An Interview with Justin Williams, Second Gear Software

This interview with Justin Williams of Second Gear Software, is the eighth in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Gus MuellerDaniel Jalkut, Rich Siegel, Oliver Breidenbach, Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.

Justin Williams, Second Gear SoftwareJustin Williams runs the one-man software shop called Second Gear Software.  His products are Today and Check Off. He obsessively blogs at CarpeAqua and it also very active on Twitter.

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

JW: I'll first confess that I'm not entirely comfortable with my marketing activities at this time.  Part of this is due to me not really having much experience with it, but another part is that like many, I have a negative connotation to the word marketing.   I am so bombarded with marketing and advertising (good and bad) every day that I always second guess what I do in terms of marketing.  

(1) Newsletter: This is my favorite marketing venue.  I send out a monthly newsletter that highlights what I've been working on in the past month as well as offers some tips for using both Today and Check Off.    I recently added support to both apps to prompt the user to subscribe to the newsletter on their first launch, which has offered a nice uptick in the amount of subscriptions.  

(2) Blog: Second Gear has a blog, but I'm not really sure what to do with it.  I periodically post information about new software releases, but that seems somewhat bland to me.  I am a big fan of Panic's new blog, because it's fun while also telling its subscribers about their new software releases.  

(3) Twitter: I have three Twitter accounts for the company (@secondgear, @todayapp and @checkoffapp) as well as my personal twitter (@justin) that I post software announcements on.  On the @secondgear account I also highlight reviews written on Mac sites and magazines and do a periodic tweet series called "Inside Information" where I give some highlights or interesting tidbits about Second Gear itself, or its culture.  As an example a recent insider tip explained the origins of the Second Gear name.  I mention my personal twitter account (and personal blog for that matter) because I think anytime I write on those is a form of marketing.  Second Gear is just me, so it is really a personal brand.  When I write a blog post that gets picked up by Daring Fireball or Macworld, the user will see the links to Today and Check Off in the sidebar.  My Twitter followers for the most part know who I am and what I do as well.  

(4) Facebook: I only recently got on board the Facebook bandwagon about reading about it on this very blog.  I am not much of a Facebook user myself, but I setup the Second Gear facebook page nonetheless because I am a minority in the Facebook usage category.  At this point the page has screenshots, product announcements and a coupon code for new fans to save $1 on the app.  We recently passed the mythical 100 person mark, and i have a personal goal of hitting 500 by the end of the year.  We shall see!

(5)  Banner advertising: I've recently started to branch out to having a small advertising budget for Second Gear.  I've started by running some banner ads for Today 2 on MacStories and The Loop.  It's a bit too early to tell how successful this is, but I'm giving it a 3 month trial run.

DW: Wow, that's a great list. You've tried a lot of things. You mentioned a negative connotation of the term "marketing," which I agree is an issue.  (Fortunately there are positive connotations — Seth Godin, as linked in my sidebar, talks a lot about non-sleazy, "permission" marketing.) Anything marketing-related that you won't do?

JW: Tweet blasts. No one likes the secretary's husband at the Christmas party who tries to sell you a life insurance policy, so why do something similar to the people who follow you on Twitter?  

Also, abusing my Twitter followers with constant self congratulatory RTing. One thing that bugs me about a lot of company Twitter accounts is the practice of retweeting everytime someone says a nice thing about you.  I follow a company Twitter account for news, information and maybe discounts.  I don't follow to hear how awesome they are.

Most of these are things that annoy me are related to Twitter and that's possibly because that seems to be the new hotbed for marketing experimentation and sleaziness.  

DW: Good points, that stuff bugs me too.

So what would you say is different in how your company approaches marketing, especially compared to other small/indie Mac software companies out there?

JW: I think my big difference at this point is I am putting a lot more emphasis on tracking and analytics.  I've recently started to sharpen my Google Analytics-fu to use it as more of a hit counter and referral list.    I am now tracking download and click events so that I know how users are using my site, how many are downloading trials and where those trial downloads are coming from.  

