Over the last year I've collected my thoughts on Joomla! the CMS, the project and the community. We've finally all come to the conclusion that Joomla! needs a revamp. The time is ripe to discuss the future. This is a very big subject so I'm going to present this as a series of blog posts. In this first installment we'll talk about Joomla!'s target audience and a unified marketing message to frame our vision.

Before revamping a software product we need to identify the target audience. Who's using it and why? Who do we want to use it and is it really possible? Is the product resonating with the target audience or do we need to change it? In other words we need to identify the target audience and create a unified marketing message.

The best place to start is a focus group. A collection of unbiased outsiders who will test drive our product and give us constructive feedback. This effectively happened last week at Harvard Extension as reported by the instructor, Jen Kramer. The students were not impressed with the balance between the learning curve and the control exerted over the outcome. But the more scathing feedback is this:

Finally, many commented on how much they disliked the community. The community, they concluded, focused too much on the commercial realm. Everything was about making money. There were too many extensions that were paid. There were too many people out for themselves, especially those in positions of leadership.

This hurts. They are telling us that the "something for everyone" marketing message has landed flat on its face. The product is not simple enough for casual users and not good enough for enterprise settings. This makes the –inevitable and in par with competitors'– commercialization look like a thinly veiled attempt in monetizing a bad product.

This feedback makes me think who Joomla! is targeting. It's clearly not the casual user who wants to get something published on the web, fast. These people have no need for the powerful features, they just want to get things done easily. They will choose a self-hosted WordPress site for the perceived simplicity. The irony of writing these words in WordPress' very efficient "focus mode" on my blog doesn't go unnoticed by yours truly. Let's also not forget that the majority of these people are not even CMS users: they are creating content on social media. Casual users crave for the "do not make me thing" approach of WordPress, hosted blogging services and social media.

The barrier to content creation on these platforms is non-existent. You can't compete with that.

Does Joomla! appeal to the enterprise / commercial sector? No and it's not just because a random collection of people at Harvard Extended said so. Joomla! doesn't have a cat's chance in hell of competing with the behemoths that Automattic (WordPress) and Acquia (Drupal) currently are. Just today we've read that Automattic bought WooCommerce, currently the most popular e-commerce software on the Internet.

Chew on that for a minute. WooCommerce is more popular than Magento, a product backed by the 400-pound gorilla called PayPal. WordPress has become a de facto e-commerce behemoth. It should be quite clear that Joomla! doesn't have any realistic chance of competing in that sector.

What about bespoke sites? Does Joomla! appeal to that? Hardly so, I'm afraid. This niche is dominated on one hand by Drupal and on the other hand by established PHP frameworks such as Laravel, Zend Framework and Symfony.

While we were consumed in introversion over leadership structure these rivals have developed a massive corpus of readily available solutions to problems we haven't even imagined.

Not to mention that the overall PHP community has a very negative view for Joomla!. Granted, they still remember Joomla! as it was in 1.0 and even 1.5, i.e. not the compelling development paradigm. But even today, Joomla! 3 is archaic by modern standards.

I can hardly imagine any corporate developer on their right mind messing with JTable and JModelLegacy instead of using Laravel.

This leaves us in the valley smack in the middle of simplicity and enterprise. Historically this was exactly Joomla!'s position as attested by countless comparisons of the "big three" (WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal) and the overall sentiment among the majority of users and developers. Granted, some of you do know of people using Joomla! for simple blogs and complex enterprise sites but these are the exceptions validating the rule.

Let's refocus. How can we market Joomla! to people? Why should they use Joomla! instead of anything else?

Looking for inspiration I stumbled on the blog of Tower, the most popular Git GUI client for Mac OS X. These very smart people, who are not web developers, decided to build their own blogging application. Why? In their words: Using the most popular web software on the planet also means you're using one of the most popular hacking targets.

We've solved this problem years ago and not just because we're the second most popular CMS. Joomla! is one of the most secure CMS out there right out of the box. And it's outright simple to make it airtight.

