Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Spine of Your Next
Software Development Project

In her book "The Creative Habit - Learn it and use it for life," Twyla Tharp talks about creativity. She draws on her 35-year career as a dancer, choreographer, and businessperson, and tells all of us how we can learn to be more creative. And most of her ideas apply splendidly to the software development industry.

Twyla Tharp defines your project's spine as the main thrust of your effort. It's the engine and drive-train of your project.

Your spine should be the underlying theme that drives you to create your new project. It's the idea that provides your internal motivation, and it doesn't necessarily have to be presented to your audience. You may want your audience to understand your project using a different metaphor.

Tharp tells us not to wander about aimlessly, relishing in the excitement of not knowing where we're going. Creating a spine makes the creative job easier by giving us direction and allowing us to focus on the work at hand.

A spine keeps us from getting lost. We can always go back to the spine, and regain our sense of direction.

Finally, Tharp tells us that having a spine enables her to know when the job is done.

Defining your spine is a great way to start a software development project. Too often, the driving force behind developing new applications is the developers' failure to find the exact program that they were looking for. The mission drifts as development progresses. Feature bloat often creeps in.

A clearly defined spine would solve many of these problems. And a clearly defined marketing spine would help even more throughout the entire software development and maintenance life cycle.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Demographic Trends and Software Sales

Book review of The Age Curve - How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm by Kenneth W. Gronbach (published 2008 by AMACOM).

I first learned of Ken Gronbach's demography book when I read an article he'd written for a local print publication, Hartford Magazine. His ideas are intriguing, and I immediately ordered "The Age Curve."

Gronbach believes that the major changes which we have experienced in the United States - and which we will experience in the future - in the marketplace and in the world at large, are due to the size of successive generations.

The author is the first to acknowledge that his theory simplifies a very complex topic. But Gronbach makes a convincing argument for the relationship between population and a lot of the rising and falling of specific companies and market trends.

microISVs are correct to focus their efforts on their immediate marketing problem. Trends, however, are also important.

Gronbach's book focuses on demographics in the United States, but his principles apply worldwide. And if you're marketing software applications, the US represents the biggest market on the planet. So the conditions that Gronbach describes could affect the success of your business, regardless of where your company is located.

The author believes that demographic trends dictate the demand side of the sales and marketing equation. To be successful, it's important to have a high-quality software product, a solid business plan, and a strong marketing budget. But the ebbs and flows of population are going to strongly influence your success.

We live in a marketplace where large and small generations take turns, and shape the economy. Small generations buy fewer products and services than large generations. And Gronbach tells us that different generations have their own personalities. Gronbach would undoubtedly tell us that if we understand these demographics, we'll sell more software products and services.

To me, Gronbach's book was a real eye-opener. And it was a lot of fun to read. "The Age Curve" can strengthen your software marketing.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

microISVs are Content Publishers

Think of yourself as a publisher, and create an editorial calendar. That's what Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman say in their 2011 book "Content Rules - How to create killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars (and more) that engage customers and ignite your business."

Handley and Chapman want us to build a list of the main topics that we want our prospects and customers to learn more about. And each of us should create a multi-level editorial calendar.

On a daily basis, the authors tell us, we should plan the tweets and Facebook postings that we'll write. Find a way to weave our user-generated content into our blog postings and our blog comments and responses. Every week, create blog postings, screencasts, articles, and forum postings. Bring one or two of our web pages up to date each week.

On a monthly basis, the authors continue, we should create longer, more serious articles. Publish our email newsletter. Create a longer video or podcast. Create a webinar, and arrange to write a guest blog posting on another developer's blog.

On a quarterly basis, the authors want us to publish some really impressive stuff. Work on a research paper. Turn multiple case studies into an eBook. Create a live or virtual event that customers will participate in. Speak at a conference. Create a mobile app that customers can use.

The authors believe that it's best if our blogs have a mix of postings. Include short ideas as well as in-depth coverage of topics that will change the lives of our prospects and customers. Include some personal postings in the mix. By surprising our audiences from time to time, we'll keep them coming back for more of our content.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Emotional Software Sales Messages

Raw information is boring. Entertain your readers while you inform them.

This advice comes from Hank Nuwer, the author of "How to Write like an Expert about Anything - Bring Factual Accuracy and the Voice of Authority to Your Writing."

Nuwer recommends that we get our readers emotionally involved in our writing. This makes a lot of sense when writing sales presentations for software.

  • If you're marketing educational software, and you can get parents thinking about how your software will help their children succeed, you'll find your writing rewarding, literally.
  • If you're selling business applications, and you can demonstrate that entrepreneurs' competitors are going to take some market share away from them unless they install and use your application, then that might prove to be an effective way to increase software sales.

It's okay to use a little jargon in your writing, Nuwer tells us. Be sure to define your terms. And don't use too many buzzwords - you'll turn your readers off.

Nuwer also recommends that we use humor, give advice, and include anecdotes in our writing.

Monday, March 18, 2013

microISVs Shouldn't Wait Too Long

If you have an idea for a new software application that you'd like to develop, then take the time to determine if the program already exists in the marketplace. The world does not need another programmers' text editor.

If it's going to take you a year to develop the software, then be sure that there will still be a need for it a year from now. If Microsoft is including a new function in the next major release of Windows, then this might not be a good time to develop a stand-alone utility that largely duplicates Microsoft's planned feature.

