Last week, I published a video interview with Ross Turk that I recorded at Open World Forum in Paris. Here’s another interview that I recorded at the event, this time with Stéfane Fermigier, Founder and Chairman at Nuxeo. In this interview he discusses how Nuxeo markets its open source product and he also provides insight into the French open source community. Merci for a great interview, Stéfane!
The Open Source Business Resource (OSBR) published an article of your true and only. OSBR is a free monthly publication of the Talent First Network. Each issue contains thoughtful insights on issues relating to the development and commercialization of open source assets and the growth of early-stage technology companies.
Here’s the abstract of the article:
Open source vendors can benefit from business ecosystems that form around their products. Partners of such vendors can utilize this ecosystem for their own business benefit by understanding the structure of the ecosystem, the key actors and their relationships, and the main levers of profitability. This article provides information on all of these aspects and identifies common business scenarios for partners of open source vendors. Armed with this information, partners can select a strategy that allows them to participate in the ecosystem while also maximizing their gains and driving adoption of their product or solution in the marketplace.
Web sites of community-driven Open Source project are gradually becoming more professional and “marketing savvy” in their presentation. Earlier, many of these sites would be presented in a rather technical style, with lots of code and API examples and basic design. This was of course done deliberately, with the idea of highlighting technical benefits and thereby capturing the attention of developers who would then become interested in, and contribute to, the project.
However, this has begun to change. Many Open Source projects are now dialing back the technical approach, focusing instead on a more professional overview of the project and clear categorization of content for users, developers and partners. In other words, these projects have now matured (or hope to mature) to the point where they also wish to gain traction with other members of the Open Source community, such as end-users or companies who might want to partner with or sponsor the project.
Tech Talk vs. Marketing Lingo
To illustrate what I mean, let’s compare the sites of two popular CMS projects, TYPO3 and Midgard. Both are currently in the process of relaunching their websites, which makes it easy to analyze how their marketing and communications has developed over time.
Midgard’s Web site is all about the code. For example, the home page focuses on developer benefits of Midgard, such as its rapid development tools for Web services and its data sharing capabilities. The home page also specifies the technologies used by Midgard, and provides links to developer tools such as the source code repository, issue tracker, mailing lists and other developer tools. Even the items in the news feed mostly focus on recent software releases.
In short, this is a site by developers and for developers, and while it does provide some information for other members of the community, it’s the developer focus that stands out most strongly.
TYPO3’s Web site is less developer-oriented and broader and more inclusive in its scope (disclaimer: my company Initmarketing has previously worked with TYPO3, although not on its Website). Web site content is clearly categorized for users, developers, decision-makers and community members; this offers a way for TYPO3 to position itself appropriately for each class of visitor. The navigation shows the different entry points into the project – for example, as an extension developer, writer, translator, sponsor – and there’s also an extension repository, which also serves a barometer of project activity.
In short, although this is an Open Source project that hopes to attract community developers, it moves the code and technical details one level down so that it is also attractive to other community members, such as end-users, and corporate sponsors. Note that it’s not only the messaging though, it’s also the visual design where they differ and which makes the new TYPO3 website appear more professional. Needless to say that this all has a huge impact on how the two brands will be perceived by prospective users.
Another example of this marketing-oriented trend can be seen on the new GNOME 3.0 Web site. It’s attractively presented, and its home page focuses almost exclusively on end-user benefits … even though it’s obviously a community-driven software project that also needs to attract developers. As with TYPO3, the idea here seems to be to make the project more accessible, by highlighting non-technical benefits and thereby increasing end-user adoption. And that’s very much “marketing” thinking!
If you have an Open Source project, there are some lessons in this for you.
For your project to succeed, you must attract the attention of the community. While you certainly need developers to adopt your project, it’s also important that you cater to end-users, because
- the more you highlight user and business benefits,
- the more potential users will get the impression that your community understands their needs and
- the more successful the project is in the user space,
- the more motivated developers are to contribute.
Marketing is useful here, because that’s what it’s good at: presenting and positioning your project in the best possible light to different user segments.
