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.