The Power of Promotion – Marketing Mobile Software – Part III, Promotion

Perhaps the most active part of marketing using the 4P's (Product, Price, Promotion, and Place (Distribution) is Promotion. Once you design your product, set your price, and select your distribution methods, not much additional effort in these areas is required. At this point, you must unleash your promotional tools. These tools include advertising, press releases, blogging, newsletters, participation in communities (social networks, forums, lists, blogs), reviews, viral marketing, and more. Some promotions are expensive (print ads in magazines for example), some are labor-intensive (active participation online), others are short term (press releases), while others long term (established relationships with bloggers and webmasters). All are effective, and all are difficult to measure! While it may be difficult to determine direct ROI (Return On Investment), consider promotional marketing as a way to raise the overall “noise level” for your product, which will essentially raise sales and revenue. Without promotion, your company may not ever realize its full potential for sales. Promotion can be a full time job, and cannot be ignored. (That's why my partner focuses on the programming and I focus on the marketing.) This post will touch upon some of the specifics for mobile marketing.

Trial and Error
So, where to start? If you are new to marketing, the options may seem very overwhelming. As noted, ROI is an elusive piece of information that may take more time, effort, and money to measure than the data is worth. Ideally, we would want to select one type of marketing campaign, see how it improves sales, determining if it's cost effective to continue. However, by the time you check through the complete list of alternatives in serial, your product will most likely be obsolete! If you do many marketing schemes in parallel (best option), separating what works is increasingly difficult. However, if the net result of all your marketing efforts is an overall increase in sales, and your profit after subtracting expenses is positive, then you have achieved a level of success through promotion.

The Snowball Effect
One aspect of promotion worth noting is that you not only end up marketing to customers, but also to other promotional avenues. For example, if you buy an ad in a magazine, you are either 1) promised editorial content up front (you should always ask when placing an ad), or 2) you get noticed by the editors, who write reviews and other editorial content. So you not only market to customers, but to the people who can further promote your products (for free!) through articles and reviews.

This same effect happens when you buy ads online. You can't expect a blogger to promote you (positively) just because you buy an ad at their site, but you can expect that they will at least take a look at your product, since they now know you exist. This effect is often overlooked. For example, we bought ad spots for Trip Boss on PalmGear. We were discovered by PalmGear's marketing department and eventually added to the “Essentials” list. In addition, when they had sitewide promotions, they sometimes added Trip Boss (for free), or if they had an overstock of ad space, they added our adverts to fill it (also for free). So, by buying ads we not only got the advertising, but also additional promotional benefits.

Print Advertising
Print advertising is the most expensive, but the most permanent type of marketing. A customer will initially see your advertisement but then see it again when they look at the magazine the next time. However, print ads do not always work as well for mobile software products. Most print magazines that feature mobile content can be very outdated by the time they are published, mostly because news travels much faster on the web and the lead time for publishing is so much longer. Regardless, there are still benefits for advertising in magazines—bloggers and other promoters see you, plus it's a reference item.

Internet and Mobile Banner Ads
Banner advertising on websites is another paid advertising option, but choosing which sites or providers can be difficult. Some sites know their traffic and demographics so you know what you can expect. Other sites are too broad (feature all types of mobile OS, when perhaps you are selling to one platform). Some sites have too little traffic or cannot give you good numbers. Blogs and websites will offer different packages—varying by time, placement, number of impressions, and cost. Google used to offer a way to track clicks through third party sites when you had an Adwords account, which was valuable in evaluating traffic generated by these ads, but Google eliminated this feature earlier this year. If the customer lands on your site, you should still be able to track traffic via your logs or various services that are available around the web.

One unique type of banner ad is the one on the ESD (Electronic Software Distributor). The ad points to your listing on their site. They provide to you good click thru data, which you can use to correlate ROI. The major pro is that people who click on these ads are looking to make a purchase. The major con is that you are paying to promote your product with a high commission attached. Many times you will not see enough sales to justify the cost of these ads, but we found that our overall sales (not just at this ESD) increased with advertising on one site. It was difficult to measure, but we saw net gains in sales and revenue.

