Mac Indie Marketing

15 Suggestions for Marketing your iPhone Application


Some of the comments in my previous post about "The Source" got me thinking about ways to market an iPhone application. Even though Karelia Software doesn't currently have an iPhone application on the market, I realized that many of the suggestions that I've been making about the marketing a Mac application also apply very well to iPhone applications. Since many readers of this blog are both Mac developers and iPhone developers, I thought I would come up with some suggestions for marketing an iPhone application, geared toward the small developer.

This is a long post with a lot of ideas; it's not something you can do all at once. So bookmark it and come back to it a few times. I think that if you start applying these suggestions, perhaps one per day, you should start getting more people finding your app.

Disclaimer: Apple is very picky about what iPhone applications do and how they do it. Please exercise caution in your marketing activities so that you do not find yourself in violation of your iPhone Development agreement.

"Marketing for µISVs" from Andy Brice

Andy Brice, developer of the app "Perfect Table Plan" for Windows and Mac, has made a talk he did available online. It's called "Marketing for µISVs — Embracing the Dark Side?" Clearly he comes from the PC world more than the Mac world to use such a term, but his presentation has some good points that the indie developer who is new at the idea marketing — especially the reason why it's a useful activity — should see.

His presentation on marketing was a lot less rushed than my five-minute Blitz talk at C4, so he gets to cover a lot more ground. First he dispels seven "myths of marketing," then goes into a number of marketing concepts. His presentation goes a bit too heavy into the concept of branding, which really doesn't apply (as he admits) for the small developer. He shows a lot of examples of "positioning" from the non-software world, but it's food for thought in any case. His insights on pricing are extremely interesting; that's an issue that we all have had to go through.

I think that there is a lot more about marketing the people need to understand, especially dealing with getting your website found and getting your visitors to turn into buyers, but this is a great overview. Listen to the lecture and page through the slides for some useful enlightenment.

Give Your App to Apple Employees

One great way to get some exposure to your application is to get it in front of as many Apple employees as you can.  Ideally, give your program away!  Apple employees would include, say, engineers or administrative assistants or in Cupertino, who might enjoy using your program but were probably not going to be buying it anyhow. (But if you application is cool, they will talk about it inside and outside of Apple!)  Other apple employees who might pick up your program are the sales engineers, whose job it is to help clients set up their Macs. If they are familiar with your software and it will solve a problem for their clients, you might get a recommendation — maybe even a big one. And of course there are hundreds and hundreds of Apple employees who work at the retail stores.  These people are talking to Mac-using people all day, and if they happen to know and like your software that can help the customer do what they want, of course they will recommend it!  We've gotten plenty of notes from people, for example, who wound up buying Sandvox because somebody at the Apple store suggested they check it out when they discovered that iWeb wasn't powerful enough for them.

How (Not) to Ask For a Review


I got an email this morning from a developer of a Mac application. I quote it here, though I have replaced the names and URLs to protect the guilty.

Dear Sir,

We have gone through your website([URL OF MY PERSONAL BLOG]) and found good postings on your website, just wanted to appreciate you on a well presented, and informative web site related to different products posted on your page. We want our Macintosh product (XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX) to be reviewed and posted on your webpage.

Information about the product can be found at:

Our product review would provide good quality content to your blog and it will also help us.

If you are interested to review our product we can provide you full version of our software and license key as well.

We hope an early and positive response to your site. If you have any queries then please feel free to mail us

Thanks for your time and consideration

Bundles, Promos, and Discounts, Oh My!


(Apologies for the title of this post.  My kids are working on a production of The Wizard of Oz so we're hearing a lot of songs about the Yellow Brick Road in our house these days! Since today is Friday, traditionally cat-blogging day, I thought I would feature a picture of a bundle of little cowardly lions.)

Photo by abcrumley


In yesterday's post, Jacob Gorban raved about software bundles. Anybody reading this post is probably well aware of bundles and the controversy surrounding them. Let me see if I can sum up both sides of the issue:

First, the bad impressions of bundles:

  • Bundles cheapen the value of your software — and Mac software in general. People expect to get it for 10 cents on the dollar so they won't buy it at full price.
  • It's making the bundle-makers filthy rich, even though the developers do all the work.
  • The developers are exploited, making peanuts per license.
  • Having to support thousands of new customers with so little income makes bad financial sense.

On the other hand,

  • Bundles do a great job in exposing your software to an audience that may not have found out about your app.
  • The bundle companies often give a lot of money away to charity.
  • The developers that participate are going into the deals willingly and with their eyes open.
  • Many people only use a few of the applications, yet the developer still gets paid for each bundle sold.
  • It gives the developers a chance to offer their upgrades and other products to their new customer base.

