Marketing – the next level

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

What exactly is marketing? We’re all familiar with the word, and most of us have it on our mental “should do” lists, but what exactly is it? Look it up in a dictionary and you’ll see definitions like “the act or process of selling”, or “the technique of promoting, selling and distributing”.

But marketing isn’t simply a fancy word for selling, and it certainly isn’t another word for advertising. At university I was taught that marketing is the link between the producer and the consumer, which roughly translates as bridging the gap between what you sell and those who buy it.

Many people assume that they don’t need to market their software, as they already advertise. But as already pointed out, marketing is not advertising. It’s about finding out who you’re trying to sell to, what exactly they want from you, and how to give it to them. It’s that simple.

But to ignore marketing is more than dangerous; it’s downright stupid. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that good sales mean that you’re already carrying out sufficient marketing. Without seeing where you stand, and what may be around the corner, you’re effectively 100% blind, both to opportunities and threats, and won’t even notice when they pass you by or hit you in the face.

But deciding to start concentrating on your product marketing is a big task, so where to begin? As always the most effective technique is to break the task down into separate components.

1) Identify the demand 
The best starting point is to look at your product, and try to identify who needs it. Not who may be buying or using it now, but who could benefit most from its features. Ask yourself who these people are, where they are, and how are you going to reach them. And force yourself to be specific. If you’re selling a text editor with code highlighting, don’t label your customers as programmers. Label them as small-office programmers, one-person developers, home-based programmers and so on.

You also need to ascertain why they need your product; for what specific purpose, under what circumstances, and why would they choose yours? Your text editor may, because of its features, be primarily of use for someone writing Visual Basic code, or perhaps be more suited to HTML developers. Drill down and identify the specifics.

The next question is when will they buy the product, and why? Would they consider buying your product at a certain time of year, or before or after a specific event?

Identify what outside influences may affect the demand. Is there a new product being launched, a new set of circumstances, a change in the market, change in technology, or even a change in legislation?

2) Identify the solution 
Now that you know as much as you can find out about the demand, you need to make sure that you are not only offering the solution, but that people searching for it know where it is and how to find it.

Start by identifying exactly what it is that’s needed to satisfy the demand, and try to identify what it is that the consumer will be buying. Depending on the nature of the product, it may be the product itself, the solution that it provides, the status symbol of ownership and so on.

While much of this boils down to semantics, your choice of words are critical. Look at IBM. They don’t sell computers or PCs, they sell solutions. Their marketing represents one of the most impressive in the computer industry that I’ve ever seen. They’re not riding the wave, they’re ahead of it. And it works.

You have to make sure that you not only recognise and identify the features of your product, but that you’re pushing the benefits of having and using it as well. Application X may well be able to search 120 online pricing databases at the same time, but the fact that it can “save you money right now” may prove to be the selling point.

When you’ve identified the solutions, and the demand, you can work on the price, and on how much the consumer will be prepared to pay. But before you can do so, there’s one more factor to take into account

3) Identify the competition 
At this stage you need to raise your head from peering down at your own little world, and remember that unless you’re remarkably lucky, there is such a thing as competition. And if you don’t have any now, it’ll come along sooner rather than later. Trust me!

Start by identifying who your competitors are, what they do and sell, and how they operate. The web makes fast and easy work of this sort of research, so be sure to leave no stone unturned. Go to their websites, find out from the search engines who’s linking to them, and try to see exactly how they do business. Go through every piece of information you can find, and ensure that you understand their product, their selling points and the way they do business.

Identify how you match up against them, and more importantly, how do you compete with them? Remember that their shortcomings are your opportunities, so spend time on this part of the research. You may well stumble onto some very useful information indeed.

How are they perceived by the market? Have a search through the newsgroups, and see if their name crops up. In what sort of light are they presented, represented or talked about? Maybe they have some form of user forum? If so then join it. It’s not illegal, and it’s not sneaky. It’s business.

Try to evaluate whether they even know about you. Do you have any form of contact with them? Competing with an individual or company doesn’t mean that they have to be your enemy, and it doesn’t mean that you have to ignore each other. Who knows what may develop if you make formal contact with these people.

4) Connecting the demand to the product 
Do you have any idea how your product is perceived by existing users or potential customers? If so, then this is critically important information. If they like it and find it useful, then find out what they appreciate about it and why. If they dislike it, then find out what it is that they feel is disappointing or even missing, and plug these gaps. Praise is always nice to receive, but criticism can often be so much more useful. Seek it out.

By this stage you should have identified the users and potential users of your product, what they want from your product, and who you’re up against. You now have to work out how you’re going to reach them.

How you package and promote your product is one of the most import steps in tying together the information that you’ve gathered, and if you fully use the information that you’ve gained, you can only succeed at what you’re doing.

You must never lose sight of who your customers are, and what they want from you. Selling ice to the Eskimos will never make you rich, but the same ice can be sold elsewhere for great profit. Find your users, recognise their needs, and target your actions accordingly. Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.