This doesn’t mean that your project site shouldn’t display any code; rather, it means that the code needn’t be up-front, but can be located a level or two down in the navigation tree, perhaps in a specific section for developers.
At the same time, there are also companies who might want to sponsor your project, or individuals who might want to contribute to it with money or time donations. Don’t ignore these user segments; instead, make sure that your project site has useful information for all of them – for example, ways to contribute, benefits of becoming a sponsor, areas where non-programming help is needed – and make sure they feel valued and necessary to the overall success of the project.
The more inclusive and all-rounded your project Web site, the more likely you are to achieve broad marketplace adoption … and that’s where the rewards really lie!
You might have noticed by looking at the screenshots that none of the websites have a tagline or slogan in the header – except for the current Midgard site, which indicates the product category: “Open Source Content Management Framework”. This means that all of the above projects neglect a strong opportunity for a unique positioning and branding.
I wonder what are the reasons? Is it too hard for community-driven projects to decide on the positioning or a tagline because the software is being used in very different ways? Or because the community’s decision-making processes are ineffective? Or does the community believe that its project is widely known and thus won’t need a tagline?
Perhaps this is a field where OSS projects still need to mature marketing-wise.
One of the great things about Open Source software, is its ability to significantly cut the length and expense of the sales process, by allowing prospects to “self-qualify” themselves for the product offering. Simply put, because an Open Source software product is freely available for download, potential users can get it, try it out, and decide for themselves whether it works for them. If it does, they can then decide to approach the vendor for additional services or technical support.
From the Open Source vendor’s perspective, this is a great place to be, because it’s getting a constant stream of leads which are (a) already educated about the product and (b) interested in pursuing a commercial relationship. This makes things much easier for the vendor’s sales people, because they typically need to do far less work in convincing the prospect of the suitability of the product and they can instead focus on meeting specific requirements and closing the deal. In summary, a shorter sales cycle for the vendor and clearer expectations/less disappointment for the customer.
Understand the Buying Process (and the Buyer)
The trick to this, of course, is to ensure that prospects have enough information to self-qualify. And this is not simply a matter of “provide a download link and they will do the rest”. For an Open Source vendor to fully exploit the informational advantages of Open Source, it needs to make sure that potential customers have all the information they need to satisfy their questions and concerns independently. And so, it is necessary to prepare and make available different types of marketing collateral for each stage of the buyer decision process.
There are two important aspects to consider here.
1. The stage of the buying process
The typical buying process consists of need identification, research, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post-purchase evaluation. These stages are performed sequentially, and the prospect’s information requirements change from one stage to another.
For example, in the first and second phases, the prospect may have a wide range of options, but as the evaluation progresses, the field is whittled down to a few likely candidates. Correspondingly, the granularity of detail required also increases: for example, in the first two stages, the prospect may only be interested in (say) the platform and integration requirements, but once the main candidates are identified, the prospect will examine each in detail to understand the relative benefits of each. This is clearly seen in the following simple diagram.
2. The status of the buyer
The status of the buyer must also be considered. In small firms, the economic buyer (the one who actually pays for the product) and the decision maker (the one who takes a final purchase decision) might be one and the same. However, in larger organizations, the decision maker might be a developer, while the economic buyer might be a business manager or CFO. The information provided must be correctly targeted to the buyer’s status within the organization.
For example, consider the evaluation stage. At this point, a developer is keenly interested in the technical benefits of the product and so would gain maximum value from technical white papers, sample code, technical presentations, and other collateral that illustrate the technical capabilities of the product. However, a business manager at the same stage of the process would like to read case studies of similar deployments, white papers about collaboration features, data sheets listing service and support options, and so on.
Marketing Collateral Cheat Sheet
Here’s a quick cheat sheet, based on my experience, of what you could provide to different types of prospects to help them at each stage of the buying process:
|Business Manager or CxO||Product brochuresBusiness white papers
|Case studies for similar deployments
Service and support data sheets
|Project Manager||Product brochures
Business white papers
|Case studies for similar deployments
Service and support data sheets
|End-user or Developer||Technical feature overview
Technical white papers
|Technical manuals or API documents
Screencasts and videos
A final question to consider: how do you actually make all this material available to prospects? The best way is through your Web site, as this offers several advantages:
- It’s the first place a prospect will visit for more information on your product/service offering.