I've been on both sides of the fence, so although I may have missed some of the positives and negatives, I think that covers the basics.  Really, I think the answer to the question "Is a bundle right for me?" depends on a lot of factors.

Where I think a bundle has huge advantages is the last point in my list of positives. If you have more than one product, and you can get people exposed to your company by selling bundles for product A, then you can now help these new customers know via your email list about product B and product C. This is key. It's way easier to sell your products to people who have already bought a product from you.  They know you and trust you. So if you have more than one product, it could be a real win for you to participate in a bundle, as long as you are able to apply some leverage to the bundle sale.

Jacob Gorban, Apparent Software


Jacob Gorban founded Apparent Software in 2006 with the release of ImageFramer. Starting with programming as hobby since the age of about 12, on multitude of platforms, he made it a part-time business in 2006, alongside his career in electronics engineering. In early 2009 Jacob partnered with Kosta Rozen to take Apparent Software to the next level. Lately Jacob has left his day job to concentrate fully on Apparent Software. I was able to ask Jacob some questions about how they do marketing; Kosta stepped in as well to answer a couple of questions near the end. Please forgive Jacob for using the term "MicroISV" — I think the term "indie" is much more approachable, but that's just me….

DW: Can you tell us about your marketing activities?

JG: I must admit that I started this business without much real-life knowledge in marketing, as a developer. But I do love reading business books and blogs and listening to podcasts on these subjects to educate myself.

The first couple of years I've done the usual basic set of marketing activities that most mac developers do, such as listing on the software listing sites, SEO, a couple of MacZOT appearances and a little of other stuff such as trying to do some joint ventures with frame manufacturers. Over the time I started to realize that marketing should be done properly, smarter and that more resources should be devoted to it. Otherwise, the business will not grow.

Targeting Mac Users in Online Ads


My last post here interviewing Jean MacDonald, and a conversation with Seth Dilingham, who is cooking up a project that is related to Macs and marketing, got me thinking about a frustration I have had for a while, in that none of the major advertising networks allow you to only show your advertisements to people using Macs.

If you are going to be showing an ad for your product, and it costs money to put that ad in front of people, clearly you want to target people as specifically as you can. So if you have a local business, you want only the people in your geographic region to be exposed to the ad.  If your product only appeals to people who speak a certain language, you want to restrict your ad to only viewers who have that as their browser's preferred language. If your product is only sold in certain countries, you would be wasting your money (and people's attention) if your ad was visible outside of those countries.

And if your product only worked on Macs, you would want to only show your ads to Mac users, right?

Jean MacDonald, SmileOnMyMac


I met Jean MacDonald and the crew from SmileOnMyMac at a developer gathering at Chaat Cafe in San Francisco a few years ago during Macworld Expo. She is a partner at the company and primarily handles marketing and PR.  Prior to joining the SmileOnMyMac, she operated Well-Tempered Web, an independent web design and online marketing firm. She also taught web design and online marketing at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon and as a member of Geekcorps in Ghana, West Africa. Smile is one of the few indie companies that I know of to have somebody on staff dedicated to marketing, so I thought it would be useful to pick her brain for how they do it.

DW: What kind of marketing activities do you handle?

JM: Our website is the locus of our marketing efforts. We are continually refining and enriching it so that it's easy for site visitors to learn how our products can help them. We work hard on driving traffic to our site, via search engine optimization, advertising, and PR, but we also know that it's not enough to get lots of traffic. We constantly ask ourselves "Is it easy to find what you need on our site?" We have things like Feature lists and FAQs, but we also have video screencasts: different people need different things to give them a compelling reason to click the Buy button.

Kevin Hoctor, No Thirst Software

Kevin Hoctor

I thought it would be educational for Indie Mac Developers, myself included, to interview fellow developers, over email, about how they do marketing. I am starting with Kevin Hoctor, whom I met in person at WWDC about two or three years ago. He is the President and Founder of No Thirst Software LLC, a software company started in October 2006 to help individuals improve their personal finances. Mr. Hoctor has a background in Computer Science and has been creating software for over 28 years. He is also a serial entrepreneur having started four other companies (!) prior to No Thirst Software. He writes about marketing and company design on his own blog, Entrepreneurial Seduction.

DW: Can you tell us some of the marketing activities you do?

KH: In previous companies I've owned, marketing meant a big budget, four-color trade magazine ads, bingo cards and cold calling for leads. Now, with the Internet as everyone's primary source of information, my marketing is much different. First and foremost, maintaining a clean website with a clear message is my priority. Almost any other marketing activity is going to lead people back to our site and it better not disappoint.

