How to Choose the Right Brand Architecture for Your Open Source Project

Most people who start an open source software project aren’t sitting around waiting for someone to discuss brand architecture models with them, but many of them do have long term goals for their project that include eventually seeing it becoming a paid product or even the basis of a company built around servicing and supporting the project code.

So, it never hurts to begin thinking early about the brand strategy you might want to apply down the road when your baby grows up. Hopefully you’ve already chosen a project name you can protect. This is the first step to setting up your project for future success.

Another important step is to understand the common brand architecture models open source organizations consider for project, product, and company brands, and the benefits and drawbacks of different approaches. In our work at New Kind, we’ve advised many open source companies over the years and can tell you from experience that there is no perfect branding model for every project.

Every model we’ve seen has benefits and drawbacks, and understanding these pros and cons is the key to making a good decision about which model fits your situation best.

As you begin thinking about the future relationship between a project, product, and company brand, here are some of the most important questions to consider:

Below are three of the most common brand architecture scenarios I’ve seen that address these questions and more, along with my interpretation of the pros and cons of each approach from a brand perspective.

I’d point out up front that the brand perspective is only one piece of the puzzle here, and I invite folks to weigh in using the comments below with additional considerations that should be kept in mind with each of these scenarios. Also note that I’ve greatly simplified things here into three basic brand architecture options. In the real world, every situation is a slightly different snowflake, and there are many more possible scenarios than I could cover in one blog post.

Scenario 1: Same Brand for Project, Product, and Company

In this scenario, the open source project shares a single brand with a commercial product and a company. In many cases, the product may have a descriptive modifier to separate the paid product from the free community project. There may also be a modifier for the company brand or the open source project brand, but the core brand at the center stays the same across all three.


Company name: NGINX
Example product name: NGINX Plus
Project name: NGINX

Company name: Puppet Labs
Example product name: Puppet Enterprise
Project name: Open Source Puppet

Benefits of this Approach

Drawbacks of this Approach

Scenario 2: Same Brand for Product and Company, Different Brand for Project

In this scenario, the project brand is different, but the corporate brand and the product brand are the same. In some cases, the company/product brand may somehow reference the project brand to make a subtle (or not so subtle) association, visually using the logo, or through the name itself.


Company name: HortonWorks
Example product name: HortonWorks Data Platform
Project name: Hadoop

Company name: Datastax
Example product name: Datastax Enterprise
Project name: Cassandra

Benefits of this Approach

Drawbacks of this Approach

Scenario 3: Same Brand for Project and Product, Different Brand for Company

In this scenario, the company has a brand that is different than both the product and the project.


Company name: Canonical
Example product name: Ubuntu Advantage
Project name: Ubuntu

Company name: Continuum Analytics
Example product name: Anaconda Pro
Project name: Anaconda

Benefits of this Approach

Drawbacks of this Approach

To Broadly Generalize a Few Conclusions

As I mentioned earlier, these basic brand architecture strategies only scratch the surface. But hopefully this explanation begins to clarify some of the things you should be thinking about as you look down the road and consider a future brand architecture for your growing open source project.

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