- It’s publicly accessible, which means that sales people (yours and your partners’) can use the same collateral for direct sales.
- It’s central and 100% under your control, which ensures that updates occur in a single place and you don’t have to worry about salespeople or partners working off outdated material.
Open Source offers a number of advantages, and these are not restricted only to the software aspects of your product or service. By making available as much information as possible, you’re allowing potential customers to validate your offering against their needs, and giving them the tools to make an informed decision. This allows them to self-qualify or self-disqualify themselves, serving as an automatic filter and granting you the benefits of a shorter and more effective sales cycle.
All too often, companies think of branding as a one-time effort: they define the market positioning, create a brand and logo to reflect this positioning, and then take this brand into the world. All marketing activities that follow from this – advertising, public relations, promotions, customer communication – are based upon the defined brand identity. The truth is that brands develop over time and while they mature, the messaging needs to be revised.
Brands Reflect Perceptions (and Vice-Versa)
A brand is special, because it is an identity constructed in our minds and it creates an emotional as well psychological connection between the company and its customers. Each customer is likely to interpret the same brand in a subtly different manner. Thus, a brand isn’t a “one size fits all” representation of a company; rather, it is the composite of multiple individual perceptions and emotions. As Daryl Travis, in his book Emotional Marketing, notes “…a brand isn’t a brand to you until it develops an emotional connection with you.”
What many companies forget is that a brand is a living entity. Just as a brand shapes customers perceptions, it too is shaped by perceptions – both of its customers and of its staff. And as a company learns more about itself over time, as it begins to look at itself from different perspectives, its brand too must evolve and reflect this additional knowledge and intelligence.
A Few Examples
If you take a look at some software brands, you’ll clearly see this evolutionary process taking place. Here are some examples:
- Apple‘s original logo (pre-1976) depicted Sir Isaac Newton under an apple tree. However, this was soon replaced with the famous “bitten apple” silhouette, which had cleaner lines…perhaps intended to highlight’s Apple’s clean, smooth designs. Initially filled with rainbow colors, the logo has evolved into a monochrome design – first black and then the current transparent/glass version. In short, as Apple’s unique design culture has emerged and as customers have also begun to recognize (and expect) cutting-edge design from Apple, the brand has evolved to match and reflect these expectations.
- Another interesting example is SugarCRM which, back in 2004, had a tagline describing it as “commercial open source customer relationship management”. However, as time has passed and the CRM category has become well established, the company has dropped this explanatory tagline from its brand identity. The cube-shaped logo is a relatively recent addition, and perhaps is intended to represent how its product brings together different facets of information to create profiles of customer relationships.
The Evolution of Identity
A brand’s identity typically goes through the following phases, which usually manifest in the taglines you find in Website headers or advertising slogans:
- A young brand needs to be explained, thus a category-style tagline is chosen (just like SugarCRM did in its early days, see above).
- The brand has established itself in its category, the company has a strong identity and changes its tagline to an emotional one (think Apple’s “Think Different” slogan).
- The brand is the leader in its category and has a high visibility, the tagline is abandoned because the brand now speaks for itself (Apple or Amazon.com nowadays).
An analogy would be to compare brands with human beings. For example, when introducing yourself, you tell the other person your name, why you are there and perhaps what you do – just like in the first phase of a young brand. The better someone knows you, the more they will be able to decide how they want to relate to you and whether to enter a (private/business) relationship. The deeper the relationship, the more important emotions become. Once you and a related group know someone really well, you won’t have to explain to the group who e.g. “Marc” is, because they know him, thus the personal brand speaks for itself.
Given that brands are constructed in our minds, this analogy is actually quite powerful, because we are social beings and the way our mind works when it relates to something is greatly influenced by how we build relationships with other human beings.