Marketing point: Joomla! is secure

The other important thing about Joomla! is that it's cheaper than its competition when it comes to medium to high complexity websites. WordPress is fine for simple sites but if you want to integrate several advanced features, such as an e-commerce platform, it gets very complicated very fast. This is sort of the point behind Automattic buying WooCommerce, make no mistake about it. Drupal, on the other hand, requires you to write code or install dozens of modules for doing pretty much anything useful. Obviously PHP frameworks require you to write code for everything.

Joomla!, on the other hand can do a lot of very powerful things by just installing and configuring off-the-shelf extensions. The immediate advantage is that a small team, or even an individual, can create a complex solution which would require a significantly larger team and a proportionally higher budget with any other competitive solution.

Marketing point: Joomla! can be used by small shops for building medium to high complexity sites on a budget, using off-the-shelf software components.

Finally, we need to take a look at the identity of the competition. Even though both WordPress and Drupal are nominally community projects they are dominated by for-profit corporations (Automattic and Acquia) which exert indirect but strong control over the product. If nothing else, the CEOs of these two companies are the figure-heads of the respective product. In Drupal they even have a special term: benevolent dictator for life.

Joomla! is, was and hopefully will continue to be a "hippy" product. There is no figurehead. There is no corporate overlord. Joomla!'s core value is the embrace of openness and equality. When the other projects have based their structure on a dictatorship (benevolence of the dictator notwithstanding) Joomla! is –at least nominally– an open, grassroots project.

Marketing point: Joomla! is an open product, developed by and for the community.

TL;DR – The bottom line

Combining all these marketing points you can come up with a powerful, unified marketing message which frames our vision for Joomla! and resonates deeply with its user base.

Joomla! is an open product, developed by and for the community. It is used by end users, site integrators and SMEs to build medium to high complexity, very secure websites on a budget, using off-the-shelf software components they can install, configure and integrate themselves without prior experience with the system or requiring knowledge of PHP, HTML and CSS.

Let's stop claiming that Joomla! is something for everyone. In the wise words of Sir Max Beerbohm "Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best." We don't want a mediocre product which is equally bad for everyone – remember that this was the conclusion of our focus group for the current product. We need to simplify the marketing message and make our vision laser-focused. Remember the tagline of Joomla!'s predecessor Mambo? "Power in simplicity". It's time to reclaim our legacy.

To be continued: Joomla! 4 and Beyond: A vision for the end user.

68 thoughts on “Joomla! 4 and Beyond: Target audience and a unified marketing message”

  1. Wednesday, 20 May 2015 23:32
    Thank you Nic for your vision! Much appreciated! And I couldn't agree more on Reclaiming our Legacy.
  2. Wednesday, 20 May 2015 23:39
    Wow! A great article. I have been getting sick of reading mediocre articles on Joomla everywhere, repeating the same stuff about why they use J or why people should use J or the perpetual favorite; WP vs J vs D.

    But this article identifies the correct issue ailing J and gives a very reasonable, believable and most importantly an achievable solution.

    I remember once on the unoffical FB group, when a WP user raised the issue of Js lack of extensions which were free. That guy was bashed by one and all. But there was truth in it, as explained above.

    I also think the last line of the bottleline quote is a bit of stretch!! But it can be changed. It has to change if J needs to go ahead.

    Can't wait for the next part! Keep it up.

    Apologies for preferring to stay anonymous! :)
    1. Thursday, 21 May 2015 01:46
      Well, the WP guy's criticism –and the resonation of that criticism in the focus group– is unjust and the product of a misperception. Let's see what WordPress is doing, since this is what Joomla! is compared with.

      WordPress Plugin Directory only lists free of charge plugins. However, inside those listings, it's perfectly allowed to list the features of your plugin's commercial version, with a link to your purchase page, and not even clearly explain which features are NOT available in the free-of-charge version. Even worse, while the free version must be GPL the paid version doesn't need to. If you have a proprietary version of your plugin, limiting your users' freedoms, nobody is going to kick you out.

