Going Directly At Your Competitor

When I read this post from Anil Dash suggesting that the right WordPress upgrade plan would be to convert to Movable Type I was surprised. Both Six Apart and Automattic have been pretty civil towards one another and while everyone knows they are competitors you would be hard pressed to determine that from their marketing activities, in other words they tend to ignore one another.

In re-reading Dash’s post it is clear that there is no bloody knife on the floor, in fact the entire post mentions WordPress a total of 8 times. It appears that Anil was doing is attempting to do was promote MT features in, aside from the title of the post, a non-inflammatory manner. Non-inflammatory but make no mistake about it, Dash was targeting WordPress.

It appears that Matt Mullenweg didn’t take kindly to the aggressive marketing and a blogosphere pissing match was underway.

I noodled on this for a while thinking about the optics and protocols of directly marketing against a competitor. Generally speaking, leading companies tend to avoid even acknowledging competitors while those a few places back aggressively market against the de facto leader in any given space, but I’m not sure that is what is happening here.

I think the First Law of Marketing Thermodynamics in technology would suggest that the change in company energy is the sum of marketplace momentum and actual customer deployments, which suggests that there is an imperative to take as many customers away from a competitor as acquire new customers who have not yet chosen a platform.

Markets that are young tend to have a big tent approach to competitors, which reflects the fact that growth is easily achieved in hyper-growth macro markets and given the early stage of development you tend to have personal relationships with competitors and operate in close proximity. The blogging market is no longer early, it’s a mature market with a handful of companies who are split between enterprise and consumer markets. Automattic and Six Apart are carbon copies, both offering single and multi-user blogging platforms, a developer ecosystem, and hosted services. Both have a focus on media companies, “new media”, and consumers.

With that in mind, why shouldn’t these companies be marketing against each other? The fact remains that when someone chooses WordPress they are not choosing Movable Type, and vice versa.

The one thing that I would have done differently is to not have someone as senior as Anil Dash blog this but rather launch it as a program. As I was reading it I thought that Anil should remain focused on forward momentum in the market rather than competitive dynamics, and indeed, the exchange ended up being less about the details and more about the personalities involved. Likewise, Mullenweg should have shown some maturity and not resorted to name calling as a competitive response, that just made him look petty to the broader marketplace.