Thursday, October 29, 2009

Atlassian - if I could critique for a moment

Yesterday, I went to the fantastic Open House at Atlassian (feature pictures are owner-entrepreneurs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, both 29).

Atlassian are an amazing growth story. And recently, they have been making waves in the recruitment industry, by taking a firm approach with recruiters, and a word-of-mouth campaign to influence software developers to head their way.

There's no denying this is a very very smart company. Product-wise, culture-wise and peer-wise, it's up there with Google. But it's a very interesting time for Atlassian, since it's starting to reach that size where it stands the risk of losing its close-knit feel. It's gone from one garage to a series of 'international garages'. It's owners are young, innovative and driven, and they're refreshingly informal in communicating what they value.

But, even though this potentially-stellar business is recruiting an extremely sought-after group of people with a $4.5million investment, the one thing they don't seem to have is an advertising strategy.

A glimpse of the future? I for one, hope not.

You see, Google doesn't really appear to have a particularly strong or noticeable recruitment advertising strategy either. But then, they're the seventh biggest brand in the world right now and everyone knows that the hurdles are high to get there - because it's seemingly the best place to work, learn and develop.

(That's not to say that all views about Google are accurate - I'm sure there are many misconceptions out there. But right now those perceptions are not enough to stop Google attracting the best of the best.)

Atlassian are not necessarily wrong in their strategy: it's clearly a choice they've made, a channel they've chosen to avoid, and it may pay-off. I hear they've already attracted a high level of talent, somewhere in the region of 600 shortlisted candidates*, simply by this approach informing people of their benefits, values and culture. Good on 'em I say - much better than the 'post and pray' approach of so many others.

*Please correct me if wrong.

But by not having a clear advertising strategy, they are still only promoting words on a page, as surely as if they tried to sell me a Mars bar by saying it's smooth, chocolatey and sweet. Sure, those are benefits. But that's not enough to give me the impetus to buy it, even less to buy it when a Snickers has nuts in it, and, well I prefer smooth, chocolatey, sweet and nuts.

I digress, but only slightly. What Atlassian appear to be missing is an central 'idea' which leads to a certain ideal set of attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately, behaviours. One thing Google has going for it is a powerful brand identity which is a powerful tool for their recruitment. Ultimately, Atlassian should be aiming to create something similar - when I think of their name, I shouldn't simply be able to list some facts like 'one week's paid holiday before starting'.

Atlassian needs to be assoicated with positive experiences. When I think of Atlassian, I want to feel something about them.

Let's say someone already works at Google (potentially the 'ideal candidate'). What is it about Atlassian that makes them want to leave Google and join them (since surely that must be the aim)? What conscious or sub-conscious drivers tie them so strongly to Atlassian that they'll throw their hat in the ring?

Sure, there are perks at Atlassian. But will the ideal candidate buy the Mars bar, or will they stick with the Snickers because it's got nuts in it?

Once the newspaper has been binned and the last beers from the Open House are drunk, where's the one cruicial touchpoint that acts as a consistent reinforcement of the main messages - a strong employer brand and advertising strategy?


  1. I think Atlassian attracts those that can't/don't get into Google :) It's like second best, Google's in a whole other league.

  2. I'd pick Atlassian over Google any day.

    I don't think you have any clue when you say they don't have a brand. Have you cared to look?

  3. Well it's not a strategy but the Atlassian YouTube clip about the Atlassian Values is pretty decent for what I suspect is a home crafted effort. You can check it out at

  4. Anonymous - why would you pick Atlassian over Google?

  5. Thanks Anne, Ross and Anonymous for your comments.

    From what I heard from a few of the developers I spoke to at the Open House, it is very difficult to coax the planet-sized-brains from the likes of Google to Atlassian.

    There may be some mileage in the idea of the underdog, playing against Google's size and percieved bureacracy.

    Anonymous - you're confusing your terminology here: every organisation has a brand whether they like it or not. What I am highlighting is that Atlassian are choosing to relinquish control of that brand; they are not actively managing/controlling it through tradittional creative/advertising strategies.

  6. I think you are confusing 'not having a brand' with 'not choosing to pay mainstream media to promote the brand'.

    As your job is working for an ad agency, I can see that you may be more familiar the process of promoting a brand than creating one.

    Like our customer base, we have grown our staff by word of mouth. We are known internationally as one of the best places for tech staff to work in Sydney.

  7. Thanks for your comments Scott.

    For the record, I don't think there are many points of difference here, except in terminology.

    I do not claim Atlassian do not have a brand; it exists in the minds of those who have dealings with you. And as an advertising exec who chases results, I have no love of mainstream media.

    By all accounts, Atlassian has a strong brand in some ways, and contains many employees willing to share positive experiences.

    However, what I think is worthy of note is that Atlassian have seemingly left out one of the many touchpoints that will aid you in your marketing strategy.

    What I am interested in, and perhaps you would be willing to follow up at a later date, in how effectively you find your approach bridges the gap between perception and reality, particularly when it comes to attracing the high calibre and rare people you are after.


Say what you like - honest - but don't be abusive hey, I'm not pretending to know it all.