I just couldn't believe what I was hearing.
Here's the scene: It was early 2017, I'd just stepped into the chief marketing officer role at Red Hat, and I was reviewing some survey data about our brand—specifically, our logo. We faced a simple problem and were seeking an equally simple solution: Red Hat’s logo was rendering poorly in digital formats, especially small form factors (like smartphones), and needed to be refreshed. So we'd begun to survey associates, customers and prospects—many who'd never even heard of Red Hat—what feelings, thoughts or impressions our logo evoked in them.
And some of the responses were alarming, to say the least.
Sinister. Secretive. Evil. Sneaky. These respondents might not have known anything about Red Hat, but they did believe that man lurking in the shadows didn't immediately inspire their trust. In their survey responses, they wondered who he was and what he was doing in the logo.
The Brand team and I were heartbroken. These words couldn't have been further from my deeply held impressions of Red Hat, which I'd formed well before joining the company. I've worked in open source for nearly 40 years, and since the 1990’s Red Hat has been an inspiration to me.
For decades, Red Hat has been a flag bearer for the commercial open source movement, and open source startups have looked to Red Hat as a beacon, a guiding light illuminating a new (and now, I would argue, an undoubtedly better) way to build enterprise software. Red Hat has always been the champion of the “open source way”: open, collaborative and inclusive community innovation. Yet our iconic logo—including the partially veiled, fedora-wearing "Shadowman," as we Red Hatters affectionately call him—wasn't squaring with the values we firmly believed the logo stands for.
Thousands of loyal customers, partners and open source communities clearly recognize what Red Hat—the company—stands for. But the data was clear: Perceptions of the logo among people who didn't know us weren't matching the reality of our brand. In fact, it was antithetical to what we all believed it should evoke.
Tackling a brand change like this was the last thing on my mind when I stepped into the CMO role (remember, I thought we were working on that simple matter of making our logo look better on smaller screens!), but clearly we had to address this—especially in light of our emerging leadership position in open hybrid cloud and our need to reach new audiences of customers, partners and developers.
So how could we evolve our logo in a way that preserved this rich history of open source stewardship while simultaneously doing a better job of communicating our values to customers we hadn't met?
We rose to meet that challenge in a truly remarkable way. And the story of how we did it has only reinforced my belief in the power of the open source way.
Making our mark
When we decided to undertake an evolution of the Red Hat logo—the first in nearly 20 years—we set two guiding principles for ourselves. First, we'd do the work the Red Hat way, in the open. And second, we'd take this opportunity not just to improve our logo, but to make a bold statement about the ways Red Hat has evolved over its 26-year history.
And as anyone fanatical about brands would, we branded our own project and gave it a name: We called it the Open Brand Project.
In December 2017, I announced our plans to update our look with a global invitation to collaborate. And since then, Red Hat’s Brand team has been collecting feedback from customers and partners, coordinating work with well-known design consultancy Pentagram, poring over survey data, and iterating, iterating, iterating on the new design—which we're now ready to unveil.
Like any open project, the Open Brand Project hasn't been an easy, straightforward or quick one. But it has been immensely instructive.
The project connected me with so many people who share my zeal for the Red Hat brand. An iconic logo like ours holds a special place in people's hearts, so you can imagine the number of skeptical, excited, impassioned and heated discussions I've had over the past year. Members of open source communities, current Red Hat customers, partners and associates (including Red Hatters with the Shadowman logo tattooed on their bodies) made their opinions known.
I've welcomed conversations with all of them. Each has helped me learn a bit more about the way the world perceives Red Hat—and what Red Hat must always embody as it continues to grow.
Out of the shadows
Sure, updating our logo, and the brand system that supports it, has important technical benefits (the new mark does look much clearer on those smaller screens, which weren't common in 2000, when we developed our previous logo). But I'll leave those for our designers to share.
What's most important to me is the feeling the new logo sparks in those who encounter it.
The new logo reflects Red Hat's evolution—from a scrappy upstart "sneaking" into data centers with boxed copies of a Linux-based operating system (not to mention mugs and t-shirts) to the world's leading provider of open source solutions for enterprise hybrid cloud environments, someone working daily with the largest companies and agencies in the world to develop and run mission-critical solutions. We've truly stepped out of the shadows.
When people who haven't yet heard of Red Hat see the new logo, I want them to associate it with an innovative hybrid cloud company rooted in the power and trustworthiness of Linux—a company expertly capable of working alongside them to tackle technology challenges with a broad portfolio of solutions, a valued and trusted partner.
And yet, when the curtain rises on our new logo at Red Hat Summit 2019, I want existing customers, partners and open source communities who see it to feel a comfortable familiarity. I want them to smile and say, "That feels like Red Hat." In our bolder, more modern logo, they'll instantly recognize all the things they've told us they expect from us: a culture of openness, a spirit of co-creation, a willingness to share knowledge, a dedication to enabling others (not just selling to them), and a commitment to catalyzing communities capable of solving the world's biggest technology challenges.
That's what the red fedora will always represent—today, tomorrow and as Red Hat enters the next quarter century of its revolutionary history.
Tim Yeaton is executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Red Hat.