What does this mean for you, the Open Source vendor? Simply this: as your product and your market evolves, you need to occasionally step back to refine and focus your brand strategy. In most cases, any changes you end up making to your brand strategy will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, reflecting the changes in knowledge and perception that have accrued to the company over the preceding period. Doing this every two to three years will help ensure that your brand is relevant and in tune with the needs, expectations and perceptions of your customers and yourself. Essentially, your brand will go through different phases of its identity, just like a human being does as it grows older.
One of the questions I commonly hear from clients is, “Why do we need a marketing strategy? We already have [a PR agency/a Google Adwords campaign/a Facebook presence] that’s working for us, so what’s the point in spending time and money on this?”
In this blog post, I’d like to shed some light on this topic, listing some key reasons why every firm, especially (but not only) if it has an Open Source product, should take pains to create a marketing strategy for its offering. In my experience, this is one of the most critical activities a firm should undertake, and it invariably pays dividends over the long run.
After all, the most valuable asset of Open Source is open conversations that bring together users/buyers and vendors. Your firm should speak with a consistent voice to establish a strong and credible brand.
Understand Where You Are
To be successful in any business, a firm needs actionable, accurate intelligence about the marketplace. The typical marketing strategy will perform a thorough analysis of the firm’s current internal and external environment, thereby giving the firm an accurate snapshot of the status quo and key market trends. Strategic tools like SWOT analysis, market segmentation, and competitor arrays ensure that the firm has a good idea of where it stands vis-à-vis competitors, and offer some ideas about its unique strengths and advantages.
For firms that are creating a marketing strategy for the first time, this information is typically a major eye-opener. For example, the analytical output of the strategy document may help them realize that they’re competing against the wrong firms, or trying to attract the wrong type of users for their product. Performing this analysis may also throw up opportunities they hadn’t been aware of in the past.
Create Consistent Behavior
If a firm has a medium- to large-size marketing department and/or if it works with multiple outsourced agencies, a marketing strategy ensures consistent behavior across members, departments and third-party agencies. A marketing strategy clearly identifies the positioning of the firm and, by extension, its key competitors and target segments. This information keeps different arms of the same organization on the same page, ensuring that all work together on a common goal and mission.
So, for example, if the strategy identifies developers as a key segment, salespeople will know they need a technical sales script, PR agencies will know they need to pitch articles to developer journals, and copy writers will know that Website copy should identify developer benefits. Similarly, partners know which clients are best suited to the firm’s solutions, and will not recommend it to prospects who don’t match the profile.
Optimize the Marketing Mix
A marketing strategy will also help a firm optimize its marketing mix. Every marketing strategy will examine the classic “Four Ps” of marketing along with some additional Ps that are especially important in Open Source community marketing (participation, peer-to-peer, personalization, …), and this examination, coupled with the market analysis and trends, will help the firm better understand what it is marketing, and how it is doing so. For example, based on the SWOT analysis, a firm might refine its existing product/service offering (eg. a product specifically for PHP developers) to better play to its strengths, or it might review existing trends and thereby determine new delivery methods (eg. SaaS) that it can utilize to reduce its distribution cost and extend its reach.
Monitor Progress and Build Business Intelligence
Creating a marketing strategy is, in essence, a process of “writing things down”. The strategy developer is creating a journal or log of data, drawing conclusions from it, and then making operational recommendations. At the same time, he or she is also recording the results of previous recommendations. There are two key outcomes from this:
- The strategy document works as a measurable checklist, allowing the marketing team to have a written record of planned high-level actions and thereby measure marketing progress and success. By listing and prioritizing marketing activities, it works as an action plan for the marketing manager or marketing department, helping them to organize marketing activities in an organized, systematic manner and with sound rationales and goals for each activity.
- It serves as a “living document” of what worked, and what didn’t, thereby avoiding costly mistakes in the future. So, for example, if the strategy recommended attending a particular trade fair, but real-world analysis after the event showed a negative cost/benefit ratio, it serves as a flag to tell the marketer to consider dropping the event in the following year. As such, this written record adds to the collective knowledge of the firm and helps it learn from its mistakes.
