b2b marketing leader jackie yeaney red hat

In our Content Marketing Masters interview series, we’re profiling the smart marketers we get to work with every day. We’re asking Rep Cap’s favorite marketers how they got into the field, what they love about their jobs and how they stay smart.

Jackie Yeaney is executive vice president of marketing and strategy for the global open-source software company Red Hat. She was one of the speakers who inspired me at Digital Summit Atlanta. After hearing her career story (she started in the Air Force, led consumer marketing at Delta in the post-9/11 era, and now challenges old-school thinking about B2B marketing at Red Hat), I had to hear more. Jackie is generous and smart, and she shared the lessons she has learned about connecting with customers, staying inspired and setting personal guideposts.

In your talk, you mentioned that you had to get up to speed about consumer marketing very quickly when you started at Delta. What did you learn?

I already had solid relationships with several leaders at Delta, which gave me a strong foundation to figure out what I needed to know about marketing. I hired some key marketing talent and a few consultants to help me, but it didn’t take me long to realize that the communications part of my job wasn’t what needed my urgent attention. Flyers’ experience for all airlines after 9/11 was horrific. Every airline function was busy trying to fix their specific piece, but no one was being an advocate for the customer across the entire ‘travel ribbon’, so I decided that this needed to be my mantra. And as a result, focusing companies on their customers became a passion for my career.

I hired an agency to help us reinvigorate the Southern hospitality soul of the Delta brand. It was right there. Just under the surface. We simply needed to remind thousands of employees why they worked for Delta in the first place so that they could better serve our customers.  We focused on win-win situations like gate information displays where we could show customers where they were on wait lists while simultaneously reducing staff at the gate.

While I was there, the company decided to launch a low-cost airline that we called Song Airlines. It was the first ever airline designed around a female target customer (we called her the “discount diva”). While the airline didn’t survive Delta’s bankruptcy we learned so much about how to better engage customers–TVs in the backs of seats–martinis on the plane–faster plane turns. We even got Kate Spade to design our flight attendants’ uniforms. Lesson was that hundreds of little details can really matter. And what you can do on 40 planes you can figure out how to do on 600.  

How do you keep learning? Where do you find inspiration?

Based on my personality, I actually get a lot of inspiration by meeting people face to face. One group I’m part is called the World 50 group. It brings together leaders of functions from global companies.  We exchange ideas with each other, as well as hear from world economic leaders, prominent business leaders and best selling authors. It is refreshing to pull yourself away from the day to day for a bit. It’s amazing how much more impactful we can be by taking the time to engage with others outside our specific business.

A couple of years ago at Red Hat we started something we call The Enterprisers Project, a group of forward-thinking CIOs. We have about 60 CIOs who write content and engage with us at events. IT organizations are our main customer at Red Hat and this is one forum where I feel I can stay on top of what is forefront on their minds.

I also like to get out in the market with customers and partners.  I was recently just visiting our India team and meeting with partners and customers there. Right before that I was with our Canadian team. I aim to see similarities and differences in these markets and cultures.

In marketing partnering with expert agencies is also really important. They make it their job to to stay ahead in their fields.

Online, I rely quite bit on Twitter. I define categories I feel passionate about — open source, marketing evolution, women in leadership, open leadership — and I connect with influencers on those topics.

I loved the idea in your talk that digital marketing isn’t a function — it’s changing everything we do, including how we lead. How is digital marketing changing leadership?

Instead of saying “digital marketing,” I’m trying to get people to say, “how do we market in a digital world?” All big companies are worried about being disrupted or “Uber-ized.” Companies’ competitive advantages are getting harder and harder to sustain as newer companies are able to start as digital. They don’t have to transform legacy systems.

Digital isn’t a marketing message. It’s the state of the market.

Digital isn’t a marketing message. It’s the state of the market. -- @jackieyeaney Click To Tweet

In our industry we realize that 60 to 70 percent of what business leaders are doing is a self-directed search before a salesperson ever gets to speak to them. Opinions are solidified by then. So we ask, what kind of content and information do they need along that journey? How can we be available where and when they are instead of trying to push content out at them at our convenience?

