26 June 2010

Misusing the Interface

People don't always use our products the way we think they will.

For example, an architect probably thinks that a doorway is used as a passageway from one room to another. But if you spend much time in public buildings, you will learn that a huge percentage of people use the doorway as a place to stop and decide which way to go. Or a place to stop and find out who or what is in the next room. Or a place to turn around and go back where they came from. Or a place to hold a conversation. Doorways often turn out to be, not entrances, but blockades. Perhaps if architects really understood this, they would make the doorways in museums, government buildings and shops a little wider. Or perhaps they would add signs reminding people to keep moving. Or windows next to the doorway so people can see the next room before they get there. And so on.

What does this have to do with software developers? If we could secretly watch our customers and potential customers as they try to navigate our websites or use our software, we might be surprised to see that what they do is often not what we expected them to do. Things that "make sense" to us because we already know how they are supposed to work may actually slow down or confuse our users. Or, like the person who just wants to peek through a doorway rather than actually enter a new room, our users may have agendas for our products, or paths through our websites, that aren't quite what we envisioned.

How hard is it for a website visitor to find out what your product really does or how much it costs? How many menu layers does a user have to go through to do the one thing he considers most important? How hard is it for someone to use your help system to actually get help? All of these things affect your sales.

[Reposted with permission from the ESC members-only newsgroup]

24 June 2010

Cheap Ideas: Not So Cheap

Most developers have had this experience. A user contacts you saying he has a great idea for a program. He wants you to do all the work, and then share the (undoubtedly enormous) profits with him. Yeah, right. Ideas, as they say, are a dime a dozen, and the uninitiated have no concept of how much work is involved in creating a successful program. Most of these unsolicited ideas are vague at best and most developers find a polite way to tell these folks to get lost.

But the huge demand for mobile device apps may have brought some changes to this scenario. Over 250,000 smart phone apps have been produced since 2008, and the estimated revenue from this sector is now $7 billion and growing. Everyone wants to get in on the act, and maybe they can. An article in today's Los Angeles Times describes the emerging role of companies that will create mobile apps at the request of non-programmers. A customer who has an idea can pay to have it implemented, and may even make a profit from it. The customer can pay for the work up front, or enter into an agreement for a portion of the income. The cost to develop most of these apps is low because the actual programming is usually done outside the U.S.

Of course, there are a few horror stories from people who hired unreliable companies and spent a lot of money in exchange for non-functioning code. And, even among those whose programs are released into the market, only a small percentage will make even a small profit. But the dream of making a fortune from one clever idea never dies. The companies who, for decades, have lured wannabe inventors have now been joined by those who hope to lure wannabe software developers.

See the L.A. Times story. (Note that this link may be temporary.)

23 June 2010

ESC's July 2010 Software Marketing Book Club selection

The New Positioning - The Latest on the World's #1 Business Strategy by Jack Trout will be the Educational Software Cooperative's July 2010 Software Marketing Book Club selection.

Fifteen years after Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind", Jack Trout has released his updated analysis and insights on the topic of positioning. The world has changed, and Trout has a lot to say about marketing and positioning.

The original Positioning book by Ries and Trout was a breakthrough because it changed the focus of marketing from what you do to the product to what you do to the mind. We've learned a lot about the mind in recent years, and the current book talks about what we've learned, and how it should affect the way be do marketing.

Trout is concerned that many companies have tried line extensions and diversification, and have gotten lost in the marketplace. Others have watched as the marketplace has changed, and were unable to cope with the changes.

This new book presents case studies of companies that had to reposition themselves in people's minds if they were to survive and grow. And it provides a lot of practical advice, from how to name your company and product, to how to be certain that customers will understand your product's category.

Trout believes that you can't successfully position your product as something that everybody needs. In the software industry, for example, you simply can't convince buyers that your software has both the most powerful feature-set and the simplest interface. It's unlikely that you're the most powerful while being the least expensive. You can't be the ideal solution for newbies and gearheads.

You have to carve out a position in the marketplace, and dominate that particular position.

Car makers used to position themselves as dominant in a particular category. Today, Chevrolets are tiny and huge, cars and trucks, inexpensive and luxury. As confusion increases, market share decreases.

Software developers have a similar problem in defining their categories, and their positions within these categories. There's a tendency on the part of many developers to describe their applications as the solution to every known problem. A better approach is to create separate programs for each market, and to use them to dominate each market.

