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The Perils & Pleasures of Rebranding: The Puppet Story

The Perils & Pleasures of Rebranding: The Puppet Story

The Perils & Pleasures of Rebranding: The Puppet Story

In this episode of the Rethink Podcast, Paige Musto, Act-On’s senior director of corporate marketing, interviews Suzame Tong, the director of marketing communications at Puppet. In April of 2016 Puppet Labs repositioned as Puppet, in a rebranding that went far beyond just a name and logo change. Listen in, as Paige gets the story.

This transcript has been edited for length. To get the full measure, listen to the podcast. 

PAIGE MUSTO:

Prior to joining Puppet, Suzame was the senior director of brand marketing at Jive Software. She writes on her Puppet bio that she thrives in the highly subjective and emotionally charged part of marketing, known as brand – near and dear to my heart. Suzame, can you tell us more about Puppet and what Puppet does?

SUZAME TONG:

Sure. Nowadays, in order to remain competitive, basically every company has to behave like a great software company. Puppet is driving the movement to change the way that software is delivered and operated.

PAIGE:

What was the impetus behind you folks deciding to change from Puppet Labs to Puppet, and the new logo that came out as a result.

SUZAME:

In my experience over the years at different companies, there are a few reasons that you look at undertaking a rebrand.

It might be a coming of age, so when you think about the company not having started out with a lot of investment in marketing like a lot of startups do, and at a certain point of maturity they realize that, ‘hey, we’re successful and we actually need to take this pretty seriously.’ There might be huge shifts in the business in terms of the strategy or the product.

It may be that the company’s no longer differentiated from its competitors or they want to stay relevant in a changing market.

And it may be to rationalize growth, so if a company’s growing a lot through acquisitions and diversifying its product line, it just may not – the brand may not reflect the new purpose or mission of the company.

From Puppet’s standpoint, it was definitely a coming of age. Luke (Kanies) started Puppet 11 years ago. I don’t think that there was any thought or idea at the time (with it being an open source product) of how do you create a brand.

PAIGE:

At that point they’re thinking about technology; they’re not thinking about the brand and what it means longevity-wise.

SUZAME:

Right. Puppet has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. Over time it evolved in an adaptive way. It started out as Reductive Labs as the name of the company, and Puppet was the name of the product. At some point there was a decision to name the company Puppet Labs because Puppet was gaining so much traction in the market. The logo we had was a mashup of Reductive Labs and some other aspects.

We hit a point where we had grown up as a company and we had a lot of opportunities ahead of us that didn’t quite fit the identity we had and the positioning that we had.

PAIGE:

It’s very interesting. I look at the stages of a company in three ways. You have that hustling startup. And then you become the growth machine. And then you become a scalable business. I think at each of those points it’s great to do a health check on the business. Is the brand and the way that we position the company resonating with that audience?

SUZAME:

Right. I think what was unique to Puppet was that coming into this we had – we already were a beloved brand, and we had a great reputation, amazing customers, a really passionate user base in the open source community. So there were so many plusses that you don’t always have when you’re doing this within the context of working in a tech company.

PAIGE:

In your blog post about this (Puppet love: keep calm and change the logo), you mentioned that you had attended a conference when you were only a couple months into the role with Puppet. Customers were coming up to you and saying, I love Puppet, Puppet changed my life. And they’re using the word “Puppet.” Did that have anything to do with dropping the word “Labs,” because everybody referred to your company already as Puppet?

SUZAME:

Yes, that was one of the factors that we considered. Even our own employees call the company Puppet. So why fight it?

Planning for a rebrand

PAIGE:

How long was the process?

SUZAME:

When I came into the company, this was something that our founder and CEO, Luke Kanies, already wanted to do.

As you can imagine if this is emanating from marketing only, and it doesn’t seem to resonate with the founder of the company, it could be a really hard uphill battle to try to make the business case for as drastic a shift as we had.

Fortunately, Luke’s head was already there, so it was a matter of picking up that baton and applying my experience to having done this before to lay the groundwork.

PAIGE:

What role did the employees play in helping to develop the new look and feel of the company?

SUZAME:

There’s definitely many different ways to run a rebrand project and what you just mentioned is one of them. In our case, this was definitely a project that was kept pretty tight with Luke and the agency that we hired early on.

As we got to a point where we felt confident enough to start sharing some of the concepts we had, a small group of internal stakeholders were looped in. They were people who were influencers inside of the company who could help socialize it, as well as people we felt really represented the culture strongly in terms of who they were.

We felt if they had a strong negative reaction to something we did, that would be a canary in the coal mine to signal something to us. Because it’s so easy to get your head lost in a project if you don’t keep your business objectives in mind, you could end up going down a rabbit hole.

Launch timing for a rebrand

PAIGE:

What did your timeline look like? The day of your launch, did everything just roll out, the website, all your social profiles, all the email templates, all your eBooks or what have you? Or did you do a phased approach based on the most consumed or trafficked web pages, or downloaded content?

