As a response to the "Call for blog posts" asking for community feedback regarding Ember's priorities for 2018, here comes my personal take on it.
So as a developer I am certainly always passionate about all things tech, and there have been many good blog posts published already focusing on the "product" itself, with most if not all I fully agree. But as a co-owner of a small business, I also know that being good in your area of expertise is not enough, you also have to find a way to tell the world about it. And unfortunately I think we, the Ember community, are not always very good at it.
So here are some random thoughts. Certainly this is far from a being a complete analysis, and most is based on personal opinions and feelings, no scientifically validated data has been involved anywhere. So take everything here with a grain of salt! 😎
- The marketing part of the project is rather neglected, at least that's
what it seems to be. For example, I can't recall when was the last time the homepage on emberjs.com
was substantially updated. But on the good side, I have seen some great discussions and think pieces lately, on Twitter
#wb-marketingSlack channel, some of them I will link to further below.
- While there is still a high level of activity inside the project on various parts, it seems we are operating inside a bubble, and the outside world does not really take much notice of it. Some examples: "Is Ember dying?", "Ember is in trouble. Everyone has heard of it, almost nobody is using it."
- We have nothing like a brand guide, at least no published one (yet?). And that's not just about defining how your logo looks like. Much more important is clearly defining the brand identity and its values. Sam Selikoff did a nice job laying out a first think piece recently.
- The homepage looks a bit outdated and does not a very compelling job at selling Ember to new users, IMHO. This needs to change. Ryan Toronto did an excellent job recently, disecting it here.
- Ember has a core team and subteams (CLI, data, learning), but no for marketing. But I think it deserves one.
Overall it seems people start to care more about marketing, however these efforts need more depth, consolidation and someone to take responsibility to turn ideas into actionable plans. Far too often some ideas generate some good amount of interest and discussions, just to fade away later when the momentum is lost.
Thinking of Ember as a brand
Everything is a brand, Ember as well. But as stated above, it lacks a clear definition of its identity and values. And we have to define its key target groups, and find a way to communicate to them according to their needs and expectations.
If asked what Ember's key audiences are, I would define them as follows:
- The existing community of Ember developers
- Any developers with experience with the broader JS ecosystem, but no Ember
- New (junior) developers just entering the world of JS and frontend
- Technical management (CTOs, Tech Leads, PMs etc.)
I think the Ember community is great, and that's probably not because we do a bad job caring about our first target group. But I am not so sure the same holds true for the other three. And these are the ones deciding about future community growth or stagnation.
Some guiding principles that I feel are important when thinking about Ember's marketing and branding:
- Focus on target groups 2 - 4 for future growth
- Always question the status quo. It's easy to fall into a trap thinking everything is just fine what we do. We built our little bubble, and from inside the bubble you don't receive much criticism. The principle of an echo chamber. But rather we need to step out, leave our comfort zone and try to take an outside view on things.
- And for that we have to enjoy getting challenged. A while ago the blog post "Why Ember is fading away" by Jorge Lainfiesta received some mixed feedback. While I don't agree with everything, I nevertheless found it very valuable, in that it voiced some (not too harsh) criticism and challenged us. I enjoyed that more than just another post reaffirming how great we are doing. We have to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable.
- There is a saying in German that goes like "Der Wurm muss dem Fisch schmecken, nicht dem Angler". Which means something like "The worm has to taste good to the fish, not the fisherman". There is probably some better equivalent in English than my clumsy translation. Anyway, this is still important, especially when targeting our audiences 2 to 4: our own views and opinions (as we are inside the bubble) are less relevant than those of our actual target group. So let's care about them. And not just assume how they think, ask them!
- Technical arguments don't always win. Sales works differently most of the times. We need to tell a story. We need to address feelings and emotions. We need to care about subtle, unconscious communication. These are real things. Just because we as developers tend to rationalize things, these irrational things are not less real. Often times the decision process of humans does not work like you collect all arguments (pros and cons), evaluate them and then form a decision based upon them. Instead through some initial (conscious of unconscious) bias or prejudice, you already made up your opinion, and then pick and choose the arguments that support it. That's why the first impressions matter so much!
Call to action
Some examples of actionable steps come to my mind:
Create a Brand Guide, that defines its identity, values and visual guidelines. The recently launched Go Brand Book can serve as a good example.
Improve the website:
- The homepage's main (only?) concern should be selling the real USPs of Ember, and as such be aligned with the conclusions of the brand guide.
- Add a Features (or Why Ember) page, going into more detail.
- Customer stories: We see some big name companies using Ember, but except for LinkedIn (which employs a bunch of core team members) many of them don't contribute code back to the Open Source project, as far as I can tell. Most of the addons are created and maintained by individuals and small companies like mine and many others. But there are more ways to contribute than just by code. So if there are reasons why the big enterprises dont't give back code-wise, they have something different to give: their brand. A customer story, showing why and how they use Ember, will probably not violate their internal policies, but make other users more confident in betting on Ember.
The Tomster: ok, you are probably not going to like this. To make it clear, I personally don't dislike him (and her, in the case of Zoey), but I also don't depend on them, emotionally or in any other way. In fact I always had a gut feeling that they might do us more harm than good. A quick search yielded some results into that direction here, here and here (which is certainly not enough to approve the hypothesis).
But if we find out that they don't work out the way it was intended, we should not stick to them just because we like them. After all they certainly are not part of the brand identity (do you want people to think of Ember as the project with the hamster?). Maybe a projection of it, at best. So I would suggest doing some more thorough research around the perception of our mascots, in terms of how exactly they reflect on the brand. Especially (exclusively?) in the view of our target groups 2 and 4, not in our own view! If the conclusion is they are perceived positively, I would be more than happy about it. But if the opposite is true, I would not hesitate to remove them, or at least reduce their usage considerably.
If you oppose this by saying that the Ember community really likes them, I probably won't contradict. But I would tell you again the story about the worm, that I mentioned above. Our own (target group 1) opinions don't really matter here, as we are (hopefully) already sold on Ember. But we need to sell it to others, who might feel differently.
And if you tell me, that you should not assess a framework based on its mascot, I will tell you again that's not how it works. If the first impression was that of being unprofessional, you will be under much more intensive focus in that regard, for every other (real) aspect of the framework's evaluation. And be prepared to always have to fight that first impression.
There is huge potential for growth targeting JS newbies (our audience #3), but that deserves its own blog post. Just two thoughts: We should try to lower the barrier of entry. Ember seems to feel overwhelming for beginners, and trough better guides and tutorials targeting especially those users (like don't just assume everybody knows what
npm installmeans), and other efforts to reduce the conceptual complexity for beginners, as for example Chris Garret laid out in Ember as a Component-Service Framework. And we should try to go where the users already are. Vue.js has had great success with their integration with the Laravel PHP framework. Why shouldn't we be able to learn from their successes?
Form and install a marketing team!
To bring this rant to an end: as I wrote I do see the marketing part as a rather neglected discipline in the mix to make Ember stand against its competitors (and even if "competing" open source projects can and should cooperate and cross-pollinate, we are still in competition in a certain way). But the good thing is that means there is also ground for improvement. And we as a community are certainly able to overcome this and improve the situation. I for myself remain commited to the cause, and as I try to contribute to the project on a regular basis (often more than my family or my own well-being would suggest), I am certainly willing to take responsibility as far as I can!
P.S.: after having written most of this blog post, V. Lascik wrote another piece titled Honest look at Ember in the middle of 2018, which - among many other topics - shares some of the thoughts here. If you haven't read it yet, I suggest you do so now!