Open source software marketing

Get the message? Open source is about control…

In my last post I described the threat open-source and internally-developed software poses to traditional, proprietary software vendors. This week, based on what customers tell me about open source, I’ll suggest some themes mainline vendors should hit in their messaging (and in their product development) to compete.

Open Source: Not Just for Free Anymore

First, some definitions, to clarify terms and emphasize the nature and scale of the change traditional vendors are facing.

Proprietary software is typically developed, owned, sold and maintained by a for-profit company. Think Microsoft Office, Oracle databases, or systems management software from HP, CA, or BMC. The customer buys a license and usually pays a yearly maintenance fee of 15-20% of the purchase price for enhancements, support, and upgrades. Also – and this is important – the vendor owns the underlying source code, and only it can make changes to it.

Open source software such as the Linux operating system, the Hadoop software library for “Big Data” analytics, and tens of thousands of other examples, is not “owned” by any one entity. It is offered free, or at minimal cost, by its developer. Just as importantly, its source code is available for modification by any user. The more useful and popular the software, the most users develop enhancements and bug fixes for it.

It is also sold and supported by vendors, some of whom also (or only) provide services. But the community drives its ongoing development.

...and Mirantis helps provide it.

…and Mirantis helps provide it.

This leads directly to some of the pressing pain points that are drawing the youngest and most innovative IT types to open source and away from proprietary software. Here are seven of these pain points more traditional software vendor need to hit in their messaging.

Hot Buttons

Speed: It’s long been an annoyance that corporate IT can’t meet user’s needs. With today’s shrinking product cycles and pace of change, the internal IT group – and often the company it serves – are toast if they can’t change adapt their services quickly to meet new market needs.

Messaging suggestion: Stress product features and case study examples of how your software speeds DevOps– style development, deployment, and enhancement of applications or services. Describe your ease of use, the number and range of supporting software libraries, and any “frameworks” or best practices you offer.

Cost: Maybe you can’t match the pricing of a start-up with offices in a third-tier office park (or no offices at all). But you should at least be in the same ballpark. If not, be prepared to explain why you’re worth more.

Messaging suggestions: Highlight flexible licensing terms, or your SaaS offerings that can help match open-source  cost and flexibility. If you can justify a higher price with your scalability, manageability, security, etc., explain it clearly. If you lack such advantages, go back to the development drawing board. If you require less in-house skills and tuning than open source alternatives, stress this as its a legitimate cost factor.

Collaboration: The day of the solitary coder sitting in their cube doing what they’re told may not be over, but it’s not where the market-changing innovation is coming from. One consultant told me of a very mundane trouble ticket application that turned into an enjoyable, “Is it already five o’clock?” project because he was paired with a business user in the development process.

Marketing messages: Stress any of the ways in which you support collaborative development, both within the organization and in the open source community. Have you open-sourced any or all of your components, or support open-source frameworks? Do you support or host some of your work in progress, in on-line repositories such as GitHub? Do you support, or encourage, the use of in-house collaborative techniques such as pair programming in which developers work as teams?

Excitement:  Your customers are struggling with small, exciting startups for talent. They can’t match the salaries at a Google or Amazon, or the potential stock payout at a startup. But they can get and keep good talent by giving them the chance to develop something important and game-changing.

Marketing messages: If your product was ever used to develop anything game-changing, highlight it as an example of how an internal team can accomplish great, and even fun, things. If you can include (good luck!) the name and photo of the developer(s) who did wonders at a customer, all the better. Make it personal and real. 

 Scale: Can your technology scale from zero users to thousands or millions in a week? If so, explain how; if not, maybe another opportunity to go back to the drawing board.

Marketing messages: What fundamentally new technology, processes or skills do you bring to the table that allows massive, very inexpensive, dynamic scaling up and down as needs change? What about your technology allows is to scale out to infinite amounts of data, transactions, users, data types or protocols?

Security: Most observers agree open source software can be as safe or safer than proprietary software. But that doesn’t guarantee that the right processes are in place to ensure the most critical vulnerabilities are found and corrected.

Marketing message: If your software or service has the chops to consistently outdo the open source development process in finding and remediating vulnerabilities, flaunt it. If you specifically play in the open-source security space, play that up, too.

Fun: Do you sound open-source, or old and tired?

Marketing message: Get a hipster to give your product an edgy name. Would BMC, Cisco, IBM, or EMC name a product  MongoDB, Cucumber-Chef or Voldemort?

Again, cost isn’t the main driver behind open source adoption — it’s top-line benefits such as speed, scalability and flexibility. Drop me a line if you need marketing collateral to help fight – or ride – the open source wave.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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