Internet Content-Targeted and Search Keyword Type Advertising
Bidding on keywords for targeted content and search terms is another form of paid advertising, Google Adwords being the most well-known. The problem with advertising mobile software is that most major companies will not allow you to reference the hardware (such as “Palm” or “Apple” or “iPhone”) due to trademarks, so you can't differentiate in your ad with what OS you support, so you get a lot of click thrus that do not convert into a sale. With mobile so fragmented, it's impossible to set up an effective campaign with out these descriptors. Adwords can also be challenging to manage—I've felt the need to hire a guru just to get it tuned properly, which adds to the cost of the promotion. We had some success with Adwords at first—we showed adequate conversions to justify the monthly costs, but after the Quality Score calculations changed, our conversion rate tumbled. A lot of time and effort can be required to maintain this type of promotion. Your mileage may vary.

Newsletters
Newsletters can be an inexpensive way to upsell or cross-sell to your current customer base. However, you first need to HAVE a customer base. The pros to newsletters is that they can be inexpensive if you create and send them yourself. The cons can tend to outweigh the benefits. You have to have a suite of apps to sell to existing customers, so this won't work for one app. You have to have access to email addresses of current customers—some ESD's do not provide these, such as Palm's SWC and Apple's AppStore. Newsletters, especially HTML formatted ones, are notoriously filtered by spam filters, even with opt-in customers. There are many rules to comply with according to the CAN-SPAM act—including providing an opt out feature. There is a limit to the number of apps you can sell to your base—eventually you will reach a saturation point. One way to approach this limitation is to group with a bunch of developers. Create a newsletter that includes a title from each developer. Then, each dev sends the newsletter to his mailing list, keeping the emails private but also providing a benefit to each dev participating. Lastly, you may have to pay for a service to send out the newsletters (too time consuming to do so on your own). We use Mobihand for our shopping cart and they provide a free email newsletter option on their back-end—an invaluable resource.

Blogging
As I'm doing here, creating a company blog creates buzz, promotes community, provides for an online newsletter, and can also be a form of customer support. However, maintaining a blog can also be time consuming, and to be successful, must include quality content, not just blatant self-promotion.

News or Informational Site
Some developers start their own news sites as a way to get customers to visit their website more often, and to promote their products. Others create a website that provides a service and advertise their products on that site. For example, we have created Mobile Travel Aide, aka mtrvl.com, to provide a one-stop mobile-formatted travel information site to complement our travel product, Trip Boss. We provide the service for free, but promote Trip Boss on the site as well. Our Date Wheel.net web app site is free (ad supported) but also serves as a promotional tool—we have info on how to buy Date Wheel for the Palm OS devices and will soon provide info on how to buy Date Wheel for the iPhone.

Community Participation
blogs and websites
Contacting blogs, hobbyist websites and communities is a promotional tool, but there are unspoken rules to follow. If you just crank out press releases, throw information over the wall, are impolite or pompous, and never participate on the sites or develop relationships with bloggers and webmasters, this type of promotion does not work. Some webmasters are excited to hear from actual developers, but many see through your contact and will not mention you unless you use proper “netiquette” at a minimum. Some tips: Get to know a website or blog before sending a press release. Include a polite note with your release and perhaps start a conversation. Of course, if you want reviews of your product, be sure to always offer a free copy. Sometimes you will develop a polite rapport, other times gain a valuable relationship, and if you're lucky enough, even a friendship will form.

forums
If you participate in forums, please be sure to read the posting rules. Some sites have a press release area and most will resent blatant promotional posts in their forums. It's better to join in the conversation. If you can promote your product lines in existing threads, all the better. Sometimes just participating in conversations but including a link to your site in your signature is enough exposure. Think community.

comments
Posting in the comments on fellow blogger sites is an alternative to the traditional forum. Again, you usually can include a hot link to your website when you post. Spamming the comments is a complete no no, of course. Commenting regularly really gets your name out and also establishes your credentials (if you comment intelligently, of course!).

lists
Joining and participating in email lists is useful for promotion as well, even at a professional level. Any type of community participation that gets your name out there can provide a promotional benefit to your product and company.

social networks
Create a Facebook or My Space page for yourself, or a group for your company. Participate professionally on sites such as LinkedIn. Some of my developer friends and I are very active on Twitter, another good social networking option. You can also promote your blog at the social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Reddit, del.icio.us, and StumbleUpon, but these sites have a whole set of rules and methods for getting good exposure and take a lot of time. At a minimum, they do provide some benefit to search engine optimization with links garnered from posting.

