Open Source Marketing

I’ve read several articles that talk about “open source marketing” as an emerging trend and defined it as:

  1. developing products with public feedback
  2. licensing advertising copy so that customers can create derivative ads
  3. promoting open source products

I prefer the first definition because it signals the beginning of a conversation that will improve product quality.

The Bandwagon

If the term does become common this coming year, I expect many companies will try to benefit from the “buzz”, but without making any real changes in how they do business.

Open source marketing demands:

  • transparency
  • authenticity
  • willingness to admit you aren’t perfect, but eager to improve

BzzAgent Logo

BzzAgent, which describes itself as an “open source marketing” company, was profiled in a NYTimes article and shown to engage in deceptive practices. Their agents:

  • called bookstores and pretended not to know the the name of a book, while giving a raving description
  • posted glowing reviews on for books they’re promoting, without disclosing their relationship

To be fair, Bzzagent doesn’t entirely control their agents, and has recently taken some steps to open up. If the “open” in “open source marketing” means anything, it’s being transparent and honest.

The Open Source Marketing Process

Robert Scoble did a good job of outlining a process of interaction:

  1. company project managers start a blog
  2. take feedback from the blogosphere
  3. send out early demos for webloggers to review

Blogger Reviews

This fits with Dave Winer’s suggestion (link?) that companies could get better publicity if
they sent product samples out to bloggers and then let the bloggers write whatever they

I agree, but I think it will be a tough step for many of them to take.

My guidelines for this would be:

  • publicize the list of people you sent samples to
  • don’t pay them or let them keep the merchandise
  • all feedback should be public. Otherwise it’s just a focus group.

Astroturfing: a manufactured imitation


Since real people might mix their praises with criticism, there will always
be the temptation to astroturf, or manufacture a perfectly green “grass-roots” movement.

This may fool a few people initially, but it won’t be long until sites spring up debunking the tactic.
Authenticity can’t be easily faked. If a company wants better press, they’ll do better by listening to customers and investing in product improvements.

The Fear of Admitting it’s Worse than it Appears

Most products really aren’t all that good, or at least they aren’t as good
as we pretend them to be

Apple iPod

Dave Winer says the it’s hard to choose songs on an iPod while you walk.
That may sound bad, but the iPod is still a decent device — better than the competition.

What Apple should do is read what the the web reviewers are saying and use it to design a better

The Cluetrain Connection

To take it a step further and fulfill Doc Searl’s vision, companies have to establish a relationship.

“And that relationship isn’t just with a “brand.” To have real value, the relationsihp needs to be with the people behind that brand.”

That means that people know employees names and personalities.

I felt like I could get a sense of some of the Microsoft SQL Server Team’s personalities when I listened to their last webcast. Compare that with Apple. The only person I know there is Steve Jobs.