Linux Promotion in Mall Kiosks

Instead of “install festivals,” distributing Linux CDs in mall and trade shows is a far more effective promotion technique.
Posted September 16, 2008

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

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I have been attending Linux install festivals for years. Always fun, often educational and (in some cases) completely missing the mark of their potential for the people they interact with.

While I believe the organizers of such fests have their hearts in the right place, more often than not I am finding these events cater to those who are merely looking for help getting something to work with the OS.

I see this as limiting. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, rather because there is so much more these same knowledgeable individuals could be doing with the general public.

Why not begin exploring other more public, socially accepted forums for promoting the Linux alternative? Mall kiosks for example. Considering how successful these mobile ventures can be, wouldn’t this be an ideal platform to promote a freely available OS such as Linux to anyone who will listen?

I believe it could work with only one real caveat – this process must be done with sales and support of this OS as a business.

After all, people feel a need to associate their operating system with some designated business or organization, not a faceless community of people who are adept technically. By providing a "face" to the experience, participants will feel comfortable enough with trying the new OS – and do so without the disservice of others putting down the idea of using something other than Windows.

Perhaps even more important, they’ll try an alternative that does not refer to a Windows box as "PC."

Apple is not the only alternative show in town.

When it comes to having an operating system that just "works," Apple's OS X is hardly the only show in town. Today's OEM Linux solutions provide more software out of the box than any other desktop operating system sold today – period.

Even more amazing is the fact that there are more software applications to try and explore than most people realize. And all of them are available to those who are willing to download and try them.

Take that same pitch above, tie in some knowledgeable sales people and a sweet venue with fairly heavy foot traffic, and the results will likely be favorable for you. Right away, you’ll have those passing by asking questions about software availability, using existing applications and perhaps most importantly – how much does it cost in comparison to Windows?

The mall kiosk customer – what to expect.

In my experience, the mall kiosk is a great marketplace where potential customers can stop by to make a new discovery with a product that could very well change the way they look at computers forever.

Considering the financial savings on software, the fact that the user ends up with a PC free from malware –and the entire package is less in cost than a comparable Mac – pre-installed Linux boxes might very well sell themselves.

But not without fully understanding the mindset of the typical mall customer. The likely kiosk customer is generally:

• At the mall to make a purchase, potentially in a buying mood.

• Likely using Windows, possibly open to exploring OS alternatives.

• Open to being impressed with overall value, not clever marketing gimmicks.

Possible approach to initiating an OS switch with a typical mall customer:

• Give away a CD with your preferred distribution ready to roll. So long as you make it clear that laptop wireless is "hit or miss" with made-for-Windows equipment, you might see individuals contacting you for an OS installation or PC purchase.

• Ensure the mall buyer is told why they should care immediately as you have only seconds to capture their attention. Signs such as "Zero computer viruses" and "Microsoft Office alternative for free" are good places to start from as well. Remember, it’s not how it benefits you, rather how Linux benefits the end user you are speaking with.

• Brutal honesty. Regardless whether you represent a for-profit or non-profit club working to promote Linux, you need to be totally frank when asked the tough questions. The truth about support for select all-in-ones and wireless devices must be made clear in conversation. After the brutal honesty, provide a simple solution, such as compatible USB wireless dongles.

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Tags: Linux, Windows, Microsoft, wireless, OS X

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