Emotional Branding in Open Source

The power of a brand lies in its ability to communicate core product attributes to consumers and evoke an emotional reaction from them. Every marketer knows that emotions can drive purchase decisions and so, a brand that is able to evoke them effectively has a strong market advantage over its competitors. Apple is one of the best in the game at this: the emotions evoked by the brand are so powerful that the company is able to sell its products at a significant premium over its competitors, even though competing products may boast more bells and whistles.

Emotional Branding and Open Source

This type of emotional branding has been in use for many years in customer-facing industries such as automobiles (Ferrari and its sports cars, Volkswagen and its Beetle), but it’s just beginning to gain traction in Open Source product marketing. This is because, for many years, Open Source firms have focused mostly on communicating the technical features and business benefits of their products to end-users, rather than attempting to build strong emotional connections with them.

Today, however, Open Source marketers have realized that end-users aren’t just interested in technical specifications; they’re also taking buying decisions based on more emotional reasons such as ease of use, elegance, social acceptability and community engagement. And so, Open Source marketing is evolving as well, with more and more Open Source firms writing emotional taglines and carving out emotional positioning territory for themselves. Look at the CMS marketplace, for example, and you’ll see WordPress promising “beautiful sites”, Magnolia offering “simplicity”, and Drupal highlighting its “community”.

Reasons for Emotional Branding

There are a number of reasons why a mature Open Source firm should consider an emotional branding strategy:

Differentiation: As the marketplace becomes more competitive, with many products offering the same basic functionality, a firm must seek new ways to differentiate itself from competitors. A purely technical messaging strategy will not work, as other products in the marketplace will offer the same or similar features. An emotional brand provides a way for the firm to build a brand identity that is different from its competitors, and carve out emotional territory for itself. If it is successful, it will gain an advantage over competitors that have not yet begun emotional branding.

Identity: Emotional branding helps to imbue a software product with a life and personality of its own, distinct from its feature set. As an analogy, contrast describing a human being purely on physical attributes (two eyes, two ears, one mouth…) versus personality (handsome, joyful, elegant, …), and you’ll realize that the latter offers more meaningful insight than the former. In the same way, creating an emotional brand for a product helps give it a distinct identity and personality that is reflective of the parent company and also allows users to enter into an emotional relationship with it.

Community: An emotional brand helps with community development by creating excitement and enthusiasm. For example, by using a friendly green robot as its primary brand identity, Google has created a personality (user friendly, fun, innovative…) for Android that allows it to attract and excite even non-technical users and thereby motivate them to build a relationship with the product. This community is critical for bottom-up adoption and word-of-mouth marketing; it also motivates partners and staff.

Emotional Brand Architecture

In general, emotional messaging and branding works as a layer on top of current category- and feature-based messaging. The basic idea is simple: focus on the user rather than the technology in order to communicate the emotional aspect of the brand. This emotional brand identity is communicated through the visual identity and copy style of the brand, and by using product images alongside product features to “humanize” the brand (and avoid plain vanilla stock photos).

It’s also important to realize that emotional branding is not just about positioning the brand externally, but also has a relationship with the internal culture of the company. The emotional brand needs to resonate well with the corporate culture, because it’s important that everyone in the company should feel comfortable when communicating the brand externally. As any brand manager knows, consistent messaging and images requires thorough review (so-called “brand policing”), but the more the emotional brand is in sync with the company, the lower the cost of ensuring consistent communications. Syncing the brand identity with the corporate culture is even more important for organizations in Open Source due to a higher degree of transparent communication.


As the Open Source marketplace evolves and categories become more and more crowded, emotional branding provides a way for a firm to regain its competitive advantage. By building an emotional relationship with new and existing customers, it can speed product adoption, shorten the sales cycle and build a loyal following for its product. Emotional branding also provides a springboard for the firm to take its marketing activities to new levels, by connecting with consumers and making its Open Source product brand stand out.

Why Open Source Community Managers Should Watch Star Wars

The Community Leadership Summit (CLS) will start in a few days. This post was inspired by meeting notes of last year’s event.

