Drupal Marketing Dissected

Let me share some of my analysis of Drupal marketing efforts while getting prepared for my talk Marketing Open Source Software at Drupalcon. Comments are highly welcome, be it to this blog entry or during my talk or any day while I am at Drupalcon.

Drupal is a great brand

The Drupal brand is highly visible: For example, a Google search for Drupal generates 19 million results. Compare this with Alfresco, generating just 1.8 million results (including the Alfresco Grill).

The Drupal brand is vivid: A big part of the Drupal brand is in the people in the community.

Drupal is a registered trademark: That allows VCs to justify a $7 million investment.

Drupal is successful

There will be a whopping 800 attendees at Drupalcon – sold out – wow! That’s double the amount of the previous conference. Nice growth rate.

200 000 registered users at drupal.org, 300 signing up each day, Drupal downloads approaching 100 000 a month, and more impressive Drupal statistics.

Comparing this with the statistics of other Open Source CMS, it clearly places Drupal in the top league.

Drupal marketing is community-driven

Drupal joined the forefront of Open Source marketing. Not only is the product Open Source, but marketing Drupal is itself being managed and performed like an Open Source project. Everyone is invited to contribute to Drupal marketing by helping craft a marketing strategy, positioning statement, marketing collaterals and all.

This leads to a load of valuable information created by enthusiastic volunteers which would typically cost tens of thousands of dollars. For example, take a look at the Drupal 6 landing page and you will be greeted by plenty of information and many videocasts.

Drupal is not the first when it comes to community-driven marketing. The Typo3 Communication Committee and its members such as the excellent Daniel Hinderink are doing a great job in volunteer-based marketing. The Plone community is also following that marketing path.

Balancing interests of Drupal stakeholders

Drupal Association and Acquia, the VC-backed startup of Drupal lead Dries Buytaert, are the backbones of Drupal’s success. Both organizations are being lead by Dries, which is good, because it ensures a balanced strategy. In Dries’ own words:

Since the health and vitality of the Drupal project at large is extremely important to us, we’ve taken great pains to make sure that I am able to continue to act for the best interests of the Drupal community at large as I have done for the past 7 years.

Drupal marketing challenges

Sounds like the sun always shines in Drupal land, but there are severe challenges ahead for the Drupal community.

Let’s look at the issues from a strategic point first:

  • Does the Drupal community want to grow? I guess so.
  • How do they want to grow? I have no clue and did not find any public information or discussion yet. Do they want to appeal more to business professionals (e.g. system integrators) now that there is a Red Hat style support subscription for Drupal within eyespot?
  • What are the means for growth? Drupal Association invests what they get from donations and sponsors. Apparently, they can raise quite some money e.g. for Drupalcon. Will they be able to raise money for marketing if necessary?

It is clear that Drupal needs to focus its marketing if they wanted to communicate to business professionals. This is presumably in the interest of Acquia. It is of course also in the interest of Drupal Association and all other members of the Drupal community, because clear messages will attract more pragmatists to Drupal’s Open Source market place – this is where the money is.

Some concrete suggestions from my perspective, which is somewhere between a visionary (I still feel young-at-heart) and pragmatist (I do have some experience):

The impression I have of Drupalcon up-to-now is: chaos.

The schedule was made available only two weeks before the event happens – much too late! A friend of mine who wants to meet with me at Drupalcon asked me a few days ago: “Sandro, I would attend only two days, which days would you recommend?” Well, I could not tell him, because there was no schedule available.

I was happy that I knew very early that my talk was accepted, but I felt uncomfortable that I did not know the exact day and time. Drupalcon is not my only concern, I have an open source marekting company to manage and some work to do myself. I rather book flights late, because some urgent work or customer meeting might require me to depart later or return earlier then planned.

Furthermore, I did not receive an email telling me that my talk was accepted. Maybe this is because the organizers told me in advance in private email. What about other speakers? Did they first hear that their talk was accepted from the various blog posts? If so, then I recommend that Drupalcon organizers don’t assume that potential speakers read their blog, because some people might simply not have the time to do so. Just send them an email and make all other necessary information available on the Drupalcon Web site.

Speaking about the Drupalcon Web site … too much information at too many places and not properly organized. The most important piece of information, the week at a glance schedule is even unavailable right now. Similar issues exist with the Drupal 6 landing page, which provides too much information and makes it hard to grasp the major benefits of Drupal 6 in ten seconds.

In fact, there is also important information missing or hard to find (at least, I did not manage to find it quickly enough). For example, how can I get an idea of the Drupal business environment, because I want to make sure that there is enough support I can get for money? There is a list of Drupal hosting companies, but that is only a fraction of all businesses. What about system integrators, media agencies, training providers, and so on?

Community-driven marketing is a mixed blessing

All of the above issues show that community-driven marketing can have its downsides. What looks like an highly dynamic community from the inside can easily look like a chaotic bunch of volunteers from the outside. To avoid this impression, Drupal marketing needs to better take care of the limited time available to professionals who “just” do business with Drupal.

This means two things:

First, at the top entry levels (e.g. Drupal 6 landing page), always provide only very necessary information. This information should help the audience to decide:

  1. This is not of interest to me
  2. I will take a look at this later
  3. I want to jump right into it

Second, don’t mix up pull information (e.g. Weblogs) with push information (e.g. speaker confirmation), make sure you adhere to best practices, so that your audience is not being confused by unexpected behavior (i.e. there is no alternative to sending out speaker confirmation emails).

Wanted: Drupal marketing lead

Please, Drupal marketing volunteers, don’t get me wrong. I think you are doing a tremendous job, I think you stand out from the crowd and do your best with fantastic results. What you do need now is a marketing strategy as the basis for consolidation and a leader in Drupal marketing who thoroughly takes care of focusing the brand.

The saying goes that a good software developer can boil down 100 lines of code to at least a third, providing the same functionality with higher performance. This is what the Drupal marketing lead is supposed to do with Drupal’s marketing collaterals: Have her boil down information to a third or fifth to make the message clearer and Drupal marketing will perform better.

The tough part for the marketing lead will be to drive consensus among the Drupal community, such as picking the best slogan from a myriad of suggestions. Unfortunately, marketing is not like software programming. The wrong slogan will not throw an error if you run it, at least not immediately. The risk is that marketing-related discussions can last forever – with let’s say 20 000 community members having 40 000 opinions – if there is no accepted authority or biased skepticism against marketing amongst community leaders.

About Sandro Groganz

Sandro Groganz is an expert in the field of marketing open-source products. He co-founded Age of Peers, a global communications agency for organizations in Open Source. He served as Head of Marketing at Magnolia, creator of the open web content management system Magnolia CMS, Vice President of Marketing at Mindquarry, an open source startup financed by Hasso Plattner Ventures, and Vice President of Communication at eZ Systems, the creator of the open source content management system eZ Publish.

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