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A Drupal Crisis Point: Losing the Marketing War

At the end of this month on September 30th, Mediacurrent is helping organize the first-ever Atlanta Drupal Business Summit. To my knowledge, this is the only time an event tailored to non-developers (i.e. the “suits”) has been held in direct conjunction with a regional Drupalcamp. Let me be blunt, I think Drupal has a serious problem that it needs to address soon, very soon. 
In short, while the platform is gaining technological strides, the marketing component is lagging way behind. If you don’t believe me, you should watch Dries London keynote.  The lack of marketing within Drupal is a central point to his presentation. He cites three items that are critical to the growth of a software product: (1.) must be simple (2.) user friendly (3.) and well-marketed. The growth of Drupal will start and end with increased adoption. Drupal is losing this battle by a wide margin to its (friendly) competitor Wordpress.  Why is this so scary? In sales, it’s always easier to up-sell to an existing customer.  Wordpress’ name awareness and general recognition with content administrators gives them a huge advantage as they begin to narrow the once wide technological divide between both CMSs. For every current Drupal site, there are 6-7 in Wordpress, depending on what numbers you trust. They are also gradually nipping away at the question that has always plagued them: Is Wordpress a true content management system (CMS) that is robust, scalable, and flexible enough to handle enterprise-level sites?
Drupal is naturally dominated by techies. That’s expected within any software-based community.  Traditionally, regional Drupalcamps and Drupalcons have been predicated around developer-centric sessions. With the exception of Acquia, marketing is usually an after-thought to a business whose primary income is Drupal. A cursory glance on Planet Drupal on any given day highlights the fact that the majority of blogging is not directed at CIOs, directors, content administrators, marketers, etc. v. programmers and designers. There has been some traction with programs like the Drupal CXO event before Drupalcon Chicago, Evaluators Days in London, and the recently formed BizConnect by the Drupal Association. However, in my opinion these “business” events were poorly promoted. Why?  The Drupal community is good at talking to itself.  Business Summits and CMS/Drupal Evaluator Days need to draw and recruit beyond the existing fish-bowl. If you really want to help Drupal, go to other industry conferences and do some good ole' fashioned evangelizing. 
There is a lot to learn about regional events from WordPress.  In a 2009 Inc Magazine article, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg mentioned attending 20+ regional camps a year. Mullenweg said, “The bulk of my travel is to WordCamps. We did the first one in San Francisco in 2006. We invited people from the local tech community to come talk about open source. Later, we decided that, rather than having everyone come to us, we would go wherever people want to have the camp.”  The local camps were really a springboard for growing WordPress at the grass-roots level.  Presumably, Mullenweg’s travel schedule and appearances at camps is not what it used to be. And, no, I am not advocating that Dries needs more to log more sky miles. Rather, my point is if developer-heavy Camps can grow at such an exponential level, why not Business Summits?
Let me state the obvious, the Summits will help attract new organizations to Drupal, and have a positive impact on the entire ecosystem.  In my home-state of Georgia, Turner Broadcasting Systems (TBS) standardization of Drupal across all major web properties has created a plethora of jobs (are you listening Congress?). Those employees could become future contributors, those corporations begin to give back (Turner is a Platinum sponsor of Drupalcamp Atlanta this year), and so on – you get the point.
We need to do more though – some ideas include: 
(1.) The Drupal Association should hire a full-time, salaried “Drupal Ambassador” akin to the way they have subsidized and paid for other initiatives (i.e. Git migration, redesign, etc.)
(2.) Revamp the Drupal Services page – it has been in "coming soon" mode for 9 months now
(3.) Feature video testimonials and interviews of enterprise-level Drupal adopters – could you think of a more powerful marketing message than an official from the White House stating why they chose Drupal on the front page of
(4.) Create a professionally produced video demo of Drupal 7
(5.) Lets organize Drupal “Sites of the Year” Awards that are voted on by the community – everyone enjoys recognition, and the submissions alone would corral more use cases
(6.) The case study section on is woefully outdated and needs maintainers

Yes, I know these are ambitious goals, but if Drupal is serious about growing then initiatives like this must be tackled with the same level of vigor that has made the community what it is today.  The proprietary content management systems are outdoing Drupal on the marketing front and it has to stop. Their sales-speak is resonating with buyers because it’s delivered in a detailed and effective format that’s more understood by a non-technical audience. However, their dedicated sales teams and big marketing budgets will be no match to a motivated open-source community like Drupal.
At Mediacurrent, we are committed to helping future Drupal Business Summits flourish. We will be compiling a “Summit Planning Guide” with our lessons learned from Atlanta.  We have already started consulting with our friends in San Diego and Vancouver to kick-off their inaugural Business Summits. We’ve also sponsored and attended seven other Drupalcamps in the last year.
I’d be interested to hear from you. What thoughts do you have regarding the marketing of Drupal?



Meet team member, Dave Terry

Dave Terry is a Co-Founder and partner of Mediacurrent. In his role, he leverages a wide acumen of business and entrepreneurial experience to execute operational objectives. Dave plays a key...

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