Zorin OS has rather quietly become a success story in the desktop Linux space. But what ingredients led to that success? What is developer Zorin Group doing to attract the right kind of attention and press coverage?
I don’t envy any individual or small organization that has to market a Linux distribution (or a FOSS project, or an indie game). There are currently hundreds of Linux distros in active development. 72 of those employ the GNOME desktop environment, and 77 use KDE. There are 51 Linux distributions based on Ubuntu. And Searching Google with the phrase “Linux distro for beginners” returns an astounding 9 million results.
If you think it’s challenging for new Linux users to make the right choice, imagine how challenging it is for Linux distro teams trying to be the chosen ones.
Linux Marketing (Typically) Sucks
Marketing is an art form that requires consistency, finesse, and financial resources. But time after time, year after year, I’ve watched smaller independent teams struggle to find the balance between doing outreach, building a great OS, squashing bugs, managing a community, maintaining a website, and so much more.
Can you blame them? I certainly can’t. Time and money aren’t easy to come by.
While I’m not here to give some Masterclass in marketing, I do want to share a series of success stories. More specifically, I want to call out what has impressed me, as someone regularly creating content about Linux. Someone, admittedly, with limited time. Just like the rest of the journalists or podcasters, or video producers out there.
What style of communication convinces me to write about a certain distro? Is there a certain type of coverage opportunity that makes the biggest impact? What can distros do to make it easier for the press to cover their project?
I’m writing this series from the unique perspective of a tech journalist (I wrote full-time at Forbes for 8 years). But also as someone who’s been on the other side: I was a Senior Technical Marketing Specialist at AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group.
Success Story #1: Zorin OS
I first covered Zorin OS in 2019 at Forbes. That article (click warning: lots of ads) garnered nearly 200,000 views and played a role in the increased mindshare surrounding the distribution. But of all the things I could have devoted my time to, why Zorin OS?
Well, to begin with: because Zorin OS co-founder Artyom Zorin sent me an email.
Do you want coverage? It never hurts to ask. Reach out and establish a dialogue. Start a relationship. That’s the initial step. And avoid the generic, boilerplate message.
Get to know the content creator. Where do they write? What recent videos have they published? Do you have feedback about that? If you watched it and enjoyed it, say why. Dig a bit through their social media and find out what their daily driver is. What they’re passionate about.
For the past two years, Zorin has continued that relationship with personalized messages and ongoing coverage opportunities. And with gratitude for the last video or article. It’s nice to have that acknowledged!
Zorin also does something critically important to me: he respects my time. Whenever a major version of Zorin OS is planned for release, I’ll get a private beta 3 or 4 days in advance. It’s just enough time to install it and work up some impressions without feeling rushed.
Crucially, Artyom is responsive when asked follow-up questions. Whether it’s providing a direct quote to use, or just giving some background information, I’ll get a useful answer.
One Sentence Made The Difference
But it wasn’t just that initial email that impressed me. What sealed the deal — what prompted me to immediately install it for a test drive — was the Zorin OS website. It was this section of the homepage:
Folks, that is a powerful and impactful sentence. Imagine I’m a Linux novice hunting for a distro to use, and I see these clean screenshots. And they resemble a desktop appearance I’m already comfortable with. Then I see that brilliant, bolded line? I think my search is over.
Let me illustrate this another way.
Ubuntu is a popular, well-established distro. It’s frequently recommended to beginners. But if you’re an average everyday PC user looking to migrate from Windows or macOS (or even just add Linux to the mix), which of these websites would inspire you more?
I’m not here for a debate about which Linux OS new users should try. Nor am I trying to shame or devalue Ubuntu, which has made substantial contributions to the desktop Linux ecosystem.
I am here to say that Zorin OS does a substantially better job marketing to desktop users than Ubuntu does.
The underlying point is that Zorin OS has a razor-sharp focus with its messaging! You can’t browse any portion of its website without that being crystal clear.
Look at this:
Visual Messaging Matters, Too!
The Zorin OS team extends the messaging beyond just words, however.
A perfect example of that is the recent release of Zorin OS 16 Lite, a version designed for older computers. It uses a beautified version of the Xfce desktop environment and has various tweaks under the hood to reduce its resource usage. Does the average user need to know that? Not really!
Instead, the top of the page says this:
Straight to the point.
Simple. Direct. Understandable.
But just in case, here’s the visual that sits beneath that explanation:
Utilizing that image of a chunky old-school monitor is smart and instantly conveys the intended message. It’s also relatable to anyone who might have an old PC like that. Perhaps one that refuses to run a modern version of Windows.
Once again, critical and valuable information is conveyed quickly through both words and visuals. Before the user even scrolls down the page!
Random aside: I find it fascinating that the word “Linux” isn’t frequently used on their website. At least, not above the fold where first impressions are concerned.
OK, Let’s Recap!
The team at Zorin OS has a great product. For proof of that, look no further than the fact that Zorin OS 16 has reached 1 million downloads within 4 months of release. But you already know that merely creating a quality product isn’t enough in a world where everything is short on time and driven by short attention spans.
Where the Zorin OS team succeeds is in quickly showing precisely what Zorin OS is. They do it with convincing words and strong visuals. And they do it by establishing personal relationships with the journalists, content creators, and influencers who are in a position to show their product to a very engaged group of fans and followers.
One more thing I can’t emphasize enough: the Zorin OS team respects the time of both their press partners and their potential new users. Clear, concise, persuasive communication across the board.
I’ve got more success stories to highlight, so stay tuned! In the next article, we’ll hear directly from Danielle Foré and Cassidy James Blaede of elementary OS!