"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

Marketing Linux

By Jim Schweizer

I was just reading Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffry Moore and sat back for a few minutes to muse on how Linux could benefit from its strategies.

Mr Moore suggests that there is a bell curve that describes how a new technology is adapted by a market. At the front of the curve is a small section of Innovators and next to it a slightly larger Early Adapter section. After that there are two large sections at the middle of the curve, the Early Majority and then the Late Majority. Finally, there is a Laggards section.

The hypothisis is there is a 'chasm' between the way one markets to the Innovators/Early Adapters and a completely different strategy for the Early Majority. It's my belief that Linux now has one foot out over the chasm, and companies that plan to market Linux or Linux related products should examine their marketng strategies closely.

For Linux to be successful it must adopt a marketing strategy designed to 'cross the chasm' between selling to Innovators/early adapters and an early majority of users.

Visionaries and early adapters are already singing the praises of Linux and of the Free Software movement. But there are big differences between them and the people in mainstream corporate environments who make the buying decisions.

The early adapters differ greatly from the early majority in their buying habits - early majority buyers are pragmatists. They want to buy from market leaders with proven track records and from companies that adhere to industry standards. They want a high degree of customer support, etc.

In the words of my brother, Paul, "This is just my opinion but, when I look at Linux from the standpoint of an MIS director, I see a cost nightmare. I have no single source that is accountable for support issues. I see a limited supply of qualified support engineers and technicians. I see a limited supply of drivers for new hardware. And the list goes on...." email Fri. Feb. 28, 1997

Pragmatists may not trust the visionaries in the inovator/early adapter market. They want references from within their own group - references that come from companies already using the product.

If you are in a start-up period, where do the references come from? One possible strategy is the 'Storming the Beach' approach. The visionaries have given you the base of operations (an island off the coast), and you have the goal of market domination (liberation of the continent.) What you do is establish yourself firmly in a market niche (The Beach) then throw all your marketing/sales efforts into expanding the market (moving off the beaches and into the country side.)

Where within the purchasing departments of large corporations is Linux's Beach? Is it in the web server loaded with RedHat/Apache quietly counting up hits day after day, week after week without any down time? Is it in the old Slackware box hiding in the corner providing print spooling services without a large maintenance overhead? Is it in the new TurboLinux box running Samba?

"Reduction in scope is key to the chasm crossing strategy." If you want to dominate a market, you must first dominate one section of it. Does being a web server utilize all of Linux's strenghts? No way! But it does get Linux noticed.

IMHO the talk about Linux needing an Office Suite is misguided. M$ Word and Excel are solidly entrenched. Linux jumping up and down shouting, "Me too!" is not going to get it noticed.

What Linux needs is a well designed application profile. One thing that Linux can focus on and use as a landing point. People use toasters, coffee makers and refrigerators in the kitchen, but they don't combine them into one product and try to get Housing Inc. to sell it.

This one application needs to be a must-have, something that provides a dramatic competitive advantage and improved productivity in an area already well-understood by corporate America. To find this must-have product companies can use traditional macro- and microlevel market research.

Innovators and early adapters are interested in how all parts of Linux works. Mainstream customers aren't going to be. For them it's going to be more like buying a Christmas tree - as long as the good part is showing, they're happy.

So, as the troops mass in the ports of our small island, have the Chiefs of Staff found a landing point yet?

Copyright © 1998, Jim Schweizer
Published in Issue 28 of Linux Gazette, May 1998