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Linux Radio Ads a Success, Not a Failure

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Ken Starks reported on his experiment with running Linux ads on the Kim Kommando radio show in Austin, Texas. Ken sounds a bit discouraged, but he shouldn't be-- it was a success and it proves that advertising Linux works. Let's take a closer look at what happened, and what the goals of any advertising campaign should be.

First of all, I love the audacity of advertising Linux on the Windows-happy Kim Komando radio program. Kim is all about Windows, with a smidgen of Mac and lots of consumer electronics. But it was the perfect program to run a Linux ad campaign on, because Ms. Komando is really about doing things with tech-- sharing photos, connecting with family and friends, mobile devices, music, shopping, movies, job hunting, blogging, and everything else under the sun. What a great under-served audience to target.

Ken first created a high-quality professional 60-second spot, and then generously released it into the world for anyone to modify and use. Then he had funds for a two-week campaign, with these results:

  • 179 phone calls
  • 63 emails
  • 4 personal visits

Ken my friend, that is what we call "a roaring success." The primary goal of any ad campaign is to get people to talk to you. Forget all that marketing-mush about "building brand awareness" and other silly excuses for non-performing ad campaigns. You want people to pick up the phone and call you. Or email, or walk in the door. However they want to contact you, don't get fussy-- welcome them with a big smile and be happy they're coming to you.

Allow me to repeat myself-- the goal of an ad campaign is to get people to contact you. What you do after that is what either turns them into paying customers, or into walkaways.

Noob Floods

What do you do when you get a flood of inquiries? How do you turn those inquiries into paying customers? Not responding to inquiries is a great way to ensure that potential customers will never bother you again, so you need a plan and resources to handle these. But dealing with large numbers of unsophisticated computer users is a lot of work. Ken found out that a large number of callers needed more education than a radio commercial or single phone conversation could provide; they didn't understand what Linux was, and weren't very tech-savvy at all. That is going to be a fact of life for Linux consultants for a long time, so we might as well figure out some strategies for dealing with it.

One thing I have done with good success is to teach classes. The key to making them work is to teach a specific task-- I taught basic digital photo editing and management, how to sell things on Ebay and Craigslist, and email composition for business people. Get people's hands on Linux PCs and teach a specific skill. Then there is a natural entry into some of the reasons for using Linux, showing them more things they can do, and they see for themselves that it works and isn't all weird. And you make some money.

So maybe a good way to handle an influx of noobs from a general Linux ad campaign is to steer them to a free 30-minute introductory class. Real-life in-person meatspace contact is great for a local business; good small-businesspeople know that they're really selling themselves. Another thought is to film a ten-minute introductory presentation for YouTube and steer them to that. (Remember, my beloved but oft long-winded geek friends, shorter is better.) Show, don't tell; demonstrate common tasks and show what it looks like.

There should also be a static page with photos and transcript. Spend a few bucks printing up some postcards with short blurbs and the URLs; paper mail is still a fabulous way to reach people. If they're not willing to look at any of those, they're probably not serious candidates and you know to steer your energies elsewhere.

Think about the whole picture-- what does a person need besides knowledge to run a Linux PC? Partnering with an OEM Linux vendor means hardware support and a place to shop, and if it's a local shop so much the better.


The most important skill to develop is listening. The stereotype saleperson wears unwilling buyers down with words and persistence. That's a counter-productive tactic, and most of us can't do it anyway. (Good for us.) Either Linux can do what your potential customer needs it to do, or it can't. You won't know without listening to them. Get people talking about their needs and wants, and they will tell you exactly what you need to know to best serve their needs.

A big thanks to Ken Starks for once again putting his money where his mouth is, and generously sharing the fruits of his labors. And a big rude noise to those titans of industry who profit handsomely from Linux, but can't be bothered to promote it in any way. The Linux "brand" is valuable and has many important differentiators; it's all in how it's presented.

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