It’s not easy to convince organizations to move away from campaigns and the standard sales funnel and more toward conversations, engagement and stories. We need to be at the ready when the buyer is.  The journeys are no longer linear and that’s difficult for organizations to adapt to.

What is Red Hat doing to change that sales process to meet the customer? How have you moved your marketing team forward, away from old campaign-based thinking?

Right now we tend to do both [campaign marketing and less-traditional tactics]. People are trying to hit their numbers every quarter, so we’ve still got forms and funnel tracking. But here’s one example of how we’re changing: We’ve been working hard to ungate as much of our content as we can — require NO input from the user, and when we do require something we make it minimal.

Yes, sometimes using more traditional lead forms is appropriate. If someone signs up for your webinar, you get fairly detailed information. But it’s about engaging them before you ask. Don’t push for the information the first time. Let them raise their hand instead of demanding it from them.

We started ungating about two years ago, and now we’re approximately 70 percent ungated. We’re also bringing content out of our partner portal so it’s available to everyone. My argument is, you spent all this energy on this new content, so don’t you want the world to see it? Wouldn’t you rather 1,000 people see it versus 20?

You spent all this energy on new content. Don’t you want the world to see it? @jackieyeaney Click To Tweet

Instead of marketers pushing all the way along, we want to be in our buyers’ consideration set when they’re thinking about how to solve a problem. We want them to believe Red Hat is forward-thinking and we can help them see around the technology corner. We show that with our content so that later on, we can prove it with our technology.

What advice do you have for marketers who are just starting out? What do you wish you’d known as a new college grad?

I wish I’d known to focus on building your own brand regardless of the specific job you might have at age 25. The digital era now allows us to build our own brand more easily outside of our organizational walls.

What topics, values, and characteristics do you want people to imagine when they think of you? Start engaging online on those topics NOW. Whether you like it or not, you have a brand online that is on 24-7, especially if you are participating in social media, so manage it, develop it and find the topics and influencers with which you want to be associated.

Also, writing ability is so very important. Writing wasn’t a big part of my early career, but being able to get your ideas and thoughts down crisply on paper in prose is something all marketers (and probably everybody) needs to think about.

Finally, please remember that careers are long and nonlinear. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a series of tradeoffs and compromises along the the way. Don’t be completely unhappy now and suck it up because you believe some wonderful thing is going to happen later. You have to have a decent semblance of happiness in the moment. We don’t know what we’re going to get tomorrow, and you can’t afford to be stuck in a job or relationship and simply hope something good comes around the corner later. Concentrate on being happy all along the way.  If you aren’t happy now, find ways to change the situation or get out of it.

You have a big job and you have three kids. I’m a new mom with a very flexible work-from-home job, and I still find managing it all very difficult. What have you learned as a working parent about bringing your best self and making it all work?

Early on in my career my husband was an officer in the Air Force and I was working for BCG with a baby and a 3-year-old. I had to put aside my guilt, because I knew being my best self as a mom meant I was working. I knew my kids would get to know the best Jackie over time if I was adding value to companies and the world. I also knew, however, that I couldn’t actually be the best management consultant because I had a family that needed me too. Managing through that time in my life led me to be better at “balancing” time and priorities for the rest of my career.

I also started following the philosophy of aiming to “Be where I am.” So instead of coming home and thinking about the meeting that just happened or what I had to do the next day, I was there with my kids as Mom, fully with them. Turns out that is more powerful than being half engaged with them for five hours. Once I realized how powerful this concept was I started using it at work too. I concentrate on being with whomever I am with in THAT moment. Try it.  I bet you will find it invigorating too. Suddenly you are living life vs. planning for it or worrying about it.  

I’ve always engaged my kids in what was going on in my day-to-day work life. They knew when I was happy, excited, proud, angry, or disappointed. They knew all the names and personalities of the characters. They knew when I got promoted and they knew when I got fired. Now that my kids are 23, 20, and 17 I find that it gave them a real context, so that the professional world isn’t something abstract or unreal to them.

One other idea that helped me was creating guideposts. I decided and wrote down important family aspects that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice, like a family week at the beach each summer. Another example is that I set a goal to make at least five of my son’s Div 1 college soccer games. You have to decide what’s important to you. I find telling others about your guideposts can be helpful — you’d be amazed at how they can help you stay accountable to what you care about.


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