      On the other hand, the Joomla! Extensions Directory REQUIRES clear separation of free-of-charge and commercial plugins. You are NOT allowed to list the features of the paid version in the free version's listing and you are NOT allowed to link to your purchase page from the free version. You MUST only list the features the user gets with the software they download. Even if you have a paid version you MUST provide it under GPL. In fact, Joomla! goes one step further and FORBIDS any extension to be listed by developers who make non-GPL Joomla! extensions available on their site.

      In short, Joomla! is better at protecting the users' freedoms under the GPL than WordPress is. The rate of commercialization in both communities is exactly the same. The major difference is that WordPress users are less likely to pay for software because they confuse free as in beer with free as in speech. When you pay peanuts you are buying a monkey and that's true for a hell of a lot of WP plugins. If developers make no money they have no incentive to provide a good quality product. This leads to bad, abandoned and insecure code. No wonder why plugins are the major gateway to hacked WP sites.

      Currently the best WordPress plugins come for a fee. And, man, are they expensive! A backup product which does less than JoomlaPack was doing in 2009 costs four times more than Akeeba Backup. Security products, same deal. Download managers which do more or less the same as the free offerings in JED cost north of $100. Developing professional sites on WordPress is more expensive than developing on Joomla!. Personal sites in both platforms should be fine with the free offerings. The guy in the FB group expected to develop professional sites without paying a dime which is simply possible in neither WordPress nor Joomla!. His only experience seemed to have been the development of personal, small sites on WordPress and then he jumped to Joomla! for professional site building. He was comparing apples to oranges.
  3. Thursday, 21 May 2015 00:15
    Nicholas you are Joomla, not this mediocre burocrats installed in the working groups and leadership teams. John Coonen that name sounds familiar to me...
    1. Thursday, 21 May 2015 01:48
      I am just a guy working from the sidelines. I am happy to help from any unofficial or official position. Badges are irrelevant. Some people crave for them, some people respect them, I just ignore them. It's a simple question of can we get stuff done or not.

      As for other commenters, I have an open comment policy. Anyone is free to comment in this blog despite my opinion of them. I firmly believe that people are judged by actions. I am not going to moderate anyone but I'm not obliged to respond to people I don't want to respond either. It's a fairly simple moderation policy :)
    2. Thursday, 21 May 2015 08:10
      And until now, your name is unfamiliar to me, Xavier, I'm sorry. I don't believe we have met. Perhaps one day we'll meet in person, or work together remotely on something good, so and we can get to know each other, rather than talk around each other. That would be nice.
  4. Thursday, 21 May 2015 00:55
    First of all nice article, a good read not complicating things with voting and structural changes :-)

    But i have a question about the one marketing point: "Joomla! is an open product, developed by and for the community."

    If the focus group says : "Finally, many commented on how much they disliked the community. The community, they concluded, focused too much on the commercial realm. Everything was about making money. There were too many extensions that were paid. There were too many people out for themselves, especially those in positions of leadership."

    If the "public opinion" is that the community is disliked, then it would be wrong to use it as a marketing point?
    Or did I misunderstood something
    1. Thursday, 21 May 2015 01:56
      The focus group complained about the perceived commercialization of the community. As I explained in the other comments this a misconception. WordPress is more strongly commercialized. Under the pretext of the plugin directory not allowing paid extensions to be made available (yet, perfectly allowed to be listed as long as there is also a free, installable version) this commercialization is lost on its users. In my opinion this is a bait and switch strategy of the worst kind. Especially with the price tags I see. Seriously, would you pay $240 for Akeeba Backup instead of about $45 (with the current exchange rate)? Because that's happening right now in WordPress.

      Also let's not forget that WordPress and Drupal do have corporate overlords. They do not control the majority of the development teams but I say that if the key people with commit access are in a company's payroll then it's safe to say that the product belongs to the company more than it belongs to the community. Joomla!, on the other hand, is not subject to a corporate overlord. We embrace openness. I see that as a strength, but ONLY if leadership listens to the community. This allows us to claim that hey, Joomla!'s direction is not pinned to a CEO making his investors happy, it's based on what its users want. That's a huge selling point, don't you think?