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Why the Marketing of Drupal is Critical

July 21, 2009

There was some little reported financial news that came out of Wall Street last month that did not make much traction in the Drupalsphere, but it should – particularly to our partner Acquia and those of us in the open source world. The news was that the darling of commercial open-source business models, Red-Hat, reported that business is good, very good, despite the global economic recession. To capsulate, Red-Hat revenue was up 11%, earnings up 25% share, and the stock price over 45% this year. You see Acquia has long asserted that they aspire to be to Drupal what Red Hat has become to Linux.

Moreover, venture capitalists and investors are always intrigued by organizations, particularly in the technology space, who generate recurring revenue streams (i.e. subscriptions), have excellent leadership, and most importantly fill a void within the vertical they work. Universally, companies want two things from vendors – the ability to save time and money. If you don’t believe me then look no further than what Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst himself said when addressing his company’s growth. "Our enterprise customers want to save money in a challenging IT spending environment – they are demanding we offer them new capabilities, efficiencies, and functionality". In my opinion, here is what Red-Hat has done a masterful job at – it has never been about them. It was always about the community and their customers. Incidentally, I once asked a wise, older relative of mine to give me the best piece of advice she ever received…her immediate response was "focus on others, not yourself".

Most importantly, the market has come to value Red-Hat’s services. I would classify Drupal as still a work in progress here, but the signs are encouraging. This is where evangelizing needs to take hold – more case studies, white papers, analyst reports, webinars, certification programs, open-houses, seminars, media coverage, etc. all leads to better credibility and general recognition. Information technology decision makers (i.e. CIOs, Directors, Project Managers, etc.) need validation and precedence that their idea to implement Drupal is not some trendy selection, but one cemented with well-grounded justification – choosing the bigger logo or brand will always be the safe play, but it’s certainly not always the smartest. Dries Buytaert, the co-founder of Acquia and Drupal project lead, recently spoke to this in a blog post. I read with great interest the comments from Mike Veers, who is the former CIO of the respected magazine The Economist, and apparently spearheaded the case for adopting Drupal:

Drupal relies on word of mouth more than anything else for marketing and has done very well on that so far. To take the next step, though, marketing efforts needs to be beefed up. When convincing the editor of The Economist that Drupal was the right choice for, I had to do that without the help of a professional sales team. That, in itself, is not a problem, but when a professional sales team from Escenic or FatWire are involved, Drupal pales somewhat. The lack of something as basic as a flyer for people to read shows where Drupal is compared to established players.

In essence, Drupal could be the most amazing content management system (CMS) in the world, but if the brand lacks consumer awareness this is a serious problem. Acquia has taken the first baton, but it must be a concerted effort. Drupal vendors (Mediacurrent included) must continue to quantifiably demonstrate how open-source based solutions are benefiting our customers. When soliciting new business, the best advertising channel will always be showcasing how your firm’s track record has helped others solve similar problems.

While growing pains will inevitably occur, for Drupal to continue its meteoric rise as *the* leader in the CMS space, we must keep our foot on the throttle when it comes to the marketing side of Drupal. The Red Hat financials are telling us that if we can trumpet the virtues of Drupal then the rewards will follow. However, if we just think of marketing activities as an afterthought then we've taken a significant step backwards.

I’d be very interested to hear from you. How critical do you view the marketing of Drupal?