When I was at Red Hat, I sometimes got questions from folks who wanted to know the secret to Red Hat’s brand success. First off, I’d always say you don’t grow a $1 billion technology company on brand alone. We sold great products. We treated our customers and developers well. We had a revolutionary business model. Those kinds of things are the bedrock of a successful brand.
But if I was to point to one “secret” thing I think had a big impact on the brand it would be a very simple one:
We said the same thing. Over and over. For years.
For me personally, sometimes I said things so many times I was just as sick of hearing myself as others were.
When people would come to me and ask if they could make a tan hat to give away at tradeshows rather than a red one, I would always repeat: “But we are Red Hat.” We brand folks would always be the ones to bring up the company mission, values, and culture. We’d steer conversations back toward the open source way when they went astray. When my colleagues and I would speak about the culture and brand in orientation, we’d tell the same stories, show the same videos of Bob Young and Matthew Szulik to new employees year after year after year.
When it comes to brand positioning, the biggest mistake you can make is to invest your time, money, and energy in discovering your optimal brand position… and then give up on it before it has a chance to do its magic. Building a great brand has to be done over time and, to paraphrase Jeff Bezos of Amazon, there are no shortcuts.
I’ve worked with a lot of creative types over the years, and most of them love to come up with new ideas. Heck we all do. But sometimes the thing that makes you stand out when everyone else is saying something new is to say something… well… old.
I love The New York Times, the best newspaper in the world. There is no greater pleasure than sitting out on the patio on a Sunday morning, reading The New York Times, and learning.
I stress the word learning because there are so few places left in our world where true discovery happens. Most of the time, marketers, computers, and even our friends are showing us more of what we already know we like, rather than introducing us to things we have never seen or heard of before.
In the pages of The New York Times, I can be introduced to people, places, events, ideas I would have never found on my own. Every day I read The Times I learn something new. The paper expands my understanding of the world rather than reflecting back to me the understanding I already have.
This is an incredibly valuable service. It is a service that very few media companies in the world still provide (my local paper, the Raleigh News and Observer, rarely does these days, sadly).
Yet, the ongoing conversation about how to solve the financial issues of The New York Times revolves around fixing the business model for newspapers. Most experts say the model is fundamentally broken, and a report released last week by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism doesn’t have a lot of good news for the future of journalism as a whole.
From my vantage point, the answer to fixing The New York Times will not come from exploring a revolutionary business model. It will come from a revolutionary brand, culture, and community model. Let me explain.
I spent two days this week at the Coach K Leadership Conference at Duke. It’s always good to get above the trees for a few days, and this experience was exactly that kind of opportunity. Jonathan Opp did a nice summary post on the conference here and you can see the live Twitter stream here.
On Wednesday, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst gave a keynote entitled “Competing as a 21st Century Enterprise Among 20th Century Giants.” Jim comes at this subject from a pretty unique vantage point: he is probably one of the few people in the world who has run both a 20th century company (Delta Airlines, as COO) and a 21st century company (that would be us, Red Hat).
In his presentation, Jim covered some of the things he has learned in moving from the command and control, military-inspired corporate environment of Delta (which is pretty similar to the structure of many of the other great 20th century companies) to the open source-inspired corporate structure here at Red Hat (if you want to learn more about Red Hat and the open source way, here and here and here and here are some posts that will help). In particular, Jim gave five tips that will help your company compete better in the 21st century world– I’ve summarized them below:
Finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers. I’m late to the game on this one, so I’ll skip the full review and instead point to some good summaries about the book here, here, and here. I have other fun stuff I want to cover today.
For me, this book was his best yet. Gladwell’s gift is he is an amazing storyteller, and in this book he once again takes semi-boring academic research and makes it deeply relevant and interesting by crafting a beautiful story around it.
Here’s a short synopsis of Outliers. I decided to write it in the form of a limerick. I have no idea why.
Some folks become world-class Outliers,
Achieving success we can’t help but admire,
But smarts and ambition,
Aren’t the only pre-conditions,
Great timing and practice are required.
Basically, Gladwell is saying you can be the smartest guy on Earth and achieve nothing worth mentioning. But incredible, world-class success (think Bill Gates, Mozart, the Beatles) is a mashup of being born at the right time in the right place to the right people with the right genetic makeup while having the right things occur to you at exactly the right times in your life.
Oh, and you need to get in 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at your craft.
This last concept really got to me. The idea that in order to become an expert in your field, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice has been covered extensively. In fact there are two other books out describing the research behind this assertion, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.
Hearing the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs stories of perfect timing and early practice in Gladwell’s book started me thinking about a few things.