Most developers work for an organization that handles the marketing and selling of their applications for them. But 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 a few tips to get you started.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in our Programming and Development blog.

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 Web site 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 your marketing materials — that includes your Web site, your written materials, and your verbal pitch — 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 its Product Spotlight blog, I read lots of press releases and look at numerous Web sites for products. I see three classic mistakes 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 Webs ite; 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. 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

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 Web site — 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 will 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.

5: Don’t rely too much on 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 nonprofits’ sites are putting too much attention into social media efforts at the expense of their Web sites, 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 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 Web site’s message and getting the site in good shape for SEO rather than trying to amass an army of Twitter followers.