There's so much to talk about. Please join us in the Educational Software Cooperative's Software Marketing Book Club. Read more about this month's Book Club selection.

- Al Harberg, the press release guy from DP Directory, Inc.

17 June 2010

Free Developers' Tools at SIC

People attending the 20th annual Software Industry Conference (SIC) in Dallas on July 15 - 17, 2010 will be receiving some free developers' tools worth much more than the price of admission to the conference.

Each conference attendee will receive a copy of /n software's Red Carpet Subscription, a $1,499(US) package that includes powerful components for Internet communications, security, and messaging. Conference attendees will also receive the latest version of the TuneUp Utilities from TuneUp Corporation and a 2 gigabyte USB-Key for TuneUp Utilities.

The Software Industry Conference is a three day event that includes dozens of informative, educational breakout sessions covering a wide variety of topics that are critical to the success of Independent Software Developers (ISVs). It culminates with a Networking Gala Dinner that gives software developers and publishers an opportunity to form partnerships and alliances.

The conference includes more than forty educational seminars and presentations that are designed to help developers sell more software. Presentations by industry experts include topics such as profiting from Google Adwords, marketing more effectively, providing income-producing customer support, working with translation and localization services, sending press releases, developing Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, avoiding legal pitfalls, reducing chargebacks, and creating affiliate networks.

There is plenty of time to network with other software developers and software industry service providers. The conveniently-located daily breakfasts in the Hyatt Regency DFW Hotel make it easy for conference attendees to meet and socialize with fellow industry members. You can even attend the annual meetings and luncheons of two industry trade associations, ESC and ASP.

The casual SIC conferences are known for their family-friendly atmosphere. Many software developers turn their trips to SIC into mini-vacations.

As always, the conference will present awards to honor developers in several key software categories. SIC's Exhibit Night features the best software development products and services from leading industry vendors.

Registration at the door costs $299(US), or costs $249 if you register online by July 13. Deeply discounted hotel rooms at the Hyatt Regency DFW are available to all conference attendees.

On a personal note, I've gone to six of the last twelve SICs, from the 1998 conference in Providence, Rhode Island to last year's conference in Boston. They're great!

You learn a lot about the software development business. You meet developers and vendors who can help your business for years to come. And there's so much positive energy, you come home motivated to implement the fresh ideas that you've been exposed to.

If you can break away from your business for a few days, you should try to attend SIC 2010 in Dallas.

For more information about SIC 2010, visit http://www.sic.org/

- Al Harberg, the press release guy from DP Directory, Inc.

16 June 2010

The ASP Is Now The ASP

After 23 years of serving the software development industry as the Association of Shareware Professionals, the ASP has changed its name to the Association of Software Professionals.

Andy Brice has written a great article for ASP's blog about ASP's name change. It's called "Shareware is dead – long live shareware!".

Andy contacted influential software developers who were there when the concept of shareware was new, and asked them about ASP's name change. The blog article includes responses from Rosemary West, Jim Knopf (Jim Button), Marshall W. Magee, Nelson Ford, Rob Rosenberger, Paris Karahalios, Jerry Medlin, Gary Elfring, Paul Mayer, and Mike Dulin.

Learn more about the new ASP on http://www.asp-software.org/.

- Al Harberg, the press release guy from DP Directory, Inc.

09 June 2010

ESC's June 2010 Software Marketing Book Club selection

EVEolution - Understanding Women - Eight Essential Truths that Work in Your Business and Your Life by Faith Popcorn and Lys Marigold (published 2001 by Hyperion) will be the Educational Software Cooperative's June 2010 Software Marketing Book Club selection.

Women make 80 percent of all purchasing decisions. Yet we've been told that it's politically incorrect to treat women and men differently when it comes to understanding how they make buying decisions.

Finally, somebody has the courage to say that it's important to learn how to market to women.

I hope you'll join me in ESC's members' newsgroup to discuss this important marketing book.

To learn more about how the ESC Software Marketing Book Club can increase your software sales, please visit ESC's bookclub website pages.
- Al Harberg, the press release guy from DP Directory, Inc.

01 June 2010

Member of the Month June '10

Congratulations to our Member of the Month for June, Alex Ferri, head of PCWinSoft Systems Informatica Ltda. Visit the Member of the Month page to learn more.