Community participation is the most time consuming, but also can be the most cost effective and has the ability to really take off virally.

Good Customer service
A proactive way to encourage word-of-mouth and viral promotion is to take care of your existing customers. Respond in a timely manner. Even if you cannot solve their problem in the first response, tell them that you are working on resolution. Thank them for any feedback they provide. A satisfied customer will tell others about your product. Many will also send you testimonials that, with permission, you can list in your promotions. A potential customer who has his needs addressed will more likely purchase your product.

Submit Listings to Free Sites
Be sure to find any sites that list mobile software and submit your software. You'll get more traffic to your website and better rankings in search, plus again, you'll get recognized and perhaps garner more reviews by these sites. This option is also very time consuming, but is worth the effort. Just be careful not to waste time on sites that are dormant--not actively maintained. iPhone sites are multiplying right now, but a whole lot of Palm sites are dead and really getting no traffic except from the Googlebot.

Miscellaneous
My friend Shaun of the 247 news sites will tell you that a good contest is a superb promotional tool. You can donate software to contests held by blogs or websites, or hold your own contest. We once held a birthday contest where, to enter, we asked users to write what they liked about our products. We got publicity and also some great testimonials. Some sites like to interview developers, some like you to participate in roundtables. Winning awards for your software is a plus, but you have to get nominated and usually have an established base before you can garner some of the top positions. My friend Sammy of PalmAddict is a big proponent of contests and reader awards. At Download.com, you can join the PayPerDownload program, where you bid on placement in their list. It sounds expensive, but if you do the math (#downloads * PPD rate * sales to download ratio < sales revenue), in most cases it's worth the exposure.

Final Thoughts
A company can promote their products a little or a lot. Promotion can be expensive or cheap. Set a budget, do some trial and error, but don't be afraid to spend money in the beginning—name recognition takes time. (In our case, we were able to increase our sales by 900% over the course of the first year we started active promotion.) Develop relationships with fellow bloggers and webmasters, which can not only help with promotion, but also with keeping your sanity while going through the process. Keep what works and try new things continuously and try not to get discouraged. Unless your product and price can sell your wares by themselves, you WILL need to do some sort of promotion to be successful. Good luck!

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Below is a list of ideas and links. The list is not exhaustive—it's just a start. Feel free to add more sites and ideas in the comments—I also welcome bloggers and webmasters to plug their own sites!

PROMOTIONAL TOOLS

A Few Publications
iPhone Life (iPhone)
PC World (mostly Microsoft products)
Macworld (mostly Apple products)
PDA Essentials (all mobile)
Palmtop User (all mobile)

News/Community websites and forums
PDA247: iPhone, Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian, etc. (news & forums)
Brighthand: all mobile (news & forums)
1src: Palm (forums & news)
TreoCentral (Treo centric, Palm & WM)
TUAW (Apple)
PalmInfoCenter (news & detailed comments)

Community Blog
PalmAddict: Palm and iPhone, with some Windows Mobile and other OS's mixed in

Blogs
TamsPalm (Tam also has other flavors for each OS)
Mobile Orchard (iPhone with a dev focus)
iPhone Blog
Inside iPhone
Daring Fireball (Apple)
Palm-Mac (mobile mix)

News and Reviews
Computing Unplugged

App Listing Sites (just a sampling)
148 Apps (iPhone) (trivia: 148 is the max number of apps you can put on your iPhone)
App Shopper (iPhone) (also one of the best RSS feeds for AppStore updates I've found)
App Safari (iPhone)
Palm Boulevard (Palm, but also other flavors available)
Download.com (CNET) – all mobile, plus PayPerDownload program
Apple has a webapps listing
Got Apps?
More listed here:
    Mobile Orchard
    Safe from the Losing Fight
    Palm Addict lists some popular sites and blogs in their current 2008 reader award standings (mostly Palm and WM centric)