year run. Indeed, as this work shows, even the mightiest of companies can self-destruct.
…I’ve come to see institutional decline like a staged disease: harder to detect but easier to cure in the earlier stages, easier to detect but harder to cure in the later stages. An institution can look strong on the outside but already be sick in the inside, dangerously on the cusp of a precipitous fall.
So this book is Collins’ attempt to discover why exactly some very good companies went oh so very bad. If Good to Great was Star Wars, this book is The Empire Strikes Back— a long, hard look into the dark side (even the cover is black).
Collins did extensive research using an interesting approach. He studied these companies, not as history has judged them, but based on what the company was saying, what the press was saying, what financial analysts were saying during the time period being studied– before we knew the outcome. And all of the research was done in historical order, almost like he was following the companies through time.
The results of the research play out like a Greek tragedy. He identified 5 stages of decline in the companies that had gone from great to… not so great:
There’s a powerful cover story in the July/August issue of Washington Monthly entitled Code Red: How software companies could screw up Obama’s health care reform (Thanks to Maria Moore for the link).
According to a study conducted by [the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh] and published in the journal Pediatrics, mortality rates for one vulnerable patient population—those brought by emergency transport from other facilities—more than doubled, from 2.8 percent before the installation to almost 6.6 percent afterward.
In the context of Dark Matter Matters, this story is interesting because it shows how an open source, community-driven effort led by the Veterans Health Administration has been able to not only innovate faster than its proprietary competitors, but also more deeply involve the end customers– the doctors, nurses, and other folks who actually use the software– in development of tools that work in real world situations.
After 10 years at Red Hat, I’ll admit I am a little bit out of touch with what the corporate world looks like everywhere else. But after a recent conversation with someone out there in the non-Red Hat universe, I thought I’d pass on a quick tip they found helpful on how to create a more collaborative culture in your organization.
The tip is simple. Default to open. Everywhere.
What does this mean? It means rather than starting from a point where you choose what to share, you start from a point where you chose what not to share.
You begin sharing by default.
A quick example. Our group was lucky enough to (thanks to our talented global facilities director, Craig Youst) have the opportunity to help design our own office space. As part of the space design, we determined that we wanted no offices– everyone would be in a large, open collaborative space.
Everyone had the same sized cubes, and it didn’t matter how much of a muckety-muck you were or weren’t. If you wanted to have a private conversation, the space design included a series of private alcoves, where you could go talk with your doctor, or yell at your wife, or whatever you didn’t want to do in public. But the key is that you had to actively decide when placing a call, do I want to take this in private? Which is counter than the old-skool office design where you had an office with a door, and all conversations were private by default.