An in-depth understanding of consumers sits at the heart of what we all need to do, but we know it’s not always easy to uncover insights that will unlock a true innovation opportunity.
Over the past four years, Jackie Yeaney has been crafting a strategic corporate marketing function at open source software vendor, Red Hat.
Her approach is very much a reflection of what modern marketing has become: Engagement and conversations with the customer based on data, digital capability, experiences and content.
“It’s about understanding who you aim to serve, the issues they have and how they spend their time,” she says. “The big change has been that marketing operations has become the heart of marketing. A lot of what we do is a being driven from that, as opposed to product having features we just want to describe to the marketplace.”
Yeaney points to her work as a strategic consultant, along with her engineering background, as instrumental to how she runs marketing today. She kicked off her career with an electrical engineering degree with the US Air Force, before completing a business degree at MIT.
Landing at Boston Consulting Group, she consulted to Delta Airlines around its distribution channels and technical capabilities up to and during the 9/11 attacks in the US, then joined the airline full-time. It was only after she said yes that the CEO asked her to run consumer marketing as a strategic function.
“I agreed, partly because I’d been responsible for the frequent flyers program, which was a lot of data and I was excited about that. But also because I got in there and fell in love with marketing, and centred all my energy on trying to refocus on the customer,” Yeaney tells CMO. “That has been my passion ever since – to remind companies who they are here to serve.”
Here, she shares the core pillars propping up her marketing strategy.
1. Achieve business alignment
Being in such a collegiate field as open source software, Yeaney says it’s vital she has an open, collaborative relationship with her business colleagues. As a result, she spends up to 40 per cent of her time working on alignment with different business units.
“In the open source culture, nothing is directed – you can’t tell people what to do. You have to build that groundswell momentum, and get people aligned on why we need to shift what we do and why it matters,” she says. “I tend to use small examples and get things going, then show how it helps them and growth from there.”
2. Win over the CIO
Another key executive Yeaney has aligned herself with is the CIO. But she admits the legacy operational and cultural differences between marketing and IT teams can make this relationship a challenging one.
“Sometimes it’s speed of technology deployment, and sometimes it’s philosophy,” she comments.
“With technology in marketing changing so rapidly, we don’t want to lock ourselves into too much of anything. We need the right framework and standard interfaces so when new tools pop up, we can try those and it’s not a big, long debate. It can be hard for IT to change, because what we want doesn’t always meet that normal gated system they use to decide what to invest in.
“It’s difficult for me to say ‘here’s my three-year roadmap’ – I can’t look that far, and I have a hard time keeping up with all the tools coming out.”
As an enterprise vendor, Red Hat is competing against tech industry goliaths with even larger marketing budgets, such as Oracle, VMware and Microsoft.
“The advantage is we are nimble, and don’t want to lose that,” Yeaney says. “I can’t spend the money they can spend, but I can use these [marketing/customer] tools to market differently and to our advantage. I don’t want my team to play catch up, or behave like Microsoft, because by the time we do it, it’ll be irrelevant.”
3. Harness data
While consumer marketers have been striving to gain a data-driven understanding of their customers for some time, Yeaney is the first to admit B2B marketers have been behind the eight-ball. Well, not anymore. Over the past two years, her team has been working to understand the buyers and influencers that exist in every large corporate account.
“We’re looking to really understand the company, the people within it and relationships we have across the company, instead of just the individual,” Yeaney says.
“In the past, we didn’t have data and analysis to think that way, operate that way and realise it’s an entity. But this became paramount. As we have grown our product set, we had different groups communicating their benefits into these different accounts, and it wasn’t coordinated. It didn’t feel like one Red Hat to customers at the other end and we needed to unify this experience.”
4.360-degree customer effort
To ensure Red Hat delivers unified messaging, Yeaney says the marketing and sales operations teams have partnered on a 360-degree customer effort. The first step was ensuring teams had a clean customer data set that was usable, she says.