It might be self-evident that as an Open Source marketing consultant, I would advise any Open Source organization to build and implement a marketing strategy (after all, this is how I earn my money). However, the fact remains that in my experience, this is never a wasted effort and the long-term benefits are significant, both in keeping the firm on track to meet its long-term goals and in giving the top management a tool or framework to define the evolution of the product.
Today, more and more proprietary software vendors are choosing to go Open Source. Doing this enables them to leverage the community benefits of Open Source, shorten the sales cycle, and gain a competitive advantage over other proprietary products.
However, for those firms considering a switch to Open Source, there are some hard decisions to make with regard to their product architecture. Should they provide only a single Open Source product, and earn revenue from add-on services like support and consulting (RedHat)? Or should they adopt the Open Core model, offering their product under both Open Source and proprietary licenses (MySQL)? Or perhaps some hybrid of these two approaches?
In this post, I’ll consider two common architectures, which I’ll respectively call the “Open Core” and “Solutions” architectures.
Open Core Architecture
The term Open Core is used to describe business models where vendors offer both an Open Source “community edition” and a more fully featured, commercially licensed “enterprise edition”. MySQL is undoubtedly the most common example of this model, although it’s widely in use among other firms as well.
Typically, the enterprise edition product comes with vendor guarantees and support, thereby making it more attractive to larger enterprises. At the same time, it ensures that smaller firms and individuals, who may not require these attributes, are not excluded, as they can freely access and use the community edition of the product, albeit without any guarantees.
Under the Solutions Architecture, a vendor offers separate packages or distributions of the same Open Source product, identified in terms of the functionality they add. Thus, rather than an “enterprise edition” and a “community edition”, the vendor might provide specialized offerings for different skill sets such as a “developer edition”, “database administrator edition”, “project manager edition”, and so on.
Typically, each solution comes with vendor guarantees and all the distributions are based on the same Open Source code base. This ensures interoperability and peace of mind. At the same time, this approach is economical for end-users, as they only pay for the product features that they need, and so it allows both individuals and large enterprises to participate in the product ecosystem.
Which is Better?
Given these two options, which should a firm choose? Here are some arguments to consider:
- Under the “Open Core” architecture, the vendor’s community edition may be perceived as “crippleware” lacking the more advanced features found in the enterprise edition. Users may accuse it of cynically providing a functionally limited Open Source version merely to drive sales of its commercial version. This can lead to a negative impression of the vendor, and may adversely affect its market positioning.
- At the same time, by using Open Core terminology such as “community edition” and “professional edition”, the vendor might be seen as implicitly categorizing some users as “non-professional”. Where these users are also contributing to the community, this will naturally cause friction and conflict. The Solutions Architecture, by contrast, makes no such claims and is less likely to produce an “us versus them” mindset.
- In a fragmented, highly competitive market, a vendor faces competition from multiple niche products, both proprietary and Open Source. In this situation, the Solutions approach allows the vendor to compete effectively against these specialist products, as each distribution is narrowly positioned to attract a distinct market segment.
- On the other hand, the Open Core approach is an easy sell to the enterprise market. The typical enterprise edition product will include technical support, warranties, SLAs and compatibility guarantees, all of which are critical to medium- and large-size enterprises. In general, it is also easier for a direct sales force to sell a single enterprise-focused product rather than a distribution-based product line.
- The Open Core model is already successfully in use by many firms. It therefore has the benefit of pre-existing market awareness and acceptance, and it is easy for customers to understand its nomenclature and business benefits. This simplifies the sales process, as there is less customer and salesperson education required.
As the above arguments make clear, there aren’t any hard and fast rules about which product architecture is “the best”. However, it’s possible to identify arguments for and against each approach, and thereby decide which one will be best suited to the firm’s specific goals and requirements. Needless to say, the final decision will have a far-reaching impact on the firm’s business model, competitive positioning and marketing strategy…and so, it should be taken after due consideration of all the relevant factors.