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Marketing is often neglected by builders of software, myself included.
When it comes to the eventual success of the software, the quality of product and the quality of marketing are multiplicative.
If one of them are at 0, then it doesn’t matter how good the other one is. The end result will also be a zero.
Marketing is hard and I can’t tell you how to market software well, because I don’t know myself.
What I can do is to document all my marketing activities so that you can get inspired.
What is marketing?
Broadly speaking: any activity that generates awareness about your software.
Getting users / customers is a funnel:
- get users aware your software exists
- get them to try it out
- get them to become a user or a customer
In general I’m a believer in inbound marketing i.e. writing content that is related to the product, promoting that content.
I think especially effective content is one that teaches people something. As Kathy Sierra says, out-teach, not out-spend.
I never done paid advertising and I don’t think I’ll do it for Filerion.
- it’s hard to measure results of marketing. Advertising joke: only half of our ads are effective, we just don’t know which half
- most marketing activities fail i.e. they don’t provide obvious results
- marketing activity heavily depends on the product. Something that works great for enterprise software might be ineffective for customer software
- some go too far and become spammers, not marketers. Don’t do that.
- this is not a tutorial on marketing, just unfiltered diary of everything I tried
There are some things that you should always do:
- have a website; in my case website is the product
- have documentation
- have a Twitter account where you post notable updates about your product. It could be a dedicated twitter account or your personal account
- have a forum where people can discuss your software with you and other people. I use GitHub Discussions but there are plenty of options
- have a way for users to report bugs. I use GitHub Issues
- have a way for users to vote for features. I use Canny (it has a generous free tier)
- setup alerts for your product. I use simple and free F5Bot to notify me about
filerion.combut there are many other options. When you get an alert, engage with people talking about your software.
Those might not look like marketing activities but to me they are, in the broad sense of the word.
You want to create the greatest footprint. Web pages that people can link to when they want to talk about your product.
My marketing activities
Here’s the list of all the things I do that could be considered a marketing activity. It’s a running list i.e. I’ll be adding to it in the future.
This is an unfiltered list i.e. I record everything, not just things that work. Most marketing activities are failures.
I timestamp each entry to give an idea of timelines.
As I write it it’s very early, so I’m focusing on building the basic features. The software is out there but no point spending too much effort on marketing it when it’s lacking some basic features.
- table stakes: website, with docs, using my personal Twitter account with ~900 followers, a forum, bug reporting and Canny
- I’m writing this diary of building the project. Each day I write about what I did for the project, lessons and ideas. I post a link to Twitter and re-post in GitHub Discussion, just to seed if with some content.
- I posted Show HN https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31838542. A failure: only 1 upvote. When something like this fails, there are open question. Did it fail because it just wasn’t interesting? Did it fail because I pitched it badly and if I changed the title / description it would be upvoted more? Was it a random chance? (It’s not uncommon for the exactly same article be posted to HN many times and sometimes it’s upvoted and sometimes it’s ignore). Also, I’m not sure if a successful HN post (one that ends on a main page) is worth much. On one hand, those readers are famously drive-by i.e. they read the linked post but don’t explore much beyond that. On the other hand, every piece of exposure matters and Filerion is a tool for pro users, so the demographic might be good.
- Posted my essay to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31934216 and https://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/voc6nt/find_programming_jobs_by_increasing_luck_surface/ The article wasn’t about Filerion but did mention it. Both were failures (was even downvoted on reddit). Got ~10 visits to Filerion as a result. I misjudged how popular it might be. It’s an expanded version of a comment I made on HN (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31911728) that got 16 upvotes. I think it has useful information. Maybe there are some better forums to promote it? That’s content marketing for you: a few hits in the sea of failures.
Other’s people marketing
Remarkable means “worth making a remark about”.
Good marketing creates stories that are remarkable. Stories that people talk about. Remark about.
I don’t have a process for coming up with remarkable results but I can recognize it.
The thing about remarkable ideas is that most of them can’t be copied. They are successful because they do something for the first time. You don’t know who was the 5th person on the Moon, you probably can only name the first guy.
Here are few examples of remarkable marketing.
- https://tuple.app/sends-you-on-vacation/ Tuple, a software company, is sending a single open source developer on a vacation. That will cost them $10-$20k but it’s a remarkable offer. The process of voting for the developers will generate a lot of exposure for the company. Here’s a reaction https://twitter.com/frontstuff_io/status/1539696072746049539 (”I just found out about Tuple from this campaign and holy shit, what a cool app—not to mention the kickass landing page.”)
- http://www.milliondollarhomepage.com/ was an idea where someone created a web page with 1000x1000 pixel image and would sell each pixel for $1 (for a total of $1 million). Companies would buy those pixels to put their logos and links to their websites because this idea was remarkable and got lots of attention. The creator made out like a bandit.
- https://twitter.com/levelsio does a lot of remarkable things, mostly by being very transparent about his business.