3 ways that developing your open source brand benefits your customers and community

For the majority of your company’s existence, you’ve been heads down, cranking out code.

Rightly so.

Because your product is solid. You’ve built a great team. Your community is steady. Your impact is growing.

But your brand? Maybe not so much.

You might say you’ve taken an “ad-hoc” approach to branding for the past few years. That means you could be coming across inconsistently—perhaps even unprofessionally—at times. And up to this point, that’s been alright. You’ve had more urgent things to focus on.

But now you’re entering the next phase of your growth. Maybe you’ve just closed a new round of funding, or you’re gearing up for your next big product release. And you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to invest in your brand.

For the last decade, we’ve worked with top open source technology companies to help them extend their influence. Before starting New Kind, our founders helped grow Red Hat from one office in North Carolina to a global, multibillion-dollar industry leader—applying open source principles to build the brand from scratch.

Over the years, we’ve seen open source projects come and go. Those that invest in developing strong brand identities have a better chance of expanding their community, attracting customers, securing funding, and scaling to the next level.

Why? Because when you clearly articulate your story and identity, your entire community benefits.

Here are three reasons why your community and customers will thank you for taking your brand to the next level.

You give them a project that inspires them to participate—and buy.

Your software or platform is probably contributing to a better something. And that’s good, because we’re living in the age of “why.” I don’t think I need to quote one of the many, many articles out there listing the stats on millennials who want to make the world a better place through their work.

The developers who contribute to open source projects are already driven by a strong sense of purpose. The open source way is, in itself, inspiring. But you need to tell your own story, too.

When your brand clearly expresses your reason for existing, you give your community the gift of inspiration. An idea they can help push forward. A story that aligns to their desire to contribute.

You also build something potential customers want to buy.

The book, Blind Spot, Illuminating the Hidden Value of Business, by Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff, and Sean Sauber, explains how companies can connect with customers through five types of value.

From the book, Blind Spot: Illuminating the Hidden Value in Business

The two deepest kinds of value organizations can offer people are identity value and meaningful value. They offer the biggest opportunity for your brand.

At the identity level, the brand aligns with or complements your customers’ personal identity. Maybe they have your company’s sticker on their laptop, or perhaps they proudly wear your swag.  

You brand is even more powerful if you can offer meaningful value—wherein your purpose supports your customers’ underlying beliefs about the world. Like a commitment to an open internet, a belief in meritocracy, or the opinion that people have a right to privacy.

Every touchpoint is a chance to share your brand—and an opportunity to connect with your community and customers in a deep and resonant way.

You give them clear language to share the work they’re proud of—and clear visuals to show it.

Give your customers and contributors the tools they need to be your spokespeople.

Developers are always building their resumes. And the more people they can impress by name-dropping your project, the better (for them, and for you).

Imagine them adding your organization to their LinkedIn profile. Does your visual identity do their work justice? Does it match the innovative, impactful work your company is doing in the world? Do they struggle to articulate what your organization does, or can they sum it up easily in a sentence or two.

Your community is your biggest advocate, not only for attracting more open source contributors, but also for attracting new customers and investors. Give them the tools they need to be positive spokespeople for you.

You give them a chance to make their voices heard.

Matt Muñoz, our CEO, conducted one of the earliest open branding projects—designing the Fedora logo using input from the entire community.  Mozilla is a more recent example. Even if you don’t have the time, expertise, or resources to open up your entire branding process, there are cost effective ways to include your community.

The research process can be a rich opportunity to engage your users and customers in a dialogue about what they love most about your brand today, as well as what they’d like to see from you in the future. When you take the time to listen to your audiences—through interviews and surveys—you’ll start to hear the ways you stand out to them. And you’ll gather words and phrases that can serve as the building blocks of your brand’s messages.

Concerned that your customers won’t commit to filling out your survey? Fret not. In our experience, people who are passionate about your brand will take the time to participate in a short survey—even if you don’t offer an incentive. And open source communities are even more inclined than other groups to share their thoughts, as long as you clearly explain how you’ll use their feedback.

When they see you’ve included them in the process of creating the brand, they’ll be even more bought in to the outcome.

In summary

Your customers and users want you to have an awesome brand. Because their association with you is already part of their work—maybe even part of their identity.

When you intentionally build your reputation, you help them build their careers. And when you authentically express your purpose and your story, you help them clarify their own. 

To learn more about the value of branding in an open source world, sign up for our Insights mailing list. Or if you’re a technology brand looking to refine your identity and messaging (and you want to do it in an open and collaborative way), drop us a line.

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