This interview with Gedeon Maheux of the Iconfactory is the ninth in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Justin Williams, Gus Mueller, Daniel Jalkut, Rich Siegel, Oliver Breidenbach, Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.
I'm sure everybody reading this blog knows about the Iconfactory, a design/software company based in North Carolina (with branches in California and Sweden). While fellow developers probably know (and look up to) Craig Hockenberry, inventor of the CHOCKLOCK, I thought it would be best to talk to Iconfactory's main marketing person, Gedeon Maheux, about how this über-cool icon design, icon, and Mac/iPhone software business gets the word out about their products. Ged blogs and tweets, of course.
DW: Can you start by telling our readers about the kinds of marketing activities you do at the Iconfactory?
GM: We've experimented with different types of marketing over the years, but the tried and true ones that work best for us include:
- Offering high-quality freebies in the form of downloadable icons & desktops
- Attending industry events like Macworld, WWDC and ICON (illustration expo)
- Contributing to the Mac & iPhone development community at large
- Local TV news appearances
We're constantly exploring new ways to market ourselves however. Some new avenues we've recently tried include MacHeist, and launching our vinyl Ollie collectible for Twitterrific.
DW: OK, I haven't run across other developers who have been on TV before. How did you manage to arrange that?
GM: Having our base of operations in North Carolina and not in Silicon Valley has some advantages. One of them is that we often get contacted by the local news stations when new technology stories break. I'm not exactly sure how it got started, but we seem to be one of the "go-to" companies for our area now which is okay by us.
DW: What would you say is different in how your company approaches marketing, compared to other indie Mac software companies (or designer companies)?
GM: Probably the biggest thing that sets us apart from others in similar spaces is our freeware downloadables. The Iconfactory started out as a place where we could offer our creative personal work to Mac users all around the world. Thousands of people visit the site every day and although they may come for the latest and greatest free icon sets and desktop pictures, many of them also discover our Mac & iPhone related software.
We try to be easy going and take pride in the level of personalized technical support we offer on our products. Customers end up having a good experience when they purchase an Iconfactory app and it helps get the word out about what we do.
DW: That's a great point about the freeware; people get to know you when they find out about your free stuff, and then once they see that you are cool, they are probably more likely to buy stuff from you. It's an advantage of yours, having both the graphics (that don't need a huge up-front investment) to give away, and then sell the software later. Do you have any techniques to help your visitors who snagged some free icons find out about your software that you sell, either on that same website visit or later on?
GM: We've cross-promoted our software many times with our icon releases. These downloads build awareness for our apps and let people know where they can buy them. Some examples include freeware icon sets based on Ramp Champ, Pickin' Time, and of course Twitterrific.
DW: What's your advice for other indie companies about getting started in marketing?
GM: It doesn't fall into the "easy" category, but by far the most effective means of marketing software we've found is to simply make the best product you can. Taking the time to develop a piece of software right brings its own rewards in the form of word of mouth, or what I like to call the shampoo effect. If people like your stuff and are impressed, they tell two friends, and then they'll tell two friends and so on and so on. The advent of the internet has made the shampoo effect the holy grail of marketing. Especially in marketplaces like Apple's App Store where it can be next to impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff.
DW: How do you measure success of your various marketing activities?
GM: The traditional methods involve sales numbers and lots of boring pie charts. We have quarterly meetings with our accountants that give us the nuts and bolts view of how we're doing, but honestly we can see if a marketing push is succeeding simply by looking at the replies on Twitter. If a product you're marketing is "all the talk" on the social network then I can instantly tell if we're doing a good job or not.
Another method I use to measure our success is how many people come out of the woodwork asking for potential partnerships for the product in question. When an application is hot, suddenly we're the most popular dev on earth. I know this isn't the case because under normal circumstances we fly way under the radar.
DW: Very interesting! How have you dealt with those kind of partnership requests? (I assume things like bundles, or am I missing something?) Do any of them bear fruit in any interesting ways?
GM: Many of them are bundles, yes. The most famous of course is MacHeist and our recent involvement with them helped to dramatically increase exposure for Ramp Champ when we offered the game for free for a limited time.
The other area where partnerships arise are for 3rd party services connected with Twitter. Since the social network is all the rage these days, companies are eager to get in on the action and they often request to hook up with well known Twitter clients like Twitterrific. This can have pluses and minuses of course. It's been tricky navigating these new waters the last year or so.
DW: How about what to avoid? What marketing activities have you found were actually not that beneficial?
GM: By far the least successful marketing we've done to date are those that are considered traditional. That is to say print and web advertising. Sure you can design clever print and online ads, but in my experience these ventures are (1) expensive and (2) lost in the noise of the internet. As an indie developer we have to balance the cost of running a print ad vs how many copies of an app sold at 99¢ to recoup it. Usually the numbers just don't add up and besides, social marketing is much more fun!
DW: Let's talk about your website. Can you tell me a bit about your home page and the main product pages, and why you made some of the decisions you made of what to include, how it's laid out, etc.?
GM: It's really evolved over time to what you see today. Back in 1999 before blogging was all the rage, the Iconfactory was posting updates about our stuff and drawing people to the website. That really hasn't changed much over the years. What has changed are the number of software products we offer and of course the expansion into iPhone territory.
We've recently found that getting people to our software products is important enough to warrant a site re-design that is currently under way. It will put more focus on software and less on news and freebies. They'll still be there, but our apps will be front and center. We're excited for this change, although we've got a ton to do before we can implement it.
DW: Thanks for taking the time to share your insight with the indie community!