Dan Wood is co-owner of Karelia Software, creating programs for the Macintosh computer. He is the father of two kids, lives in the Bay Area of California USA, and prefers bicycles to cars. This site is his older weblog, which mostly covers geeky topics like Macs and Mac Programming. Go visit the current blog here.
Useful Tidbits and Egotistical Musings from Dan Wood
Since I started being an indie developer for Mac OS X (FYI "indie developer" is the same as "Micro-ISV" in Windows-speak) in late 2001 — a long time ago, actually, when most Cocoa software titles available were ports from NeXT — I found myself wearing the "marketer" hat as well as doing programming. Back with Watson, I just followed my intuition and was met with wild success; with our current Sandvox, mac website builder, I think our success has come from a more thoughtful approach to the topic now that the marketplace is much more crowded.
Over the years, I've been learning more and more about marketing as it relates to the indie developer. Some of it comes from my own experimentation, some from maestros like Wil Shipley, and much from some excellent books as well as websites that, even though many contain a lot of good information, make me want to wash my Cinema Displays for a while after visiting them. (If you've seen those "Squeeze pages" with lots of Impact font, black and red text, and yellow highlighting, you know what I'm talking about. They must be appealing to Windows users; I think Mac users have a more refined sense of aesthetics!)
I thought I'd make a little post about marketing that may be of use to other indie developers. Well, it started out being little but it got kind of large, so I'm splitting it into multiple parts!
I have to say that we at Karelia are not yet practicing all these suggestions — though I'd love to be, it does take a while to actually implement some of these ideas — especially the first one I'll list here. We'll get there soon. In the meantime, these tidbits will hopefully be of use to you.
Before I dive in, I guess I should define marketing. To me, it's more about general promotion and getting people to want your software product. It's not about "sales," which I've never been very comfortable with, but instead, making sure that the people who might want to use your software know about it and its benefits, and once they have it, are happy users that are likely to spread the word to others. So for me, marketing is giving more value to our potential customers.
I've mentioned over the years that this is the one piece of advice I wish somebody had given me when I was just getting started as an indie developer.
From a purely technical standpoint, it would have forced me to build our back-end infrastructure (like customer database) in such a way that when we have a second commercial product in addition to Sandvox, it will be easier to bring it to market.
From a marketing standpoint, there are some great advantages to having a second or third revenue-generating product on the market at the same time. One is that every time you get in the Mac "news" for doing something interesting (like issuing an update), your company and all its products will benefit. For instance, each time we issue a new update to our free iMedia Browser, we get a bump in sales of Sandvox for a few days. Having more than one product also means that people who came to buy one item may also decide to buy another while they're at it, either spontaneously, or through a "bump" or "upsell" you do when they go to check out. ("Do you want Yogurt with your McSalad?")
Another advantage to having more than one product is that you can do "loss leaders" where one product, sold for very little, will bring people into your fold — see the next tip — where you then have the opportunity to sell them other products later. This is a technique used frequently by retail stores that advertise one item at a great discount but make up for it by the other things you purchase. MacHeist, I recently realized, is a perfect example of that, so if you have a product you can sell for next to nothing as a leverage for selling your other applications, it can be a long-term win for you as a developer.
Back in the Watson days, we didn't have an email list so we had no idea who was trying or buying our software. There was no way to communicate with our entire community. We set one up when Sandvox was in pre-launch phase of Sandvox, so now we have a huge list of people who either bought Sandvox or are interested in our stuff. We can send out monthly emails with tips and tricks for the Sandvox and iMedia Browser, make sure people are up to date, and point out other cool Mac software that our subscribers will find useful. And when we have a new product, there are thousands of people who will be the first to know about it!
If you set up a mailing list, be sure to do all the right non-spammy things like confirm people's intention to sign up and give them an easy way to unsubscribe. You can sign people up the first time they launch your program (as a demo or a paid user), or from a form on your website, or both. (You will probably want to offer some incentive (like a free program or PDF) to entice people to bother to sign up from the web.)
(BTW, You can sign up for Karelia's Email List yourself. Don't be shy!)
Your mailings, whether they are frequent or infrequent, should at least be consistent, and provide some value to the reader. If it's just hype, your subscribers may not stay subscribed for long.
Here's a tip: If you have URLs in your email linking to your site, you are not going to be able to tell where they are coming from when you examine your server logs or use Google Analytics. We worked around this problem by creating a little home-made URL shortener script on our website. We found when using this that a large percentage of our site visitors are actually coming in from our mailings, a fact not evident before.
You can also use your email list to send out periodic emails directly to your new customers to follow up on their purchase. Give them tips and tricks, suggestions, and offers of help. Welcome them to your extended family!
I think I first heard Tim O'Reilly apply the term ecosystem as it relates to Software. If you can make your software part of a bigger universe of other developers or content providers, you will get a lot of marketing juice over the Internet, and find other benefits from time to time. I had designed Watson with an SDK, and it encouraged developers to jump in and build their own modules. (It gave the product more credibility and it may have provided some benefit to the developers — one of them landed his dream job at ESPN after writing a sports module; one has since become a successful indie developer, and one, Terrence Talbot, wound up becoming a partner at Karelia!) With Sandvox, our open design specification has allowed half a dozen designers to create — and in some cases sell, as part of their business — their own designs. (Check out our showcase these independent Sandvox designs, a website which is itself a marketing effort.)
Integration Marketing, coined by marketer (or as I like to say, meta-marketer, because he is one of the many marketers who markets the art of marketing) Mark Joyner, is the act of finding and taking advantage of points where others can market your stuff, or you can market other's stuff. There are usually a number of opportunities for you in your contacts with your customers and prospects to promote useful and complementary products or services. Putting amazon.com affiliate links or Google ads on your own website are two obvious examples. With Sandvox, we have three web hosting partners that we refer people to, so that they will have a good experience publishing their website. (Without such ideas, Sandvoxers might still find a decent host by themselves, or they might just default to GoDaddy and regret it later!) It's topical and helpful, because it fits in with website building software. So yes, it's an additional source of income, but integrating with them is also adding value to our customers. We even added additional value by creating screencasts for each of the hosts, to walk Sandvoxers through the process of signing up for a domain name and hosting.
Of course, the important thing is to find good partners. You could do joint venture ("JV") partnerships with other indie companies, promoting their software (either for a commission, or as we sometimes do, just for what we like to call "good karma") and have them promote your stuff, which of course translates to sales that somebody else made without you doing any work. It doesn't have to be just Mac software companies teaming up with other Mac software companies. It really depends on what your product's domain is.
If you are looking for opportunities for integration marketing, a good idea is to build a process map of your own company. What are your points of customer contact? What flow do they go through in visiting your website, downloading, buying, signing up, confirming, getting follow-up emails, etc.? Where are there opportunities to reach your prospects and customers in a helpful way?
Note: if you are paying or receiving commissions/affiliate payments, there are various accounting/tax implications of this, so make sure you know what you are doing.