Promoting your software (part 3)

9. Print ads

Despite the explosion in the importance of online media, people still prefer to read dead trees. A few points to bear in mind:

  • Never pay what is says on their rate card, try to get at least 25% off. You may also be able to negotiate some editorial (and you thought it was all written by the staff – pah!).
  • The more ads you book, the better the rate you get.
  • As soon as you advertise in one magazine, all their competitors will ring you up and try to sell you advertising.
  • You can try to track the success or otherwise by using different urls, ‘where did you find out about us’ surveys or coupon codes. None of these are very reliable as customers will:
    • type the product name in Google instead of typing the URL
    • not answer the survey or forget where they heard about you
    • forget to use the coupon

‘Advertising executives’ will tell you that someone has to see your ad 7 times before they buy your product. How very convenient for their commissions! No-one has ever been able to give me a reference to support this widely cited ‘fact’. If you have a reference, please put it in a comment at the end of the blog.

Pros: Can give a lot of exposure and some credibility. Can be reasonably targeted with a good choice of magazine.

Cons: Very expensive. Difficult to measure the effectiveness. It is easier to click on a link in a web ad than to put your magazine down, start the computer and type the URL into a web browser.

Data point: I have spent several thousand pounds advertising PerfectTablePlan in UK and US wedding and event magazines. I ran everything from small classified ads in big circulation wedding glossies to quarter page ads in lower circulation event planning magazines. I used different URLs for each ad and ‘where did you hear about us’ surveys to try to measure the results. As far as I can tell the results ranged from disappointing to dismal.

A magazine for gay women recently contacted me to ask if I wanted to run an ad in their pull-out section on ‘civil partnerships’ (the new legal partnership for gay people in the UK). I kept saying no until they offered me a quarter page ad, editorial and space to announce a competition for £60+VAT. How could I lose money on that? In the competition I offered free licences to the first 10 people to email in with the magazine name and claim them. Number of clickthroughs to site: negligible. Number of sales through published ad URL: 0. Number of emails claiming one of the 10 free copies: 0!

I think it is very tough to make print ads pay when your software is a niche app selling at only £20/$35. The economics may be very different if your software sells in huge volumes (e.g. best selling games) or has a much higher ticket price. I have also found the accounts departments of magazines to be a huge pain in the backside to deal with.

10. Forums

This is a form of guerrilla marketing where you hang out in forums that your potential customers frequent and answer relevant questions with a subtle plug for your product. Exactly what is considered acceptable varies from forum to forum. Having your product URL in your signature is usually OK. Pointing people at a relevant answer on your site may also be acceptable. Starting a thread telling everyone how great your software is is unlikely to be welcome anywhere. Using fake personas to plug your own product (sock puppet marketing) is dishonest and likely to be seen straight through by forum regulars – don’t do it.

Pros: Free. Can be very targeted and can give you a lot of useful background information about your market.

Cons: Time consuming.

Data point: I know far more about wedding receptions than any man should.

11. Free ‘lite’ versions

You can give away a free, reduced-functionality version of your software as an enticement to buy the full version.

Pros: Free advertising for your product every time someone uses the lite version.

Cons: If the lite version is useful, people won’t need to buy the full version. If the lite version isn’t very useful, people won’t want to buy the full version. Catch-22. Its a fine balancing act. Also a lite version can undermine the perceived value of the full version.

Data point: This form of promotion doesn’t appeal to me. I have a ‘crippled’ functionality trial, but that isn’t the same thing.

12. Cold calling

Cold calling is phoning people without their consent to try and sell to them. Usually done by people with written scripts and rhinoceros thick skins.

Pros: I guess there must be some or people wouldn’t do it.

Cons: Time consuming (if you are doing it yourself) or expensive (if you are paying someone to do it). In the UK you can be heavily fined for calling people who have registered with the the Telephone Preference Service.

Data point: I did a bit of cold calling of event businesses in the early days of PerfectTablePlan. I hated it and quickly decided it wasn’t worth the cost to my self-esteem. I never sold a single licence this way.

Part 4 >>

3 thoughts on “Promoting your software (part 3)

  1. MrAnalogy

    I suspect that the effectiveness of print advertising varies.

    We have advertised in 4 different magazines and all give us a postive return on investment (ROI) within about 6 months, ranging from 150% to 250%. Compare that to Google Ads ROI of around 300% or so. I also never thought to ask for a discount, but in most magazines we’ve advertised in we get pretty low rates these days. I’d (almost) feel guilty asking for more of a discount.

    We do track how our users find us and can do that about 70% of the time.

  2. Andy Brice Post author

    >I suspect that the effectiveness of print advertising varies.

    Yes. I understand is goes from lousy all the way down to disastrous. ;0)

    250% is worthwhile though. How did you track it, coupons?

    Definitely ask for a discount. Nobody actually pays what is on the rate card.

  3. LitePacific

    I am usinga free version of my product, ImageIsland, to promote it and have seen some success. You are right, it is a balancing act. Ive also wondered if you gave all your software away for free, then sold modules, if that would generate more sales. I know that once Im sold on a product that I use and is helpful, that Im more likely to buy it than cold turkey buy something off the web without using it. I amy be wrong. Im wondering, if giving away the kitchen sink, building up thousands if not millions of loyal users, that eventually you will have a big enough market that you can begin selling not only add-ons and module, but whole new but related products?

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