In their book "What Were They Thinking? Marketing Lessons You Can Learn from Products That Flopped," authors Robert M. McMath and Thom Forbes tell the story about Clairol's introduction of Short and Sassy shampoo. It took the company a long time to introduce the product. By the time they put it on the shelves, fashion had changed and long hair was all the rage again.

Whether it's shampoo or software, if you take too long to release a product, you may miss an opportunity.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Create a Sustained Press Release Campaign

A press release about your software should more than pay for itself in increased sales of your application. But there's a better way to use news releases to raise your visibility - and your software sales.

By regularly submitting news releases whenever you launch a new program or a new version of an existing application, you generate new software sales, and you increase your name recognition and credibility.

When customers and prospects see your name online and in print a few times each year, they feel more comfortable about buying your programs. Submit your press releases to the editors a few times each year, and watch the impact on both your short-term and long-term sales.

Running an advertising campaign a few times each year could be very expensive. Running press release campaigns is much more affordable.

Even if you write your news release yourself, find an experienced professional who will give your news release a careful reading. Find a pro who will give you thoughtful feedback. Hire somebody who has been in the business for more than two decades. Hire me - Al Harberg of DP Directory - for press release writing and submission to bloggers, software reviewers, and editors.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Market Research for Software Developers

If Hewlett-Packard had listened to their market research, they would never have created color inkjet printers.

That's what David Packard wrote in his 1995 book "The HP Way - How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company."

In 1994, HP introduced the first color DeskJet printer. The cost was $365(US).

HP did quite a bit of market research, and the results were clear - Users did NOT want color inkjet printers. Printing in color was a very low priority for almost all of the people they interviewed.

HP asked them a key question - If they could buy a printer that met all of their business needs, and it happened to print in color, too, would that be a problem? People said that that would be okay.

In 1991, the worldwide market (from all printer manufacturers) for color printers was 360,000 units. By the end of 1994, HP sold almost 4,000,000 color printers.

So much for market research <g>.

There's a lesson here for software developers in today's turbulent economy - Talk to prospects and customers about what they want in their software. But if you're convinced that software buyers really want or need something else, then follow your heart.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Software Brand Building

Book review of Brand Warfare - 10 Rules for Building the Killer Brand by David F. D'Alessandro (published 2001 by McGraw-Hill).

D'Alessandro was the CEO of John Hancock, one of the largest insurance carriers in the United States. While D'Alessandro's focus is on branding in large enterprises, most of his ideas apply to small software development companies, too.

Small companies have to build brands if they expect to become larger companies. You can't just write an application, name it, and start marketing your software. You should be positioning your product and thinking about branding long before you begin writing your code.

Before becoming CEO of John Hancock, when D'Alessandro was working for a New York marketing firm, one of his first clients was Orville Redenbacher. Seeking to become the leading force in the popcorn industry, Redenbacher sought professional advice. D'Alessandro admits that he didn't even know that there was a popcorn industry.

Redenbacher was particularly proud of the hybrid corn that he had developed, and the popcorn that he manufactured. In an industry where it seemed that nothing could be more commoditized than popcorn, Redenbacher built a brand, and dominated his market.

More interesting for microISVs, Redenbacher was able to charge a premium for his popcorn that no competitor could match. Redenbacher gave a commodity a voice. Through his endearing public persona, he convinced consumers that his popcorn was worth buying, even at the premium price that he asked.

Consumers prefer branded products. And businesses like to offer well-established brands. A strong brand makes it easier for firms to issue stock and raise capital. Translated into the software development industry, good branding is good software marketing.

In 2000, the Interbrand brand consultancy firm named Coca-Cola as the number-one brand in the United States. Interbrand calculated that a little more than half of the company's value - more than $72 billion US dollars - could be attributed to the Coca-Cola company's brand. And that's why software developers need to take their brands seriously.

D'Alessandro believes that most enterprises don't know how to manage their brands, or how to take advantage of their brands' value. Too many business managers equate "brand" with "advertising". Brand is much deeper, D'Alessandro tells us.

The author defines brand as "whatever the consumer thinks of when he or she hears your company's name." It's not just your product or service. It's your customer service, and the things that people say about you on the Internet. It's everything associated with your software.

Your brand should drive your advertising, and not the other way around. D'Alessandro's 10 rules for building your brand fill the rest of this book with actionable ideas - good software marketing ideas that we can use in the software development business.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

IT Managers and BYOD

The bring your own device (BYOD) trend is huge and growing. More and more employees are bringing their smartphones and tablets to work. And IT directors continue to have mixed feelings about this new trend.

The results of CSC's fourth annual CIO Barometer study were published in the October 5, 2012 issue of Processor Magazine. Here's what the IT managers think about BYOD -
  • 45 percent say that they personally bring into the workplace phones and tablets that are more useful to them than the gear provided by their employer.
  • 88 percent observed that having their smartphones and tablets at work increases employees' morale.
  • 72 percent worry that employees' tablets and smartphones raise security concerns for their companies.
BYOD issues are going to determine which platforms are successful in the business environment. And that's going to affect the choices that software developers make when determining which platforms to write software for.

Stay on top of the BYOD issue, and you'll make better decisions about whether to develop apps for iOS, Android, Windows 8, or software as a service (SaaS).