Mozilla is mobilizing its battalions of users to help with its marketing.
Mozilla did the unthinkable last year. The open-source web browser company not only captured market share at the expense of Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer (IE), but the Mountain View, CA-based company also breathed new life into a staid market that many had all but conceded would forever be dominated by Microsoft.
Mozilla's browser, Firefox, "chipped away at Microsoft's dominant market share all year," CNET/News.com writer Martin LaMonica recently reported. After releasing Firefox in November 2004, Mozilla "saw downloads shoot to 50 million by April and then top100 million by October 2005."
InformationWeek recently reported that Firefox now commands nearly 10% of the market, while, over the past 12 months, IE's market share has slipped 5%. With IE still commanding 85% market share, and Firefox's 10%, other companies, such as Apple Computer, Netscape, and Opera, divvy up that final 5%.
Open-source approach to marketing
While Mozilla's success could be fleeting - others have nibbled at Microsoft only to see their gains fade over time - what it has done differently is taken its commitment to its community of users to an "extreme" level, says Todd Irwin, a partner at A&R Partners, Mozilla's agency.
Chris Beard, VP of products and marketing at Mozilla, calls the company's non-traditional approach "open-source marketing." As Mozilla allows for thousands of individuals to help develop its software, it also applies that philosophy to its marketing.
As Mozilla prepared to launch Firefox in late 2004, it recognized there were millions of potential beta testers, says community coordinator Asa Dotzler. A massive developer community has volunteered its time, energy, and passion to helping develop Firefox, and the company knew that same energy could be harnessed into a passionate viral marketing and PR campaign.
Mozilla reached out to bloggers about helping build a marketing community, and response was so immediate and overwhelming that Mozilla launched SpreadFirefox.com, where enthusiasts could learn how to become influencers and ambassadors of the Firefox experience.
And not everyone who joined, including those with marketing and advertising backgrounds, was tech savvy.
"This community was so happy to participate and be a part of something," says Dotzler. "We provided them with the tools to make it happen. And I think a big piece of the success is that many of their ideas were acted on. We wanted to involve this community as much as we could, and it wasn't at the exclusion of marketing."
That enthusiasm helped Mozilla push the marketing and PR beyond the early-adopter community, which Dotzler admits is only about 3% of the market.
"We really wanted to focus on the message that Firefox is not just for early adopters and open-source geeks," says Dotzler. "It's for regular people. But we knew the excitement from the early adopters and the community would attract buzz and media. We did a lot of work to 'ungeek' the message."
That was a wise move, asserts Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group.
"Mozilla embraces its community like no other," says Enderle. "It doesn't have the mixed messages of Opera, and it isn't buried underneath an uncaring parent like Netscape is [with America Online]."
Mozilla is also smart to have a message that isn't just anti-Microsoft. Instead, the company talks about features such as pop-up blockers and security.
"You can't win just by not being Microsoft," says Enderle. "You have to be for something."
As for Microsoft, the company declined to divulge how it plans to promote the forthcoming version of IE.
"We have continued to evolve our marketing and PR plans for IE throughout the years to best respond to the ever-growing consumer needs in the browser market," says Gary Schare, director of IE product management, in an e-mail.
Breeding a larger culture of community
Mozilla's director of product marketing Paul Kim says its success is part of a larger social trend.
"We've been the beneficiaries of a sea change of how people are using the web," says Kim, pointing to the collaborative and community-based technology, from blogs and wikis to websites like MySpace.com. "It's this whole culture of community and participation."
Allowing free access to source code is at the heart of the open-source software movement of which Mozilla is a part. It's also something that might shape the market's future.
Flock, another open-source browser company, is emulating Mozilla's concept of community.
"Flock's approach is one of empowerment," says Colin Crook, an account supervisor at Voce Communications, Flock's agency. "Its approach is very similar to what Mozilla has done in terms of community involvement."
What Mozilla's success has done is remind people and the press that there is life beyond IE, says Michelle Valdivia, marcomms manager for the Americas for Opera. She says Mozilla's success hasn't changed Opera and its marketing strategy so much as it has changed and empowered browser users. They have become more active and excited because of the competition, and are much more receptive to hearing about other choices. And the media have recognized that excitement, writing about browsers much more than they have in the past, making it easier for challengers, such as Opera, to get their messages out.
Netscape is one such browser hoping to tap into users' unwillingness to default to IE. The company has struck a deal with Hewlett-Packard where Netscape will be included, along with IE, on all HP and Compaq PCs, says Andrew Weinstein, VP of corporate communications.
Netscape, once seen as an equal rival to IE, now commands just 1.25% market share. But Netscape was the original backer of Mozilla, which Weinstein says used Netscape's code and resources to launch its efforts, and Netscape did this to encourage competition and creativity in the browser market. Netscape now hopes to benefit from this resurgence and recapture its former glory.
"All of the alternative browsers have capitalized on free media," says Weinstein. "Their resources were limited when they launched. The environment was ripe for doing stories on alternative products. And all of that starts with a great product."
Crook explains that even though the market has been stagnant, and people are just now seeing serious competition return, there has always been a need for browsers that cater to different needs - not some one-size-fits-all approach.
"Think about how many people are on the internet," says Crook. "That's how big your market is, and that's a big opportunity for all the players."
Wake-up call for Microsoft
Microsoft clearly recognizes that. Its competitors accuse it of having gotten lazy once it achieved market dominance and of not making any improvements. But Mozilla's success has woken the slumbering giant, which is making significant improvements, says Enderle.
"As we move into 2006 and gear up for the launch of IE 7 for XP and Windows Vista, PR will take an even more visible role in terms of reaching out to tech enthusiasts, enterprise audiences, and consumers," explains Schare. He says Microsoft's PR for IE has evolved by using new communications tools, such as developing its own blog, which it uses for feedback on the development of IE 7. Microsoft is also relying on industry events to reach its users and the media.
Schare didn't address Mozilla's success or IE's loss of market share. He would only say, "All browsers have unique and interesting features." But he did say competition drives innovation, and Enderle says Mozilla's success and the new competition it has pumped into the market have driven Microsoft to update IE.
Mozilla tapped into people's desire to talk about what they are doing, says A&R's Irwin. While Mozilla's supporters were passionate about helping develop Firefox, they were just as passionate about spreading the word about the browser.
"This is not just a verbal nod to the community or an afterthought program," says Irwin. "It's part and parcel of what Mozilla is. This shows what you can have when you get a lot of transparency into an organization."
"Mozilla has done things to empower users better than anyone had in this market," adds Crook. "Everyone will be going back to the drawing board."