Panda Beefs Up Marketing With Free, Improved Antivirus Launch


Executives say the hope is that the improved performance and accuracy of the free antivirus product, known as Panda Cloud Antivirus, will generate enough buzz to inspire users to upgrade to one of Panda's business products, such as SMB-focused Panda Cloud Internet Protection, which it launched in April.

"Panda in my opinion has some of the best products in the market," said Rick Carlson, Panda president of U.S. operations. "What Panda's problem has been, in the U.S. we've been a very, very small player."

The "free" first strategy has been successfully executed with other vendors. Most notably Microsoft launched its Microsoft Security Essentials free antivirus product last year after it phased out OneCare.

Thus far, Panda has more free users than paid, totaling around 10 million worldwide, Carlson said. In the past, conversion rates happen slowly, but they do happen, he said -- usually about two to four percent of Panda adopters will eventually upgrade to a paid product or migrate to a business product after hearing about the company from its free offerings.

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"The individual benefit to Panda is we now have well more than double the number of users who have installed and tried Panda. It turns out, these happen to be the early adopters. They're becoming informed about what it is we're doing and what Panda represents in the marketplace," Carlson said.

Another goal is to give competitors like Symantec and McAfee a run for their money in the antivirus space with a good quality, cloud-based, antivirus product, executives said.

Executives acknowledged that there will always be a substantial majority who never upgrade and continue to take advantage of the free product. But right now it's about creating a recognizable name in the U.S., Carlson said.

"I think what we're seeing is a substantial increase in brand awareness. Pandas focusing and putting money behind distribution and making sure people are using this product," he said.

Carlson, a former executive at AVG, said that AVG's "free antivirus" strategy helped propel that company's U.S. market awareness to one of the most recognized brands in the industry.

"AVG is known as the third or fourth most recognized (security) brand in the U.S. If we can create this kind of brand awareness, it's going to make a reseller's job quite a bit easier," he said. "Now they're much more likely to say 'Panda, I use that at home and am open to that conversation.' Now that conversation doesn't start with "who's Panda?' That's really what it's about."

And Panda channel partner Hugo Uyttenhove, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based IT Sentry, said that he had gotten his foot in the door of end user customers by recommending the free version. The upgraded free antivirus product could give both Panda and his business a leg up in targeting end user customers, he said.

"Now they have suddenly something that is not going to be detrimental to the functionality of their PC," Uyttenhove said. "I know that it's in the millions that (Panda) has been able to sign up Panda Cloud for free. The reaction from our resellers is that (that awareness is) transferable."

And every little bit helps. Channel partners said that, historically, Panda's marketing and branding strategies have been strongly lacking, especially in U.S. markets.

"They had none. They basically had none whatsoever," said Roy Miehe, CEO of Campbell, Calif.-based AAAntivirus. "(Free antivirus is) one way of marketing. Who knows? It may work. Maybe Panda, if they rev all the free stuff, maybe they'll go somewhere else."

Uyttenhove said that the company was "arriving high on the performance rather than marketing."

"In the beginning it was a bit of a struggle because (Panda) was virtually unknown," he said. "We ping this as the next good move that they're doing."

Miehe, however, said that in the past, Panda's cloud servers had trouble supporting the influx of traffic from the exponential adoption of its free antivirus. While promoting a free product may serve to generate brand recognition, the product may need to undergo technical improvements to keep pace with the rapid adoption, he said.

"The servers can't handle all the traffic," Miehe said. "It may be a great marketing strategy, but if they don't fix that bandwidth, they're going to have issues."