Create a Scalable Brand
When a company is in growth mode, it's natural to focus on operations--getting the product to the right customers and keeping those customers happy. Although operations are critical, they will only take a growing company so far. To create a truly scalable growth engine, a company needs a strong marketing strategy, with a solid brand at its core, and a supporting structure for delivering the company's core message to customers.
Jackie Yeaney is the EVP of Strategy and Global Marketing at Red Hat, a software company that has grown from a start-up in the mid-1990s to a billion-dollar open-source developer. Yeaney has led marketing strategy at a number of growing businesses including Earthlink, PGi, HomeBanc, and Delta Air Lines. Asked about how to build a thriving marketing strategy, Yeaney uses an example from nature: a growing tree.
"You need to start with the roots, which is a clear corporate strategy," she says. "This feeds the brand, which is the 'trunk' or core of your marketing strategy. The brand has to be the foundation of your growth. Then, all your investments become the 'branches' that grow from your brand."
At Red Hat, the brand is at the core of all marketing investments. This includes global marketing programs, marketing operations, marketing services, and field marketing in each of the regions. Each of these teams has become more focused, streamlined, and effective by centering their activities and investments on driving the brand message to customers. In fact, each of the field teams behave like a larger organization because of the support behind them. Much like tree branches provide nourishment from the trunk out to the growing leaves, the branches of the marketing organization reinforce the brand to customers through Red Hat's various investments.
As a company grows from a small start-up to a more complex organization, its marketing investments often grow in proportion to revenue. This approach can lead to complex and often disjointed marketing structures. At Red Hat, Yeaney found that as the company grew, new customer acquisition became paramount. This led to a larger marketing organization that quickly lost sight of the core customer value proposition. Each of the branches of the marketing organization were telling the Red Hat story in their own words and their own way. Focusing the organization on a clear and simple brand strategy created more effective results in the field with individual customers.
All growing companies want to invest more as they grow and continue their growth trajectory. Building a solid brand strategy is essential to providing a foundation for future marketing initiatives. After all, branches can't be healthy on their own--they need a strong trunk to fuel their growth.
Have you built a solid foundational brand strategy? Share your thoughts with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Jackie Yeaney, of Red Hat, on twitter: @jackieyeaney
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.