Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hi Benjamin,

I find your post to be very interesting reading, because I am a Free software user and I also teach marketing. Please allow me to comment, from the perspective of one who tries to teach people how to be marketers, rather than one who actually does marketing.

Marketing is a societal process … attempting to move the consumers toward the products or services offered.

That quote is complete bullshit. It is a definition of the "Selling concept", which is what the "Marketing Concept" is entirely against. This is one example of why Wikipedia should not be used as a source of authority on contentious issues. Try Citizendium's take on this issue instead.

I hate marketing. With a passion. The sentence above shows the 2 biggest problems I have with it. One is the word consumer, which often means “too stupid to make its own decisions”. The other is the fact that it doesn’t talk about the quality of the offer, but only about “moving towards”.

The first sentence above might be expected to enrage me. In fact, I couldn't agree more with you if, in fact, "marketing" is what it says in the Wikipedia quote and article above. But it's not. At least, not the way we teach it at my place. And the "official" definition of Marketing, if there could be such a thing, is also at variance with the Wikipedia definition. It's from the AMA (American Marketing Association), and the latest version can be found here.

Turns out, the people we trust have no clue either. That bug report is Debian wondering which Flash player to ship in the default install. Apparently the most important thing in deciding about it is wether Flash starts paused (changing that is a one-line diff) or the amount of people that have submitted code. Stuff like feature completeness or code quality don’t seem to be that important. Why should they be, those are hard questions, answering them is way easier than looking at statistics or the big play button in your browser. Another hard thing for people is realizing that one doesn’t have a clue and asking the developers of the respective projects for their opinion. It still baffles me that people don’t ask.

Here's where we disagree. From a Marketing point of view, the opinions of the people who create the software don't matter. All that matters is the wants and needs of the consumers.

Apparently in these cases marketing is very easy. Since the people don’t even have a clue what the right questions to ask are, marketers are free to make up their own questions to ask about the project and provide the answers.

Then those people don't deserver to be called "Marketers". If they don't source their answers from consumers, they are not doing marketing.

So you have one project that overpromises and another one that underpromises. Now if you browse discussions about Flash players on various mailing lists or forums, you’ll notice that Gnash is known way better. People are very more aware of an application that claims to almost support Flash than an application that claims it might not even work. On the other hand, the perception of Gnash is more negative. Gnash does not deliver its promises. Swfdec on the other hand promises nothing, so it’s likely it’ll be better than people expect, which makes them happy. Now, the question is: What’s the better approach?

This is common wisdom in marketing circles: under-promise and over-deliver is a mantra we learn early on.

Until then, it’ll probably remain nothing but an interesting thesis project for someone studying marketing.

Probably not. We've known this for decades. It's just that some people don't pay attention in class ... :-)


Victor Bogado said...

First, please don't read any of this as an attack on your person. It is not, nor is an attack on any person, company or anyone really.

I believe that marketing is a problem with our modern society. Definitions aside, every decision is made based on marketing, and even though I do believe that there are some decisions that marketing input should aid, that is not true to most of the decision being made by marketing teams.

This is very clear to me, it seems to me that every company now treats their customers as cows that can be herded in any direction they want. The real value of the offerings are lowered consistently, more money is spent on packaging, bell and whistles, then on real things.

Open source is different, even though we do invest time on bells and whistles and cool stuff, people try to get the quality better. We try, and we use mouth to mouth to advertise our stuff and this works well up to a certain point.

Benjamin said...

Looks like you marketing people have a very similar problem to that of us hackers: Mainstream people mean a bad thing when talking about it. I guess you know I wasn't talking about what you do but rather about what you call "selling".

But besides very useful links, there are things I'd like to know more about. The most important one is that you say "under-promise and over-deliver". I think this is a very correct thing to do when you don't have a competitor. To give a stupid example: If I tell you I will be able to sell you a car for $100 and then I'm able to sell it for $80, you'll of course be happy. But if someone says he'll sell you the same car for $90, you will not even consider me, even if he charges the full $90 at the end amd you're worse off. So, do you have any good links for studies about this thing?

Another thing were I don't think we disagree is the fact that the wants and needs of the consumer matter, not those of the creator. The problem I'm mentioning there is that the customers likely don't know what they want. No one cares which project has more developers when they use it. Still it's an important point in their discussion. It's another thing I'm interested in: How do people get educated so they can make informed decisions?

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