Four marketing tips for application developers

If the responsibility of marketing your application is new territory for you, read this advice from developer Justin James.

While most developers work for an organization that handles the marketing and selling of their applications for them, the booming mobile development space has made the small (or even "hobby for profit") independent software vendor (ISV) much more viable. As a result, more developers are finding themselves in the position of not only writing their applications, but marketing them as well.

Unfortunately, hitting F1 in your IDE or reading your language's documentation won't tell you what you need to know about marketing. Here are four things you need to know about marketing your application.

1: Understand the application's relationship to your customers

In a recent TechRepublic article, I wrote about how applications need to be based on great ideas and not killer features. A common mistake is to market your application based on features with no relationship to your customers' problems. We see this all the time -- the website with a big bulleted list of features that mean nothing to a customer.

It's also helpful to use specific numbers when marketing your app. For example, if your application is proven to be 80% faster than its competition, say so. "Faster than the others" is fine, but "80% faster than the others" is better because it's directly measurable, and the claim of superiority isn't as vague.

2: Focus marketing materials on your message

Your marketing materials should contain a hook that will grab the audience's attention in five seconds or less and an elevator pitch, which is an approximately 30 second overview of your app.

This is not an easy undertaking. I suggest reading expert tips and perhaps even asking an expert to assist in crafting your message. I got great value out of a MicroConsult session with Bob Walsh (his sites also are great examples of good marketing). All of your marketing materials -- that includes your website, your written materials, and your verbal pitch -- all need to be focused on this message.

What not to do vs. what to do on your site

Between my writing for TechRepublic's Programming and Development blog and TechRepublic's Product Spotlight blog, I read lots of press releases and look at numerous websites for products. There are three classic mistakes that I see all the time:

  • Many sites make it difficult to find the application's minimum system requirements.
  • Many sites do not properly differentiate product editions.
  • Many sites fail to relate how features (especially when the site uses product-specific terminology) help solve problems.
When there are multiple versions of a product, the company often forgets to include a comparison chart on its website; when there is a chart, it usually compares features not benefits, making the chart useless. In Figure A, the reader does not know what the features are, and it's even worse when trademarked or branded names are used for the features. Figure A

Standard Edition Premium Edition Awesome Edition
Feature 1 Yes Yes Yes
Feature 2 Yes Yes Yes
Feature 3 No Yes Yes
Feature 4 No No Yes

Your company should focus on how your benefits are provided by features, and have the product edition comparison chart show a Good/Better/Best rating on benefits delivered. Figure B gives the audience the snapshot they need. The reader should be able to click the benefit listing to get more information about the features beneath it. Figure B

Standard Edition Premium Edition Awesome Edition
Benefit 1 Good Better Best
Benefit 2 Best Best Best
Benefit 3 - Good Best

3: Give search engines a lot of attention

In order to draw an audience, your site needs to have good content, but you also want to ensure that your efforts are targeted. Getting 100,000 page views from people who are interested in word processing applications is great if that's what you sell, but it's useless if you don't make that kind of application. So don't just throw content up on your website -- make sure that it is relevant to the audience you are trying to reach.

The goal is to not just keep your audience engaged on a regular basis, but to provide grist for the search engines to bring relevant traffic to your site. And good content has a habit of being passed around on social media sites.

4: Write about solutions to customers' problems

Your best bet is to blog or write articles for your site that explain how to solve your target customers' problems; you should mention your product where appropriate. I think this is the best approach because it provides something for your audience to return to on a regular basis, while simultaneously providing great SEO.

You need to do this between once a week and once a month. If you write too many useless posts (or worse, posts that are blatant advertising), customers tune you out or take you off their list. You need to put a lot of energy into creating interesting, unique content that engages readers, and this content needs to help them solve their problems, not your problems.

What about social media?

A lot of people put an overwhelming amount of attention into social media campaigns, when they need to focus on more traditional forms of marketing, like the search engines. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen recently wrote that many non-profits' sites are putting too much attention into social media efforts at the expense of their websites where their audience expects to find the information.

Social media marketing efforts are hit or miss. For every YouTube video that goes viral, there are millions of YouTube videos with 200 hundred views. With Facebook, Twitter, and so many blogs, it is very difficult to get people to care enough to like you, to follow you, or to subscribe to your feed, and it is even more difficult to keep their attention.

I don't think social media marketing strategies are useless, but if you're just getting started and are short on time or money, your resources are better spent focusing your website's message and getting the site in good shape for SEO rather than trying to amass an army of Twitter followers.


I hope this basic introduction to marketing your applications gets you pointed in the right direction. I'd love to hear your marketing suggestions in the comments.



Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.


I must admit that Perry Belcher changed my life when it comes of marketing.You should try it too I bet you won't be disappointed.There are so many useful tips if you want to put your products on the first place.


Another advice I would recommend from my own experience with marketing applications, would be to ask for help with an online publisher network. That way you can get a lot of exposure for your product.


I am on FB sharing things I really like that I think most others on my wall would be able to appreciate too, and somethings I know they won't appreciate fully, but that are coming in vogue and I know will be good for them (like turning vegetarian, if I happen to believe in that, etc). I don't email things to people anymore (unless I am a publisher or it is a VIP, like a dad). So being 'socially' referable, or supportable is important for products/services who solve socio-economic problems. B-2-B is not going to happen on a social network in most cases unless it is an internal network, neither would it on linked-in (business secrets, and all that, unless someone is a writer/blogger). For the FB crowd you really have to have solved a problem for that person (to get the referral), or seriously convince a prospect that you REALLY can solve that problem x (to get a share of the precious few shares a person is going to make in a lifetime). Most people (the silent FB majority) don't share any links (like 80% on my wall) and people who share links (the technical name of a shared item from a URL) the most tend to get hidden by the same 80% as annoyances unless they are really good and post interesting lead-ins that are relevant to most people's lives and beliefs. But then the types of products and services that everyone is interested in and buying are already making a killing and spending billions on advertising. So even if you get your 30 second infomercial on and it is a killer, don't hang your hat on the FB peg just yet unless you are the next killer women's app that would make her look cool in front of her female and male friends and family members. That really limits you. You are not going to find sharing of the next great female condom, for example. Guys don't share personal stuff unless they are asked, normally. Now, if there were different 'channels' within a FB wall, then marketers would be better off (click here to share with: "All males", "All females", "Family", "Work Assocs", "Enemies", "Lawyers", "All"). Only the segment(s) you select get to see the single item you just shared. As of now, the share button sharing options are segmented as "Friends only", "Friends of friends", or "Everyone". The feature that allows you to create lists of friends needs to allow such sharing by segment of friends to optimize FB for 1-on-1 referral marketing. If you had a "Females Only", or even better, a "Female Friends (not family or work)" option, then you would have a better chance of making it prime time with the female condom FB campaign, just saying. Until that happens, FB (social networking by default) is a seriously and unnecessarily hampered medium that has yet to embrace the principal marketing solution of segmentation. When it does, things will be getting much more interesting on my wall, for sure, and i would even be more open to adding people to my friends list, who are otherwise more like prospects (yours and mine) than friends. (Marketing consultant here, amongst other things)

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