When digital marketing meets open source

It's a product that actually costs nothing, is up against entrenched competitors, and exists in a category that enterprises have in the past been wary of. All in all, marketing open source to marketers was probably never going to be an easy job.

So you might forgive Tom Wentworth if he was a little wary of taking up the role of chief marketing officer at Acquia. But the CMO says that when he received a message from a recruiter asking if he was interested in the position, he jumped at the chance. "I couldn't have dialled back the number faster when I saw him asking about Acquia," Wentworth says.

Wentworth took up the role at Boston-based Acquia about 17 months ago. The company provides software and services based on Drupal: The open source content management system which the federal government has indicated it is likely to standardise on for a whole-of-government CMS.

Although it is Wentworth's first experience at an open source company, he has held marketing roles in other content management software vendors.

Before Acquia, he was CMO at Ektron, and prior to that he was Web solutions evangelist at Interwoven, which was acquired in 2009 by Autonomy — which itself was snapped up by HP in 2011 (a somewhat fraught acquisition )

"I've been in the content management space for about 15 years now," Wentworth says. He joined Acquia in December 2012.

The decision to join Acquia was a "if you can't beat them, join them", Wentworth says. "As somebody's who's been in the market for so long, I saw the clear shift to open source and I saw the disruption that Drupal was having in the market and really wanted to be a part of it.

"I think when I look at the future of integrated digital experiences and how I see CMOs changing how they adapt digital technology I think Drupal is so strongly suited for that that I had to find a way to get here."

Because Drupal is open source, it can be freely downloaded and distributed by third parties, and end users are free to inspect, and modify, the source code that powers it. Acquia was founded by the creator of Drupal, Dries Buytaert.

Drupal powers more than a million website, according to an announcement in March by the Drupal Association, the non-profit organisation provides stewardship for the project. That figure is based on a component in the CMS that polls the Drupal.org website for updates, and so is likely to extremely conservative.

Some 12 per cent of the world's top 100,000 website have been built with Drupal, according to research by Builtwith Research cited by the Drupal Association. Those sites include everything from the Warner Music Group, which uses it to build artists' sites, through to the White House.

In addition to the main WhiteHouse.gov site, Drupal powers the US administration's 'We the People' online petition site. After a petition for the US to build a Death Star drew an official (negative) response from the White House, Buytaert, joked that the CMS had saved the universe.

Making the galaxy safe from moon-sized space stations is heady stuff for an open source software platform that was born out of Buytaert's desire to experiment with Web technologies. Buytaert has previously explained that he never had a "master plan".

"I started Drupal as a message board because I felt it was fun to build and we could actually use it in our student dorm. That kind of evolved into an experimental platform for me so I could experiment with different kinds of Web technologies from RSS feeds to blogging to other things.

"Eventually I moved my website from an internal, intranet kind of forum to the public Internet and that actually attracted an audience of people interested in the future of the Web."

Acquia was founded in late 2007, around six and a half years after the initial release of Drupal by Buytaert. Like Drupal, the company has experienced explosive growth; with revenue growth of over 3100 per cent in the last three years, according to the company.

Drupal currently runs an estimated 2 per cent of the world's websites. But despite the platform's growth, Wentworth still finds himself combatting negative attitudes towards open source software, the CMO says.

"There's still a lot of legacy 'FUD' — fear, uncertainty and doubt — about open source, and much of it is perpetuated by the propriety vendors who are trying to hold onto their markets," he says.

"It's really around some common themes: Open source doesn't scale; open source isn't secure; and open source doesn't have all the features that proprietary applications have."

Wentworth says a lot of his time is spent trying to counter these perceptions. "Open source is every bit as secure, it scales every bit as much and, frankly, open source innovates faster than proprietary software," he says.

One drawcard for Drupal is cost — although Acquia sells services around Drupal, as open source software the CMS can be freely downloaded and deployed without worrying about licensing fees. However, Wentworth says that the speed of innovation for open source software is a competitive differentiator between Drupal and its proprietary competitors. Because Drupal is open source, individuals, businesses and non-profit organisations can contribute modifications to the code base.

The size of the Drupal community is often a drawcard for organisations switching to the platform. For example, in Australia Flight Centre cited Drupal's community as a drawcard for adopting the platform.

