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Marketing OSS versus Open Source Marketing

A comment in response to “Open Source Marketing: What it Ain’t” from reader “Joe” stated the following:

It seems that the marketing for NLD [Novell Linux Desktop] has been very traditional marketing. If open source marketing is different from traditional marketing, can you tell us if you are thinking about new marketing methods for NLD, and if so can you share those with us?

Joe is pretty much right in his observation. What I have been writing about is really more about marketing open source software than an largely different subject that one might call Open Source Marketing. I decided to do some further web research on what some are now calling “open source marketing” and get further insight.

Beyond the much-celebrated Firefox release community effort, there is considerable thought toward how community-based marketing might parallel how open source software is developed by a community. Marketing may not literally have source code, but there certainly is foundational thinking that goes into product positioning and market execution. Truly open source marketing would need to open this to community effort. That may raise some hackles.

Like many industries, the software industry has traditionally done its foundational strategic work as proprietarily as any other industry. Because marketing abuts strategy, it is very much subject to the culture of the corporate world, wherein deeply ingrained practices can be very difficult to overturn or change. At executive levels, attitudes toward confidentiality may be set by tradition or may be set by regulatory laws. Whichever it is in any particular case, corporate management teams are typically risk-adverse. Opening up the marketing kimono means opening up company strategy. Can companies afford to do this? Perhaps the question is really, can they afford not to?

Hans-Peter Brøndmo pubishes an insightful view of the effect of the open source model on business and marketing. In this he summarizes my point “can they afford not to?” pretty well. He also provides some ideas on what open source marketing would be:

What if advertising and marketing materials were published with a Creative Commons license, perhaps requiring attribution but otherwise encouraging, rather than prohibiting, derivative works? What if the goal were less to restrict and control the use of images but rather to encourage derivative use? Let’s call it open-source marketing.

While this doesn’t go for the gut and get out the marketing source code (strategy), the ideas in this paragraph, and other points of Brøndmo’s, would seem either laughably idealistic or chillingly foreboding to the corporate executive who does not fully understand the deep implications of open source.

[CYA time: I am definitely notspeaking about Novell executives, either in general or specifically. I am speaking very generally about executive-level awareness of what OSS is doing to business itself.]

Back to reader Joe’s point. Indeed the marketing efforts for Novell Linux Desktop have so far been very traditional. Rarely do I get accused of being too “in the box,” but on this one I will wax cliché and say that you have to stand before you can walk. Getting a traditional foundation established to market the Novell Linux Desktop was a mandatory part of launching it as a commercial product. However, that does not rule out opening more conversational marketing channels. (I started this blog as a first step, hoping to humanize the faceless “them” that may be involved in marketing open source projects like Novell Linux Desktop. Allowing comments–and responding to them–is something I hope counts.)

At it’s root, marketing is about opening conversations. Corporations are more massive than any form of product provider humanity has ever seen. As these huge corporate entities vie for attention and mindshare, they often lose sight of their constituents. The need for conversation–as opposed to dictatorial monologue–grows increasingly evident. (And this environment is likely one of the major roots for why OSS has been successful.) The anti-monologue backlash is probably best summarized in the Cluetrain Manifesto‘s hundred or so points, and in its opening preamble:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

The emerging culture is, “Stop telling and start conversing.” Inclusion matters.

Since you have read this far, now I turn it to you and ask: what are your ideas on better ways to co-market?


2 Responses

  1. Like you said, “inclusion matters”. One of the places where people are coming to you (metaphorically) is in product support forums. Similarly, the developer forums are an evironment where people who care enough post their questions and concerns.

    Sure, your lawyers will tell you “You cannot have corporate staff doing tech support via there. It is unfair to people who have paid for support.”

    Well, yes and no.

    It obviously should not take precedence over the paying customers, but your forum users should derive some benefit from taking the time to publish. That they are publishing, is an action that tells you they care.

    The best thing you can get, is when the product cycle gets around to asking for new features. You put out a call to the forum participants to suggest new features. Nothing makes mere customer into a real fan than to see their idea put into production.

    So my suggestion is to arrange to have employees hang out in the forums or mailing lists, and with the disclaimer that they cannot officially provide support, turn your people loose. Often, the forum or mailing list users are early adopters – help them!

    Understand that if a product was rushed or limited or otherwise sucks, the flames in the forums will melt steel. You will need a plan to deal with the people who gripe – there will always be some. The plan may be to just ignore them. But if the same gripe shows up more than five times from five different people (or shows up once from someone you know is otherwise solid) – then a plan formulated, an action taken.

    That’s my thought.

  2. About inclusion and community-based marketing.

    Yesterday I caught a video clip on CNBC where Cramer and his co-host were interviewing a company marketing guy from a company that manufactures “uncrackable” smart cards. See our card can’t be rewritten….”We enable the government to put everything about your identity on the card, multiple biometrics etc. not in a central database…you carry this card around with you. You copntrol your identuty.”

    Hmmm. This idea showed up at Novell around 1997 or 1998. Here it is 2004 and pigheaded Cramer is pushing it.

    Conclusion: I think open source marketing has to start with a clear communication of the game plan. For NLD recently there have been several “leaks” about Novell’s code named products for release in 2006 and 2007. This stuff bores me.

    I would much rather hear Novell tell us what they think they want to do with the product and solicit reponses. How can there be a community effort if you have no clear idea what Novell is up to?–>

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