Community development is a tricky thing to get right. In a typical vendor or consortium-driven Open Source community, the community manager has to deal with multiple stakeholders, each with their own agenda, goals and “hot buttons”. It falls to the community manager to understand these (often overlapping or conflicting) agendas and massage the relationships within the ecosystem – both between the various stakeholder groups and between the stakeholders and the parent vendor/consortium – to ensure forward progress. Needless to say, this can be quite challenging, even at the best of times.

The Death Stars

The task is further complicated when a community manager belongs to a so-called “Death Star” company (as discussed during CLS 2011). If you remember your Star Wars, the Death Star was a gigantic space station created by Darth Vader, capable of destroying entire planets with a single blast of its laser cannon. In a similar vein, there are some software companies that are perceived as Death Stars – in effect, they’re so big and powerful that they’re capable of destroying entire Open Source communities with small shifts in their business plans or software strategies. Companies like Microsoft and Oracle are the ones that are most often clubbed in this category and perceived as “evil”.

From the CLS meeting notes, it can be seen that community managers face various challenges when working with the communities of so-called Death Star companies. Some of these challenges are internal, perhaps due to company management or policies, while still others are external, arising from negative user preconceptions of the company as “evil” or “bad”. In both cases, community management becomes harder and can create frustration for both community members and managers.

Good, Bad or Ugly? It Depends on Where You’re Standing

Personally, when I hear companies being labeled “good” or “bad”, my internal alarm bells start ringing. Rather than adopting a moral perspective, which can raise emotions and tempers and hinder overall progress, both community managers and members should instead adopt a pragmatic perspective.

  • To begin with, it’s important to realize that companies want to make money and are themselves answerable to shareholders (most of whom have invested in the company because they anticipate a financial return on their investment). So, how a company relates to its community is colored by this fact, as also by its business model and its market environment.
  • At the same time, behaving ethically is becoming increasingly important for companies, to ensure a positive public image. Google is perhaps the most famous example with its “don’t be evil” motto, but thousands of other companies have also realized that unethical business practices, such as using cheap child labor in Asia, hurt more than they help. In other words, the “invisible hand” or market forces often themselves serve as checks and balances to prevent companies from behaving irresponsibly or unethically.

Keeping these perspectives in mind will help Death Star companies and their community leaders better define their relationship towards each other, as well as towards the community they steward.

  • Death Star companies should realize that Open Source communities are freedom-loving and opinionated, and adopting ethical business practices goes a long way towards creating a positive public perception.
  • At the same time, community managers should realize that companies aren’t de facto “evil” or “good”: business decisions often occur in reaction to rapidly-evolving marketplace events and so shouldn’t be necessarily imbued with moral implications.

The Moral of the Story

Remember that at the end of Star Wars, Darth Vader (the bad guy) turned out to not only be the father of Luke Skywalker (the good guy) but also learned goodness from him. All it took was a little understanding and time. In a similar vein, today’s so-called Death Stars might, if they’re given some patience and kindness, turn out to be the very champions of the communities they’re often accused of destroying. Something to think about, perhaps.

Then, there is an important figurehead, who believes that F/OSS is fueled by selfishness. Are we all little Darth Vaders?

Plus, it seems that IT companies in general are more aware of ethical issues than others. Doesn’t look all that bad, if you ask me.

Tips and Tricks for Writing Good Website Copy

For most Open Source vendors, their Website is their primary marketing channel and forum to communicate with users, partners and community developers. And so, it’s quite important that the Website meet the vendor’s positioning, messaging and communication needs whilst also being usable, informative and comprehensive.

At Age of Peers, we’re often asked to help Open Source vendors with their marketing and communications strategy, and one of the tasks in that list usually involves reviewing, editing and fixing their Website copy. If you or your marketing team are planning to undertake a similar task, this blog post has some quick tips and techniques that I’ve found useful in the past.

