Currently, customers at InitMarketing are solely companies who want us to support them in marketing their Open Source product. Yet, we do not work for community-driven Open Source projects which usually have an association or foundation as an organizing body.
The reason is quite simple: Associations or foundations which we have been in touch with lack money and business-focused decision-making processes. It seems to be much easier for companies to provide a sufficient marketing budget and to agree on a focused marketing strategy.
The cause mainly lies in how differently the two ecosystems are structured.
Company-driven Open Source Ecosystem
An Open Source company acts as the hub in its self-created ecosystem and can leverage all business advantages which stem from its superior knowledge of the product, copyright, etc.
Community-driven Open Source Ecosystem
Community-driven ecosystems lack a business hub. Usually the core of the community is focused on further developing the source code.
Pros and Cons: Company vs. Community
|Decision making||Defined reporting structures and decision makers||Meritocratic community, maybe with benevolent dictator|
|Motivation||Business-oriented, want to make money||Individuals who enjoy coding good software|
|Communication||Partially confidential||Highly transparent|
Of course, this is an overly simplistic comparison table. I know, there are companies that are pure chaos compared with some well working communities. Also, companies might employ their best community members over time which makes it impossible to draw a clear line between community and company. And so on… Nevertheless, the above mentioned points allow to understand the impact of the fundamental differences between a company- and a community-driven ecosystem on marketing, which I’ll discuss next.
Impact on Marketing
Communities trying to reach broad consensus will have a hard time focusing their marketing activities e.g. to clearly position their OSS project, because this requires bold decisions to spend the available budget on a specific target audience only. The higher an OSS project is in the software stack, the more this becomes a problem due to the fact that they need to attract end users and pragmatic buyers.
Open Source companies see a constant need to raise visibility through marketing to achieve better lead generation. Quite contrary, some core developers in communities might have strong prejudices against marketing and especially public relations (of course, the same can happen within a company, but the business prerogative will prevail). Additionally,Â Then again, communities are quite good in spreading the word among peers.
Preparing a marketing budget is a serious issue for communities. They could collect it from system integrators who are part of the community, but they might want to invest the bulk of their marketing budget into pushing their own specific solutions and services. Nevertheless, if the main beneficiaries of an OSS project financially support general marketing efforts of the community, they will profit not only from shared development, but also from shared marketing costs.
Shared marketing is especially helpful if the OSS project is rather a platform or framework instead of an out-of-the-box solution. The danger is that community members tend to have varying views on an OSS platform. Different system integrators will use it to implement different custom solutions. The OSS project could potentially mean anything to anyone, which runs counter a sound positioning in the heads of potential new developers and customers.
In general, it is very important for OSS communities to educate themselves when it comes to marketing, which includes open discussions that result in clear decisions. While the OSS market continues to grow, so will competition. More Open Source communities will eventually take a closer look at how marketing can help them to distinguish themselves from the competition.
The Perspective of an Open Source Marketing Company
Seen from the perspective of InitMarketing, it is much easier for us to provide Open Source marketing services to companies.
The risk with communities is that discussions could take long and decisions could be delayed, which means that, potentially, InitMarketing would spend more time than we would get paid for. Additionally, OSS associations or foundations usually ask for a discount, which we are happy to provide, but which adds to the risk of not really being able to cover our costs and time investment.
There are benefits in working with OSS communities, most importantly that we could enjoy open discussions about marketing strategy, planning and implementation, because this allows anyone to see how well we do our job – or not 🙂 – and we can learn a lot from a miriad of ideas and feedback. Last but not least, InitMarketing could help communities make the jump towards more professional marketing without sacrificing the community and its spirit – a challenge we can’t wait to accept.