I'm not in the business of...

Twitter is a great place for nuggets of information which are superficially attractive, but don't actually bear serious analysis. The following anecdote just about fits into 140 characters: The great Harvard marketing Prof. Theodore Levitt used...

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Twitter is a great place for nuggets of information which are superficially attractive, but don't actually bear serious analysis.

The following anecdote just about fits into 140 characters:

The great Harvard marketing Prof. Theodore Levitt used to say, "People don't want to buy a half-inch drill. They want a half-inch hole!"

Cool, huh? Great insight.

Let's try applying that logic to guns:

“People don't want to buy a .44 Magnum. They want to buy a .44 inch diameter hole in someone's head. With brains and blood leaking out of it”.

Or fast food:

“People don't want to buy a Supersize Quarterpounder with Cheese, and a large coke. They want to buy a fabulously expansive midriff, of the sort that Orson Welles or Richard Griffiths might be proud of.”

(Incidentally, my reasons for purchasing a Makita HR4511C SDS-Max are nothing to do with holes, but more closely related to the fact that it makes me feel, for a fleeting moment, a bit like Rambo)

And thus, on to the point. Pure-play open source software companies will often say they are not in the software business, and insist that are in the services business.

This is short, and pithy, and sort-of-encapsulates the idea that they derive their revenue from services, as opposed to licensing software. But it does tend to marginalise the importance of the software. Levitt was right, to a point: what you're trying to sell isn't the same as what your revenue streams are. But don't make the mistake of thinking that the bit you aren't selling isn't important.

If I'm obtaining software from a pure open source software company, I won't be paying any licence fees, but I'll be paying for the associated services. That doesn't mean that, from my point of view, I'm not buying software. The software is more important to me than the services. I can make use of the software without the services, but not vice versa.

This comes back to the point of my recent post about French shopkeepers and “entree libre”: to be successful, a business may have to give away an extremely expensive product for free. But it's a mistake to assume that it's not in the business of providing that product.

It may get its revenue stream from elsewhere (services), but what the customer still wants is great software. Soundbites are often misleading.