My day job is at Gravity Forms which directly competes with Awesome Motive products. I have covered WordPress, independently, for over a decade. Recent Awesome Motive criticism has compelled me to write this post. The following words do not represent my current employer, nor have they asked me to publish this.
You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. A quote I’ve cast at Syed Balkhi, founder of Awesome Motive, a handful of times during our podcasts together.
It’s becoming more common to witness a swell of sub-tweets taking aim at Awesome Motive practices, while some blog authors have taken a more direct approach:
- The WordPress Ecosystem Needs Closer Scrutiny
- Is Deceptive Marketing Ruining WordPress’ Reputation?
- This article expires in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 22 seconds
The challenge as I see it: A portion of the WordPress community isn’t happy with the marketing & promotional tactics Awesome Motive uses to sell their products. Sprinkle in the Russel Brunson cancellation funnel, now you’re fixing for a rebellion.
There’s also a palpable unease about the way the company leverages one of their most visble assets, WP Beginner. I mean, let’s be honest, SeedProd is NOT the #1 page builder of choice across the board of general WordPress users.
So, what’s the problem with Awesome Motive?
A different company than your average WordPress product
Putting your bias aside for a moment, Syed’s annual updates are among the most detailed and expansive founder/CEO wrap-ups I follow in the tech industry — with nary a $200,000+ super car in sight.
It doesn’t take long to quickly realize that he and his team are playing on a different field than most. There’s a depth and clarity to his journey that I respect.
With over 200+ employees and 18+ products under their umbrella, the scale of Awesome Motive dwarfs the majority of plugin/theme businesses in our space. Their size can also be attributed to the list of acquisitions they continue to make across the space, including Thrive Themes and WP101 within the first 3 months of 2023.
However, if you compared them to Crunchbase publicly available data of organizations with 100-250 employees, Awesome Motive would get lost at sea with the 2,601 brands of similar size.
AM is a “big company” for WordPress, but not for the real world.
Product placement inside WordPress tutorials
Customers will know what they’re going to get when they buy an Awesome Motive product.
The AM executive team is savvy enough to know they need to move licenses and cross-sell into their existing brands. It’s part of a specific formula to grow the company — full stop.
Customers choose whether to shop at Kohl’s or Louis Vuitton. Clearance sales, Kohls bucks, maybe even sign up for a credit card — you want to save 10% today, don’t ya?
Seeing a limited time discount or nagging banner will be part of the Awesome Motive brand experience, for better or worse. You can spot an Awesome Motive pricing page (and footer) a mile away.
Flash sales, countdown timers, and cancelation funnels don’t bother me all that much. What bothers me most is the product placement cleverly disguised as WordPress tutorial content.
On the surface it’s genius.
As business owners, we wish we had the SEO power of WP Beginner alongside a mountain of content published for more than a decade. This is the way you make money with content in the WordPress space – not publishing news lol…
Affiliate link jokes aside, keyword driven content recommending the top page builders yields an article recommending their own product, without mentioning, it’s their product. I’m not a lawyer, but I assume their FTC Disclosure page covers that grey area for them?
Let’s fast track this discussion.
Good news: Thanks to WP Beginner’s reach, they onboard a ton of new users into the WordPress ecosystem every month.
Bad news: If a how-to tutorial can recommend their product first, chances are, they will. Whether the reader knows it, or not.
A concept, by the way, that is as old as the printing press.
In 1905 Coca-Cola ran their slogan, “Coca-Cola Revives and Sustains.” Followed closely by “The Great National Temperance Beverage” in 1906.
There’s plenty of modern-day examples of how brands leverage media in their favor, too:
1. Red Bulletin – Red Bull’s magazine.
2. Life at Home the Magazine – Ikea’s magazine.
3. Even Airbnb forced a magazine on their hosts!
Without deeper scrutiny, there’s not much that will change Awesome Motive’s approach.
What we need to understand is, they have made a clear choice to pursue these measures.They didn’t find themselves doing these things by accident. The ball is in their court.
I remember joking with Syed on stage at WordCamp Miami that I had a bigger YouTube channel than him, look where that got me…
He’s competitive, like 99.999% of business builders. It’s just a numbers game. With the occasional silver lining, like when he donated wp.org to the WordPress foundation.
Our friends, and Awesome Motive’s brand, are on the line
A common thread in the WordPress community is the desire to keep things small and tight-knit. While you might think this entire article is an apology for Awesome Motive, I believe the stuff we’re upset about is short-sighted in the grand scheme of things.
There’s two major variables on the line: Our friends employed at Awesome Motive and Awesome Motive’s brand.
Lots of our WordPress friends work at Awesome Motive. When we openly criticize business decisions or marketing tactics, we’re also criticizing their work, their livelihood and how they provide for their families. Is that fair to them?
Hold that thought.
If flash sales and cross-sells are annoying, won’t the consumer catch on to AM’s grey-hat pricing practices? Fool them once, sure. Renew a license for full-price in year two? Maybe not so much.
Do the founders seeking an Awesome Motive acquisition feel that Syed & Co. are the best stewards for their product or do they simply want to cash out in a down market?
I haven’t seen an AM executive address these concerns publicly and I take the silence at face value. This is far beyond a pricing and promotion experiment. This is a brand strategy. Brands are delicate, I assume they know this.
AM is executing on a strict playbook required of a bootstrapped 200+ person software organization. Individual product makers have become president’s of their division. Financial forecasts can’t rely on word of mouth marketing alone. Pippin has sailed off into the sunset.
If customers keep buying, founders keep selling, and our peers keep working there – it’s time we move on from the debate. Awesome Motive isn’t the company you want it to be, it’s the company they want it to be.