Why Your Open Source Firm Needs a Marketing Strategy

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.

Conclusion

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.

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