At the moment, there is a vast array of companies with some marketing power hawking their particular version of Linux or product that makes use of Linux, including hardware, services, or applications or Linux. Individually, some of these companies have been quite successful, increasing their branding mindshare as the Linux marketplace expands. The best example would be Red Hat Software, which in some portions of the market is synonymous with Linux. There are other numerous other examples, each with their own unique marketing push into their target markets.
As Linux expands, so will the number of companies trying to jockey for position in the marketplace, and thus, the number of unique corporate marketing messages pushed into the public space to increase mindshare. This may be good for the individual companies, who are starting to compete more heavily with each other, but it fails miserably at delivering the big picture of Linux and Open Source to markets that have only recently been introduced to the concepts. In the absence of a succinctly constructed message to explain in simple terms what Linux is, each of these companies has constructed their own message delivered to their individual target audiences. This has the potential to create an environment confusing to executive staff evaluating Linux and Open Source software for the first time. Instead of one message on which to base all future dealings with Linux technology, the evaluator must instead sift through the individual corporate messages, which may or may not corroborate the others. A much more effective approach would be if there was one baseline message upon which each company could build their separate marketing agendas. This way, the first-time user already has a basic education of what Linux is and can evaluate future marketing spin against the background of knowledge that has been presented.
Traditional Linux marketing, while still crucial, will not be able to scale to the levels needed to push Linux into the public arena. In the past, Linux and other Open Source software, such as Apache and Sendmail, made progress due to subversive voices in ISP's and corporate IT. For example, there would be a project and a limited budget for the team to finish this project. In some cases, to help meet budgets, Open Source software was employed and tailored to the project. Depending on the success of the project, members of the team would later tell others how they did it and inform the maintainers of the software of modifications that were made in the process. The maintainers would incorporate the changes, if helpful, and them base the next software release on them. As time progressed, this word-of-mouth method of exchanging software and advocating its use created a snowball effect that is largely responsible for the current state of Open Source software.
In the example above, users were also programmers, and vice versa. Thus, most Open Source software was by geeks, for geeks. While this has been quite effective, there is no proof that this method will work in all areas where Open Source software is moving. IT directors, for example, may or may not take much input from their staff in the trenches. Unless this person is already familiar with Open Source, there is a good chance he/she will not consider using it for the next project.
In order for a centralized marketing ``push'' to be successful, there has to be buy-in and active support from the traditional Linux and Free Software supporters. Why? They helped build credibility to the current level without marketing budgets or active corporate involvement. The worst thing that could happen would be to build a marketing message around Linux without preaching to the choir first. If the message that we come up with differs greatly from what the community at large believes, we will have accomplished nothing. After all, the whole purpose of Linux International's involvement is to create a base message with which all members of the Linux community (corporate or traditional) can run. This would be rendered null and void if we cannot convince the choir.
It becomes a difficult dance because on one hand, we want and need corporate credibility if Linux is to push upwards to the next level. However, in order to woo and keep all community members on board, it is imperative that the element of subversiveness, and thus coolness, be preserved. This two-pronged directive could lead to divergent paths of messaging.
In order to prevent forks in the marketing kernel, we must develop a centralized community for everyone interested in this process. Essentially, the only way to get buy-in from all parties is to let them have a hand in creating the final product. Thus, in many ways, the development of Linux marketing would do well to follow the same process of Linux kernel development itself.
Linux International must take a lead in this process by developing a community bulletin board responsible for cultivating interest from groups of people with diverging interests. This presents obvious organizational challenges. It is vital to create a center on the web for everyone to voice ideas and for us to disseminate ideas for those who take an interest in Linux marketing. This must be done while still maintaining some level of organization while still reaping benefits from the ``bazaar'' style of development.
There are literally dozens of companies within Linux International. They offer Linux support for vastly different reasons. Some were founded on Free Software / Open Source beliefs. Others came to Linux recognizing the wave of the future and capitalizing on the opportunity. Every company brings a different business model and plan to grow their revenue stream. This is why the message we send to the world should be basic enough to encompass elements of Linux and Open Source in a way that proves beneficial to everyone involved. This can be achieved by concentrating on the elements that attracted most people in the first place - the things that are easily contrasted to other products in the marketplace. By building a message around freedom, empowerment, and ownership - qualities which no other product can claim on the same level as Linux - we position the entire Linux market in a completely different light from competing software products. From there, it is each company's responsibility to build on this package in a manner that compliments their individual marketing message(s).
Three words: growth, growth, and growth. If each member of Linux International recognizes the growth potential of a concerted marketing effort, we can proceed with little hassle or worry of member involvement. It is in each member's interest that Linux and Open Source be properly positioned and marketed.
In order to accomplish the goal of creating a marketing message to position Linux and Open Source in the marketplace, we need to assemble a voting body comprised of both representatives of the members of Linux International we well as members of the Open Source community. This would allow us to create marketing materials with a professional appearance while maintaining crucial buy-in from the Open Source community. It will also ensure that no one company is able to dominate marketing messaging. Ideally, there would be an equal number of community members as Linux International representatives. It is important to note that each representative will have exactly one vote. Some companies may devote more resources to Linux marketing than others, but that cannot effect the voting process.
Once this body votes to approve specific marketing measures - whether that is overall messaging, specific advertising, or specific marketing collateral - the next action is to produce the material. One of the first actions of this voting body will be to designate specific agencies or individuals for production of web site banners, success stories, print advertising, television advertising, radio advertising, etc.
Linux International will own every aspect of Linux positioning and messaging. Of course, since all LI members and the Linux community will contribute to the process, the marketing message will be owned by everyone. In the forums where we choose to put this message, credit will be given to the marketing SIG of Linux International, or whatever we choose to call our organization.
The web site we develop will be a resource for downloadable material: sneak videos of multimedia advertising, success stories, etc. This will be the central point of dissemination. Eventually, it may make sense to let sponsoring Linux International members create web sites as branches of the primary marketing site.
One thing missing from the Linux landscape is high-profile advertising. To date, there have been no television ads about Linux or Open Source. Television and print magazine exposure has thus far been limited to journalists releasing a story about Linux. However, Linux and Open Source are no longer new (read: media worthy), and we remain dependent on journalists' whims at our own risk. We need advertising in venues that attract large numbers of viewers: television sporting events, The New York Times, magazines (not necessarily computing), etc. One directive of this organization will be to put Linux and Open Source in the limelight in venues accessible to large masses of people. At the same time, the messaging needs to communicate the core values of Linux / Open Source in a convincing, believable, and sincere manner.
Another highly visible medium on which we need to establish a large presence is the web. This can be carried out by a two-pronged approach. The traditional method of purchasing ad space on high-traffic web sites is one. The other is to develop a program whereby community web sites are given incentives to carry our ad banners through an affiliate program. Working with such entities as Copyleft and ThinkGeek to develop creative items to give away, we can create a rewards system based on the number of banners served.
While advertising in high-profile media extends our mindshare, the items that may be the most effective in penetrating corporate environments are success stories and white papers that describe the business case for Linux adoption in various market segments. To this date, the Linux community has not been able to describe its ``product'' in terms that appeal to the average professional. Defining Linux in terms understood by them will go far in spearheading Linux adoption. Our mandate should be to create collateral that describes Linux adoption, the challenges encountered, and how the unique qualities offered by Linux and Open Source software ultimately proved beneficial to the early adopter. Although primarily used in web serving environments, it is imperative that we show benefits to many types of businesses that adopt Linux.
Our mandate is the following: organize the members of Linux International and outstanding Open Source community members into a voting body; create the one true message of Linux and Open Source; and disseminate through as many venues as possible.