Today's digital marketers use an ever-increasing amount of software to plan, organize, execute, measure, and report on marketing campaigns.
Marketers often refer to the various software they use as the "marketing stack." In many cases, that software is proprietary.
There are several very good reasons why marketers should consider building out their marketing stack on open source software. One is that there's an excellent range of open source software they can choose from; here are three others.
Protecting your and your users' data
Marketing has become increasingly data-driven. That means that marketers spend more and more effort collecting data on their audiences. When you are using proprietary, cloud-based, analytical services such as Google Analytics or Mixpanel, the data is stored on someone else's servers, often in another country.
While you might exercise due diligence in maintaining the security of their data, you can't always prevent negligence on the part of your vendor. It makes sense to consider an open source, self-hosted solution for your data, particularly in light of strict requirements on retention of user data imposed by countries in the European Union.
Avoiding conflicts of interests
In online marketing, Google has become the dominant player. Many companies manage their ad spend on Google AdWords, measure the results of those campaigns in Google Analytics, and report on those results in Google Sheets. More advanced marketers may even model how they evaluate campaigns using Google Attribution.
It's not hard to see how having one company own all your data isn't a great way to protect against conflicts of interests.
Preventing the black box problem
Marketing technology is increasingly complicated and intertwined, as marketers seek to track users across devices and channels. When something goes wrong and you want to debug the problem, you have to rely on your vendor to help you out.
Open source software provides the transparency to let you see right into what's going on and even create your own custom solution if you're not happy with the standard one.
7 open source alternatives for common marketing software
I've worked as a marketer at companies that put an emphasis on using as much open source software as possible, so I've had the opportunity to test out a large range of open source alternatives. Here are some that I recommend you check out.
Piwik is an open source web analytics platform that started in 2007. As of 2017, more than 1 million websites worldwide use it, making it a clear alternative to Google Analytics. It enables you to gather and analyze data, such as visits, goal conversions, and traffic sources. It also includes real-time reports, so you can see exactly when you get a sudden surge of traffic. There are also a wide range of plugins you can use to integrate with platforms such as WordPress or the Magento e-commerce platform.
Marketers spend a lot of time writing, editing, and reviewing copy generated for content marketing. In addition, the results of marketing campaigns are typically analyzed using spreadsheet software.
OpenOffice offers a powerful package combining word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. LibreOffice is another good option. Because they use open standards, if you share your files with others, they can open them with a variety of different software, including Microsoft Office.
Sharing reports and article drafts via email with colleagues quickly gets old and confusing (especially if there are multiple versions flying around), so you need a solution to share files effectively.
Nextcloud provides a remarkably well-designed way to access your files wherever you are. It's more than just a way to share files with your colleagues. You can also manage your calendar, make secure audio and video calls, and even collaboratively edit documents using a LibreOffice-based, online office suite.
A typical business sends quite a few types of emails: newsletters, promotional emails, order confirmations, password resets, and more. In the past, the complexity of maintaining an email server and ensuring a decent level of email deliverability meant that most businesses used a third-party email service.
Mail-in-a-Box lets you become your own email service provider without having to become an email deliverability expert in the process. You'll keep control of your email server, and you won't have to route emails through a third party.
The markdown markup language makes it easy to write formatted text once and publish it everywhere. You can write a blog post in any of the myriad editors that support markdown, share it with others, publish it as a blog post, and export it again.
It really streamlines the process of writing, editing, and publication, because you don't risk introducing typos when you need to convert Word docs to HTML or vice versa, and you keep the content and presentation separate from each.
HackMD is a great, collaborative markdown editor that runs in the browser. That means you can work together on an idea with your colleagues, no matter where they are located. You can try it out on the hosted site, or you can host your own version.
The programming language R
It's not an application, but R is a very powerful programming language that's tailored to statistical analysis of data. I've used it for analyzing pricing for cloud software. It's also great for generating good-looking charts based on data from marketing campaigns. Python is another language that data-driven marketers like for analyzing data.
It's hard to talk about open source marketing software without mentioning WordPress. It's grown from a blogging platform to a powerful and highly extensible content management system.
One of the great advantages of WordPress is the truly immense library of plugins available that can turn it into anything from an e-commerce site to a learning management system. Marketing teams can use plugins to implement systems without needing a large amount of development work.
Build your open source marketing stack
Thanks to these open source projects (and many others), it's possible to build an entire marketing stack based only on open source software. You'll reap the benefits of keeping your data safe, improving compatibility (due to open standards), and being able to focus more on serving your market.
Storing data in open formats and systems also gives you an edge for the future, because it makes it easier to upgrade to the latest, cutting-edge technology, compared to storing data in a proprietary format that could keep you locked into a legacy vendor.
Do you use open source software in your marketing stack? If so, please post your favorites in the comments.