Understand the Website Structure

I’ve found that each Website is a different animal, insofar as its structure goes. It’s important to fully understand the key sections of the Website before starting to write even a single line of copy. This can help inform the copy and ensure that content is properly targeted. For example, if the Website structure displays separate sections for users, partners and community developers, it provides an impetus to begin thinking about the tone and style for each of these sections (more business-like for partners, more informal for community developers and users).

Understanding the Website structure right from the start also helps identify duplication – for example, two sections of the site talking about the same product. This can often produce mixed messages unless the purpose of each section is clearly identified – for example, product features for users versus product features for developers. In this case too, having a good understanding of the Website structure is essential to ensuring the copy is correctly positioned and not redundant.

Create a Style Guide

A style guide is a critical element of any Website copywriting exercise. A style guide sets certain standards or rules for the copy, and ensures that all authors produce copy that is consistent and uniform. There’s nothing more disconcerting than for site visitors to see a different style (of spelling, grammar, capitalization, voice, tone…) on each page of what is supposed to be the same Website! Having a style guide ensures that all content authors start with a common foundation and understanding, and it also serves as a useful guiding document for the vendor’s staff when handling future content updates to the site.

Stay on Message

(Re)launching a Website is a major project, and more often than not, it is undertaken specifically to better communicate a vendor’s position and message to the marketplace. Therefore, it’s of primary important that every element of every page on the Website support and reinforce that message. To ensure this, I find it valuable to spend a fair amount of time defining or reading the vendor’s marketing and communication strategy, to identify the unique selling points of its products and how it plans to position itself for market advantage. This gives me good ideas about the style, tone and voice of the copy – for example, whether it should be informal (community open source project) or corporate (enterprise OSS vendor).

This isn’t enough, however. I also find it useful to review the Websites of the vendor’s closest competitors and review their copy, for a number of reasons:

  • To understand their target audience and see how and if it differs from my client’s audience;
  • To identify common, industry-specific technical terms that can be used to gain buy-in from technical users; and
  • To review other vendors’ marketing “proof points”, such as case studies, customer testimonials and white papers.

All of this information is extremely useful when writing or reviewing Website copy, as it helps ensure that the final Website is both on par with competitors in the same industry niche and also serves to communicate the vendor’s marketing message and position concisely and clearly.

Use Keywords, Headings and Hyperlinks

These tips might seem self-evident, but it’s surprising how often even experienced content authors forget them:

  • Keywords: We’re in the age of SEO, so remember to ensure that each page of the Website contains the appropriate keywords to ensure that the site is accurately indexed by search engines. This can be accomplished through the use of <meta> tags, SEO-compliant descriptive URLs and descriptive page titles and headers.
  • Headings: Use headings to break up large chunks of text. This ensures that copy is readable and that users find what they need more efficiently. If the website layout permits it, highlight important information in factboxes or separate framed areas.
  • Hyperlinks: Hyperlinking information between pages is a good way to highlight and cross-reference useful information for visitors; it also helps makes pages “come alive” by ensuring that users don’t hit a dead end but always have a further link to click through and read more information. Done properly, hyperlinks within the copy can serve almost like an alternative navigation system, allowing users to drill down specifically to the information they want.
  • Call to Action: For the corporate Website which typically serves a commercial interest, it is important to include calls to action such as a “Buy now” button on as many pages as possible, simply to generate leads. Ideally, there should be just one call to action on a page to not confuse the audience.

Maintain Control

Even a medium-sized corporate Website could easily have in excess of 100 pages, each with its own quirks and specific needs, and so it’s important to set up and maintain control over the copywriting project right from the start. My current favorite tool for this at the moment is Google Docs, which lets you set up an online spreadsheet that you can share with all the editors and authors working on the copy.

Here’s how this typically works:

  • I set a spreadsheet up with fields for Page, URL, Status, Responsible Person and Comments.
  • I then create a complete sitemap of the Website, entering a separate URL and editor or author name on each row of the spreadsheet.
  • As editors and authors work on individual pages, they update the page status and enter comments (for example, missing images, errors in page layout and so on).
  • Different team members review the comments, make changes and update the status further, marking pages as “Done” once no open issues remain.
  • Color coding different rows of the spreadsheet helps identify the status of each page: red for critical problems, yellow for minor problems or to indicate a pending review, and green for completed pages.