Today there are more than 26,000 contributed Drupal modules that add new features to the CMS, and more than 32,000 developers registered at Drupal.org. The CMS has a modular structure and substantial points of integration with other software packages.

Wentworth contrasts this with attempts to push proprietary end-to-end marketing suites that have been built by a string of acquisitions, which he argues ends up reducing the speed of innovation.

Open to innovation

Wentworth believes among there's a drive towards "best of need" marketing solutions, "where marketers can pick and choose from the products that work best for them, that are most innovative and then integrate them together in a common platform — which is increasingly Drupal."

"The sort of drive for an end-to-end suite — it looks really good in a PowerPoint slide, but marketing moves so fast," the CMO says. "So there are startup technologies that I see every week and every month that are game-changing technologies and if you lock yourself into one vendor's view of the world you're just not going to get the level of innovation you can get when you're open to anything."

"Drupal tried to tackle a common set of problems, and tackle them very well, around content, community and commerce," Wentworth says. Content, community and commerce are what Wentworth, and Drupal creator Buytaert, describe as the 'three Cs' delivered by Drupal.

Wentworth gives the example of watch manufacturer Timex. "Timex had effectively three disparate experiences and technologies to solve the problems of the three Cs," Wentworth explains.

"So they had their brand experience on timex.com — their website that was full of product content and imagery and the romance language around their products. They had a separate social layer to handle ratings and reviews and the sort of authentic customer testimonials that you can incorporate onto a product site.

"And then lastly, they had an entirely separate shopping experience. So they had different product content, different product imagery, different navigation — a completely separate shopping experience on a different technology stack."

Timex had separate technology stacks for its website, for social engagement, and for e-commerce. The end result was a "fragmented experience" for customers, Wentworth says. "The customer didn't feel like they were doing business with Timex; they felt like they were doing business with three separate companies."

"What we allowed them to do is construct their digital experience on top of Drupal to bring together content, community and commerce into a single experience. Now when you go to timex.com you're sort of seamlessly engaging with them; you're not going to have to be aware 'Is this a shopping experience? Is this a brand experience?'

"Social is natively weaved into that experience, so it's a much different approach. It's that idea that your customers see all of your digital touch points the same; they don't want to know how to operate each of the silos — your commerce silo, your social silo and your content silo."

Rise of the CDO

Historically one challenge for open source software has been that even when it has been readily accepted by developers, it has not always been easy to be on the c-suite's radar. This has changed to an extent with open source software, from Linux to Hadoop, playing a vital role in many enterprises. However, it's still not uncommon for open source to find its way into a business via development teams.

"There's two things that are happening," Wentworth argues. "One is that developers are starting to wield a lot of power in organisations: There's clearly a big shift towards the transformation of technology, and developers even at lower levels in the organisation now have a lot more responsibility than they've ever had before.

"We want to still empower and enable developers and we want to be the favourite Web platform for developers, and Drupal developers specifically, so we're always going to be really focussed on making sure that Drupal's being adopted by developers. And in a lot of cases developers make technology recommendations even for some of the largest companies."

"But Drupal is definitely more on the radar of two types of executives," the CMO adds. "The first type of executive is the chief digital officer. We're seeing an interesting trend, which is this chief digital officer role is kind of a hybrid business technology role that often reports to the CEO and is tasked with — 'How do I get the organisation to better adopt technology?'".

CDOs "tend to appreciate Drupal because it sits at the intersection of open source, which is really about cost reduction and innovation, and its ability to influence business outcomes, like more revenue."

The other type of executive is the CMO. "I think that's frankly because the chief marketing officers now have also been forced to become more competent around technology and digital," Wentworth says.

A 'top-down, bottom-up strategy'

For Acquia, Wentworth says, it's a "top-down, bottom-up strategy": "We love developers and we love executives, obviously!" the CMO says.

Acquia's success will depend on three things, the CMO says. "One: I want to drive Drupal adoption," he explains. "I want Drupal to become the dominant web platform — if Oracle was the enterprise company then I want Acquia to be the Web enterprise company."

"The second thing is: When an organisation standardises on Drupal, I want them to standardise on Acquia products, specifically Acquia Cloud," Wentworth says.

"Third: We want to launch a whole bunch of new products that solve specific line of business problems as SaaS applications. We want to launch more SaaS applications that help make Drupal more appealing to that marketing/CDO audience."

[A version of this article originally appeared on CMO Australia.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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