Last week, Wix engaged in some “guerilla marketing” by sending a number of prominent influencers some very nice Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and a link to a bizarre “secret” site with a “parody” video of a fictitious communique from “WordPress” to their users. Apparently there is another Wix vs. WP video out there – not linked on that site, but has generated some negative backlash itself.

This represents something of an escalating tit-for-tat between Automattic and Wix, where Matt Mullenweg accused Wix of stealing some GPL code for their mobile app in 2016.

Tom Wentworth, a CMO who spent many a year in content management – and no stranger to using his elbows when competing in this space, wrote simply (and accurately):

I’d like to talk about why this is terribly executed – because it’s pretty embarrassing on multiple levels.

The campaign seems to have no idea what it is actually trying to accomplish.

There are three elements to this campaign; reaching out to influencers, the “secret” website, and the videos.

How does this move the needle for Wix’s corporate goals? Apparently Wix is trying to get more into eCommerce and competing harder with Shopify, so the strategy of trying to influence bloggers… who… don’t… have… commerce… applications is a little strange. Certainly, companies can compete on multiple fronts, but you really shouldn’t market on multiple tactical fronts. Buyers are confused – is Wix trying to compete with Shopify, WordPress, both? others? who knows… as a vendor, you get to control this narrative and they seem to be taking a scattershot approach.

As for the secret website and video, there is not a single word about what Wix does better than WordPress. The only “complaint” seems to be related to the fact that WordPress has lots of users. Um, yeah, every vendor wants lots of users – including Wix. So there really isn’t a compelling switching moment to speak of.

Lastly, WordPress is also known as the tool of choice for “advanced” bloggers (people without tech skills may go for something like Medium or Substack). By targeting influencers – exactly the type of customer WordPress is most suited towards, they are targeting WordPress for this audience on a point of strength in their platform, not weakness.

In summary, there are multiple mismatches in their strategy. It’s unclear what this will accomplish, beyond “thanks for the headphones, suckers”. If you are going to target a community like that, you’ve got to be addressing really specific pains and ensure that all the elements are working together in a cohesive whole – understanding the audience, their pain, how to solve it, and lastly – what they can then do for you in furthering the viral campaign.

How brands behave

I’ve been working for Content Management vendors for quite some time – enough that I know a few things about how to properly engage an audience around a competitive position. The sniping between vendors is common and expected – see these examples: Why choose Sitecore: Acquia vs Sitecore and Acquia vs. Sitecore: Why Open Makes All the Difference. It is absolutely fair game to go after market share, but there are a few rules about what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t punch down. This one should be obvious. Yes, brands of a certain size get to snipe at each other. But a larger brand mocking a smaller brand looks like bullying. In this case, both Wix and Automattic are multi-billion dollar enterprises, so it doesn’t apply here… but…

Punching up has its own risks. Let’s face it. Some brands are pretty beloved. Those brands that have very active communities and are known for supporting initiatives such as a commitment to open-source. It’s one thing to mock Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, particularly where there is no love lost between a company and its customers. But its another thing entirely to attack brands that are supported by communities of individuals, either as open-source contributors, users of free software or agencies who have built businesses on that platform. They tend to take these things personally, and not only won’t be receptive to your pitch, will probably generate backlash.

Hijacking others events is embarrassing. I’ve seen a few examples of vendors showing up next door to in-person events hosted by a competitor. They think they are being sneaky and subversive by trying to piggyback of that captive audience. In reality it seems sad because they are not hosting an event of their own.

But sometimes it works. Evergage once crashed Adobe’s annual digital marketing event – and while their message failed to go viral, it possibly accomplished the goal of getting the Boston-based company into the viewfinder of Salesforce, who acquired them a few years later. But ultimately, I assume this stunt worked better for courting suitors than it did for actually winning over Adobe customers – who, by virtue of attending that event in person, are probably pretty happy with that solution and vendor. The reality is this: customers who want to churn probably don’t lay out big money to attend those vendor events in person.

Any message has to be done through the view of the customer. In this case, there seems to be no higher understanding of WordPress customers, concerns, goals or pain points. B2C brands get to be “snarky” and “quirky” – particularly in commodity markets. (The Wendy’s Twitter account is a good example of this) – but any B2B sell needs to be be based on differentiated value.

Conclusions

Ultimately, marketers need to remember this – the purpose of marketing isn’t to “win” a battle of the marketing messages against a competitor, it’s to convince someone to use your product and ultimately enter into a business relationship. If that relationship is based upon sleazy tactics rather than trust and a clearly communicated desire to understand customer needs and articulate how you meet those needs, it will fail in the end.

As Tom said, this was a “terrible idea, terribly executed” since it was missing some of the key basic elements of any marketing campaign. I suppose there is a school of thought that says “any attention is good attention” and even this blog post may be evidence of that, but my opinion of Wix as a vendor has absolutely dropped a couple degrees and I suspect this is also true for many customers and agencies.


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