This method ensures that all concerned individuals (including client staff) have access to the spreadsheet and can see exactly what’s going on, identify critical areas and achieve the project’s end result in a collaborative manner.

Hopefully these tips have given you some ideas about what you need to do the next time you or your marketing team decide to update your Website copy. Or, if you have other tips, I’d love to hear them (write me a comment!).

Patrick Ohnewein of the Free Software Centre in South Tyrol on Open Source and Government

I’ve just uploaded my video interview with Patrick Ohnewein, Head of the Free Software Center in South Tyrol.

I met Patrick at the South Tyrol Free Software Conference (SFScon) and had the chance to ask him a number of questions, including:

  • What is the role of the Free Software Center?
  • Is there greater awareness of Open Source in government?
  • Is there a pattern in Open Source adoption?

Patrick also explains the motivation of the local government in sponsoring the development of the TIS Innovation Park and highlights how local companies in the region are using free software to distribute knowledge and foster innovation.

Book Review: WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers

What started out as a private online diary in the mid-90s has evolved and, over the last ten years, finally reached almost every niche of the online and business world. Blogging has become a major part of many companies’ public relations and marketing channels, as it allows them to establish a direct connection to their customers. And, especially for small or non-profit companies, blogging offers great advantages for very little expenses. The question of whether to blog or not is nowadays discussed in almost every company environment, typically as part of a broader social media strategy.

WordPress is probably the most popular and advanced web software when it comes to blogs. In fact, the majority of all hosted blogs and websites have WordPress running under their hoods. And that’s for a good reason.

Recently, the publishers of Packt Publishing asked me to review their book “WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers” written by Paul Thewlis and published in December of last year. Let’s see if this book helps to answer the most important questions about publishing a successful business blog.

Teaching the Basics

Paul Thewlis has written a good introductory book when it comes to WordPress and blogging, especially for novices. Unfortunately, this is not apparent from either the book title or the description and so, my first impression of the book did not exactly meet my “business” expectations on the first reading.

Nevertheless, in covering the basics, Thewlis has done a good job. Most people with a blogging or WordPress background will already know the fundamentals, but Thewlis ensures that beginners are not left out with good coverage of blogging and WordPress basics. The first and second chapters, in particular, need to be mentioned here.

Choosing the Audience

I really liked that Thewlis went beyond the simple “why to blog” question and offered a wider perspective on what is possible by showing good recent examples that are helpful for businesses to identify the own strategic goals and finally end up with a reasonable blogging plan. He is not only asking the important questions, but also trying to help readers answer them for their own businesses in an appropriate manner.

That said, as the book focuses on the basics and attempts to create a (for the purposes of the book, absolutely legitimate) fictitious WordPress Business Guru, it may not  deliver what its title and description promises for already experienced WordPress users and bloggers, as well as for more mature companies.

In the end, this doesn’t hurt the book that much as the main target of the book is clearly beginners. For them, Thewlis describes in depth how to set up a local WordPress environment in order to get used to the software. He introduces all the basics that are necessary to start and extend a WordPress installation with the most common and useful plugins. He not only describes them, but also provides nice, handy usage examples.

The only thing that can be regarded as a bit inappropriate is, from my point of view, the third chapter, where he covers the design aspects of blogs and tries to give an introduction to CSS. I can imagine that for inexperienced users, this rough overview will be more confusing than helpful; it would have been better to instead help these users to understand the broader background of Web design. Novices will end up just copying the code while people who already know about CSS and Web design will simply skip this chapter part. In the end, neither of the two groups benefits.

Final Thoughts

So, what’s the final verdict? Thewlis covers a very broad range of topics in his book  and he provides valuable insights about WordPress, especially for beginners. This is very good for those who are looking for an overview of what is possible and necessary. Thewlis delivers everything that is necessary to put these users on the right track and equip them with the basics of starting a blog.