SUZAME:

We looked at this from a strategic standpoint: beyond the actual look and feel of the company drastically changing, what kind of message did we want to send out, how did we want to reposition ourselves? And what would be the best environment or conditions to help us do that?

We started thinking about what could we capitalize on; we thought about our next product release. Were there any partnerships that were coming to fruition that we could also announce around the same time?

So looking at this holistically – so that we could amplify the results – it was much more than a brand switch, but more like a significant shift for the company. We wanted to make it clear that we were flipping the page into a new chapter and a new decade of Puppet. And that took a lot more than just the look and feel standpoint.

To answer your question though, in terms of how we got started, it was identifying all the priority public-facing materials that you just mentioned, and working through what we had the capacity to update and not update internally, as well as just laying the groundwork across all the departments in the company, and listing a point person for the brand in each department who could make budget decisions, resource decisions, and was enlisted into making sure we executed.

We did flip everything at the same time. We were here at 2:00 a.m. to start flipping all the switches so that we would be able to have the most coordinated effort as possible across every aspect. Because we were doing press releases as well, new company positioning was rolled out, and the product announcements, those types of things. So it all got pulled off smoothly.

PAIGE:

And was this April 7th of this year [2016] that the new rebrand went public, all the campaigns and such?

SUZAME:

Yes.

PAIGE:

Just going back, from that date, the timeline beforehand, are we talking months, are we talking years, of the planning that went into that before the day of launch?

SUZAME:

It was months of planning. There were definitely scenarios in which I could imagine it taking a year or years if you’re a much bigger company than Puppet is.

Having the runway is incredibly important in terms of getting employees to wrap their hands around it and support what is a drastic change. Because a lot of our identity is in the jobs that we do in the company we work for. So changing Puppet’s brand went a lot deeper because we had a lot of people who had worked for Puppet for a long time and it was near and dear to their hearts – our “Puppet Labs” and the beaker logo.

One lesson from that, for me, is to cherish and respect what has come before, and don’t discard it. I made it clear that we will keep seeing the old logo, people will keep wearing their Puppet Labs tee shirts. That’s expected and that’s not a surprise. And it’s okay for people to still love their favorite hoodie and that type of thing. What we don’t want is in the public market to keep seeing the old logo.

PAIGE:

What did you do internally to activate that, to get employees excited about the change?

SUZAME:

The word had spread as we had expected it to from people socializing it. We ended up hosting a lunch and learn.

All of the meetings at Puppet are live streamed and recorded for our offices around the world. So that was a great way to ensure that our global employees were able to participate in that sense or to get the message even though they may not have been in the right time zone. We did a big unveil with Luke. We did that in November [2015], even though we launched in April [2016].

So you can imagine all the risks that could have happened when hundreds of employees knew what was happening. There wasn’t a single leak. I think that says a lot about Puppet employees being really jazzed up about it, and wanting to help pull this off successfully.

Leveraging employee passion through social media

SUZAME:

Since we were so far ahead of the launch in having the look and feel, we started thinking about wouldn’t it be funny if we were just hiding in plain sight. So the central part of our brand pattern is based on the roles of a directed acyclic graph (DAG).

People nerded out on the fact that our logo contained a DAG. So I launched an employee contest called DAGs in the Wild. I asked people around the world to capture images of themselves or a DAG that they’ve made in some kind of public setting leading up to our launch. We would have these images ready to share once we launched and went live. Somebody created a 3D printed DAG pendant that she wore at one of our events.

Luke very obviously displayed the DAG sticker on the back of his iPad in a prominent spot on stage in a live video interview. We were having people putting DAGs on their dog collars. People loved it. There was a cross-stitch:

It gave everyone the opportunity to get involved even if they were remote employees. And so when it came time to launch, we had all these great images of our employees showing how invested they were. I think that made a huge difference in terms of any kind of negativity or cynicism that seems to always come across when you launch a new brand.

PAIGE:

Are there lessons learned from your experiences that you could share with the audience here today?

SUZAME:

Sure. One thing that I’ve learned is to think globally. I was mindful that Puppet was already a global brand and that we would be expanding our reach. I didn’t want to end up with a logo that had some negative implications in another country’s culture. We took the extra step of working with an international firm to help us get the logo screened across 35 countries. That gave us the confidence to move forward and know that we weren’t going to be putting our foot in our mouth, so to speak, after the launch and suddenly have someone tell us that our logo means something really horrible in another country. So that’s one of my key takeaways.

PAIGE:

Suzame, this has been tremendously educational and eye opening. I thank you so much for sharing your insights into Puppet’s brand refresh and the experiences that you had beforehand. Thank you again for joining us on the Rethink Marketing Podcast.

SUZAME:

Thanks for having me.

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About

Nathan Isaacs is a marketing journalist and video guy at Act-On; past director of SearchFest, owner of Seven G Media, and co-founder of Trailhead Beer in PDX.