“I didn’t start pushing in the company until I knew we had the data side enabled first,” she says. “We also have a tool called ‘QlikView’ that all marketers can look in to see how campaigns and programs are behaving by individuals or accounts, and that’s helped a lot. Previously, they’d have to ask for reports, whereas today, any marketer can look in weekly time and adapt what they are doing without any manual work by marketing or sales operations.”
Thanks to its early success, the insights tool was scaled out by IT globally and has now been in place for nearly a year.
Another recent initiative has been building a customer insights and experience function, incorporating people who better know how to segment and make improvements to the experiences, Yeaney says. This is all sitting under the CMO.
There’s also work going on at Red Hat to better understand the customer journey and experience through a customer vision exercise. This is again about shifting the company’s mindset to be more customer focused and providing a better framework to work within, Yeaney says.
5. Foster customer communities
Another pillar of Yeaney’s marketing strategy is customer advocacy, something she claims is easier to do at Red Hat given the sharing nature of open source software.
“The magic of Red Hat is we do catalyse communities,” she claims. “So instead of just software development, we thought, why wouldn’t we catalyse CIOs, for example?”
To do this, Red Hat partnered with CIO US and Harvard Business Review on the ‘enterprisers project’, a digital portal for forward-looking CIOs to talk to each other and share content and experiences. Yeaney says about 50 people now contribute articles to the site.
“It’s great as we start to understand the CIO much more than we used to. And it makes it easier to say to our sales teams that CIOs don’t care about features, it’s about talent, org structure and change, and coping with digital transformation with legacy systems,” she says.
Another of Yeaney’s initiatives this year was a book, co-produced with her CEO, called The Open Organisation. “The idea stemmed from our belief in open source culture, that the notion of meritocracy and hierarchy is not working, and that we think the problems of the world are so complex, no one leader can direct,” she explains.
“All companies are starting to face this, and certainly millennials don’t want to be told what to do and want to have purpose in what they do. We had something to share and believed we could get the business world to better understand who Red Hat is.”
6. Balance art with science
Having been an engineer before a marketer, data-driven decision making is natural for Yeaney, but even she recognises the even split required in marketing between data and analysis, art and creativity.
In terms of structure, Red Hat’s marketing function consists of marketing operations, a brand team, marketing comms, global partner marketing, then a separate strategy group. Yeaney says she’s been increasingly bringing in digital skills into marketing operations, as well as building up content writing skills.
“We’re also really focused on social and are creating a ‘digital centre of excellence’ to put these folks together and extend that worldwide,” she says. “Red Hat has very passionate people – we want to leverage the voice of our 8000 people as thought leaders, and we need social media skills to do that.”
To ensure collaboration within her function, Yeaney introduced ‘project agility’, an initiative aimed at ensuring no one group can do a program on their own. As a result, the head of digital and marking comms are almost always together, she says.
7. Retain the brand’s roots for growth
As well as a brand refresh to ensure Red Hat’s customer approach is unified and experience-led, Yeaney has worked to capitalise on Red Hat’s unique position as an open source vendor in all her marketing efforts.
“In most of my other roles, I’d had to forge out what is fundamentally different about our products. Red Hat already has that, so my role became more about how I simplify, amplify and unify the message,” she says.
Of course, that presents its challenges, and the focus also has to be on ensuring people recognise Red Hat as more than Linux, she says.
“It’s a blessing, as many brands don’t get to own a category, but we do need people to understand we have so much more to offer, otherwise we won’t grow in scale as we need to,” Yeaney says. “It’s also about building our ecosystem, because Red Hat is not in the market alone.”8. Build diverse skillsets
Through all of this, Yeaney says CMOs must be very careful not to build homogenous teams in their own image. Talent management and people leadership is therefore paramount.
In addition, CMOs must pay attention to the trends happening out there, particularly around technology, Yeaney says.
“Technology at the core of being a good marketer, so you can’t sit on sidelines with that,” she adds.
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