At the end, blogging is about gaining trust and credibility. That’s the one thing missing in Thewlis’ book: the most important factor in blogging is the individual. Companies don’t blog; people blog. And it is all about them when it comes to creating a successful and credible blog.

Glyn Moody on PR by Organizations in Open Source

I had the chance to do a video interview with Glyn Moody, a renown technology journalist and consultant, at the South Tyrol Free Software Conference (SFScon), past Friday.

Glyn provides great answers to the following questions:

  • Is “Open Source” still a newsworthy topic?
  • What are the trends in Open Source watched by journalists?
  • How to do PR in a sane way?
  • How important are social media in the marketing mix?

He also points out that a topic he’s closely watching these days is how governments try to fight back the internet – something he discussed in his keynote at SFScon and in a related article afterwards, which also includes his slides.

Marketers and Content Strategists: Two Sides of the Same Coin

“Markets are conversations”, says The Cluetrain Manifesto and if you take the analogy a little further, you’ll realize that conversations are only meaningful when all the participants have something useful to contribute. In an Open Source ecosystem, where the number of participants are much larger (and sometimes much louder), it’s even more important for vendors to ensure that their contributions to the ongoing conversation are meaningful and valuable.

Content for Conversations

For Open Source vendors and Open Source marketing practitioners, this implies a need for a greater focus on content: how it is analyzed, produced, approved, delivered, licensed, managed, and migrated. Open Source marketing, as a practice, needs to have a holistic understanding of not just the brand and messaging strategy, but also operational, “where the rubber meets the road” aspects like the content model, the metadata strategy, the SEO strategy, the editorial and approval workflows, the Website taxonomy, and so on. In short, marketers need to also be content strategists.

Marketer = Content Strategist?

My good friend Lars Trieloff made me aware through Twitter of a blog post, by Cleve Gibbon that identifies what content strategists do. Among his list of tasks are brand strategy, messaging strategy, tone of voice, style guide development, SEO strategy. Now think about what marketers do, and you’ll realize there’s a very close overlap here: many of these tasks are routinely performed by marketers as part of the marketing function. From this perspective and to at least some extent, the roles of content strategist and marketer are intertwined.

Marketer = Digital Librarian?

Another point to consider is that when doing Open Source marketing, the role of the marketer is to serve more as a “facilitator” of information rather than a “gatekeeper”. To do this effectively, the marketer must have a holistic understanding of the available information (content) and must be able to categorize it effectively (perhaps like a digital librarian) to ensure that the audience (which might comprise users, partners, developers or other vendors) is able to find what they need easily. Again, this involves no small amount of thinking about the content model, content types and content architecture – tasks that are commonly performed by content strategists.

Corporate Websites as Information Hubs

Look also at the tools used by content strategists and by marketers, and you’ll see a distinct overlap. Content strategists focus on content, and the primary content platform for Open Source products is usually their Website. In a similar vein, while marketers do have other tools at hand (advertising, public relations, roadshows), they focus a large part of their attention on the Website, as it’s the primary communication and messaging platform, and the locus of user activity for the Open Source ecosystem. Marketers ensure that the content appearing on the Website conforms to the company’s stated brand identity and messaging; but they also need to verify that it is useful, informative, comprehensible and engaging…all content strategy tasks.

Practical Lessons

So what does this mean for you, the Open Source vendor or marketing practitioner?

  1. First, you must realize that the marketing role also encompasses the content strategist role; the two are closely linked, and one cannot be performed without the other. This also means that if your marketing team doesn’t already include the necessary skills to perform content strategy well, it’s time to go out and acquire those skills, to supplement the strength of your overall marketing and communication effort.
  2. A content strategist must also work closely with what Cleve Gibbons terms a content executioner. Typically, this is a developer or technical expert who knows the ins and outs of the CMS system being used, and can assist with the actual implementation of workflows, content modeling, migration and other technical tasks. Having this person working closely with your Open Source marketing team reduces the risk of the content strategy being incorrectly implemented; at the same time, it ensures that the content architecture and infrastructure supports marketing and communication needs.