"One Finger Discount" Launches

Yesterday, Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software put together a cool marketing idea: the One Finger Discount.  (Hmm, which finger did he have in mind?) The idea is that during the MacHeist free bundle deal, a lot of other Mac companies would offer nice 20% discounts on their software. (We're happy to join the fray, so I've just submitted Sandvox to the list.)

The speed of Twitter is amazing. It looks like the pre-announcement happened 18 hours ago on Twitter, the launch was 11 hours ago, and (because I spend a lot of time working rather than keeping up with Twitter, I'm ashamed to admit) I first heard about it … a few minutes ago.

This is a great idea, and not a lot of heavy lifting was need to get this off the ground. There are already over forty companies and roughly fifty applications available with this discount! Kudos to Daniel for this idea.  I'm curious to see if this spreads very far beyond the inner circle of people who keep up with Mac news on Twitter and the Mac-specific blogs and websites.  (Indies, I'm curious to hear here or on twitter how well this promotion does for your sales...) 

Viewfinder from Connected Flow — The Twitter Launch

One of the thoughts I had in starting this blog was to discuss what other indie companies are doing in the realm of marketing. Some companies are very much "into" the concept of marketing; others tend to treat marketing as an annoyance that they can't be bothered with (even though they are at least doing some minimal marketing by having a website).

Today, Connected Flow launched Viewfinder. With all the material fresh, I thought I would point out some of the cool marketing things that I noticed Fraser & co. do. Also, Fraser is a great guy, so I'm happy to shine a bit of attention on his app.

Salting: This is the pre-launch phase where you build up excitement (thirst) for a product. Fraser has been doing this for a while. On Twitter, Fraser (as himself and, occasionally from the @connectedflow account) was mentioning "[FLOWDACTED]" for quite a while, at least since August if not before. That built up curiousity in the developer and power-user community. Just before Halloween, he leaked (again, via Twitter) the name of the app and hinted that it would be launching soon. Early this week, he created a twitter account @viewfinderapp and started tweeting hints about what the application does. By launch day today, a lot of people in the developer/power-user community had heard about Viewfinder through Twitter.

Customer Mailing Lists

In the last couple of days I received newsletter-type emails from Second Gear Software, makers of Today and Check Off, and Like Thought, makers of Opacity (which I have to just rave about every chance I get!) and Lexicon. We also just sent out our newsletter (which we do about every month or so), so this inspired me to write a post about customer mailing lists.

Back in the Watson days, we didn't collect email addresses from people when they purchased the software, nor did we have an email list for general interest, in case people wanted to just stay up to date with what we were doing. At the time it didn't even occur to me to set this up, but later I realized that it was odd that I had no way of contacting our customers or prospective customers.

So when we started to go public about Sandvox, before its launch, we set up a mailing list so people could find out when the product was available. Once the application launched, many of them bought the software — at a special price just for members of the list, of course.

The Three-Legged Stool

three legged stool

As you know, I've been trying to convince indie developers that marketing is an important component of running a business. There are just too many Mac apps out there, and most of the twenty-something-million Mac users out there have no idea that your application even exists!

Yesterday, Seth Dillingham mentioned the idea of a three-legged stool. The pieces you need are Engineering, User Interface, and Marketing. I was intrigued by that idea so I dug around and found that the metaphor was discussed in Chapter 2 of the 1998 book The Invisible Computer by Donald A. Norman.

Human-centered development requires three equal partners, three legs to the triad of product development: technology, marketing, and user experience. All three legs provide necessary and complementary strengths. Weaken one leg and the product falls. The three legs stand upon the foundation of the business case and support the product itself. Weaken the foundation of sound business practices and the company may not succeed. And finally, the product must be appropriate for its position in the technology life cycle. An emphasis on technology is inappropriate for products in the consumer cycle of a technology.

"Marketing events" that go <thud>


I really like being a part of the Indie Mac Developer Community, and I try to participate whenever there is some group event, whether it be donating licenses to charity events (like the PMC Software Charity Fundraiser), participating in group sales (like MacSanta from a couple of of years ago), changing my twitter avatar to the latest trend, and so forth.

I started my own idea way back at WWDC, earlier this year. Although everybody I spoke to thought it was a cool idea, it took a long time to get my idea implemented (since it required writing some code) and then even longer to get it going across the community.  Unfortunately, due to a combination of timing and some bugs of Apple's, my idea — which happened on Halloween — mostly went <thud> like a tree falling in the forest when nobody's around.

The idea was to get as many indie developers to insert a bit of code, and some artwork, into their application, and have it released before Halloween. Then, simultaneously, Snow Leopard users would notice that a lot of their apps — at least those that were from participating indie companies — had special Halloween icons.

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