DW: I always like to ask people what are some suggestions for indies to try out, what I call "low hanging fruit." What marketing activities would you suggest that others try?

JW: The lowest hanging fruit is Twitter and a mailing list.  You want to get your message out wherever its most convenient to your users.  Everyone has email and more and more have Twitter accounts as well.   I've yet to be convinced that Facebook will be a fruitful venture, but it's very little maintenance so I doubt it can hurt.  

I am also fairly liberal in giving away licenses to bloggers and other developers as I think word of mouth from people using my product is a far better form of marketing than any sort of giveaway, discount or whatever else you can imagine.   If one guy uses my app and likes it, he is probably going to tell a friend or two who will then go out and buy a license.  

DW: You mentioned tracking and analytics. How do you measure success of your various marketing activities?

JW: Right now it's web site traffic, for which I am using Google Analytics.  I know a marketing activity succeeds if i see a bump in the traffic during that time.   I also have a brief survey on my purchase page that optionally asks the user where they heard about the product.  

DW: What activities have you found didn't work out?

JW: I've also done a bit of podcast advertising, but I decided it wasn't for me because it's not easily trackable.  With banner ads and links, it's easy to see where the traffic is coming from, how long those people stay and how many are downloading the trials.  With Podcasts, the only way to track it is to ask about where they heard about the app at the time of purchase.  

I also have not had much luck with Google Adwords, but I think that is mainly because Today is an app that isn't something users explicitly search for.  Trying to find the proper way to market an app is usually much harder than doing the actual marketing itself.

DW: Your recent Indie+Relief discount was a big success, and not only raised a hell of a lot of money for charity, but shined some good will on Second Gear and the companies that participated. I've always been fascinated by the way that doing good often leads to doing well — Do you have any stories about how launching this charity drive helped your company in the long run, or reports you received from other developers who got any "halo" from this?

JW: Indie+Relief was interesting in that I never approached it as a marketing thing.  It was initially going to be just me donating my sales for a day, but I decided to tweet about it to see if a few other mac developers would be interested in pledging to do the same.  6 days later we had 150 companies on board.   

I was really concerned with how the event was perceived.  I'm not a fan of people using partial charity donations as a way to market their product or promotion because it feels disingenuous to me.   That was the main reason I chose to do the event on a single day and donate 100% of the proceeds.  

As for long-term effects, I think its more good karma than anything.  The traffic was a 1 day spike for the day of the event, and then went back to normal.   I'm fine with that.  

DW: How about your website — this is usually the public face of a company. What decisions did you make from a marketing point of view when building your home page and your product pages?

JW: I actually don't like my Web site.  :)

The product pages are not so bad, but the main landing page is an abysmal failure that I'm hoping to remedy in the future the help of a designer.  The homepage contains the icon and links to each of the products.    I'd like to integrate some company news and information in the page to make it a bit more of a painted canvas rather than a rough sketch.

I've been looking at the landing pages of other companies with multiple products and really like Rogue Amoeba's.  I think it's got just the right amount of content to ensure that the customer clicks through to see what else is around.

DW: You recently blogged about press releases.  Can you summarize what you think about using them?

JW: I love press releases.  I send them out for any point releases that I have available.  I am not a fan of press distribution services, however because I think a lot of Mac and iPhone developers rely on them as their sole method of marketing and promotion.  Paying $20 to have your release distributed to a hundred different email addresses and copy/pasted onto a few smaller Web sites is not a way to get your app well known.

PR is about building relationships with the writers and editors at the Mac and iPhone publications.  It's about getting those people to use your app in their daily lives.    Getting your name in the mind of the press is almost as important as the product name.  My goal is for Writer X at Macworld to see an email from "Justin Williams" and instantly know who I am and hopefully be interested in what I'm writing.  

DW: Good points. Thanks very much for sharing your perspectives with us!

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