Good Enough to Invest in Marketing?

I’ve read some good articles recently about marketing & advertising for independent software developers. Of note, a post from Desk app developer John Saddington gave a detailed view of his own particular situation, with Desk, asking Does Sponsoring Daring Fireball Actually Work? Very interesting.

Throughout all of this discussion there’s a general theme that, as developers, we need to pay more attention to marketing. I agree.

Still, the recent coverage of this idea seems to be built on the following assumption:

You’ve built an awesome product that’s worthy of marketing effort.

This gives me pause. Based on my own experiences with apps, “building an awesome product” isn’t straight forward.

First, the bit most developers are wont to focus on, it’s not easy to build a beautiful, well crafted app with great workflow, features, interactions, etc. Something that grabs the attention of people; something that they talk about.

More fundamental however, before the bulk of the development, you’ve got to build the right product. Does it solve a meaningful problem? Does it entertainment people? Is there a market for it?

My simplified view:

  1. You need to build something that people want or need
  2. You need to do a great job building it
  3. You need to market your product

The thought of marketing, if it’s a significant investment of either time or money, makes you evaluate what you’ve built. How many people want this? Has it been done well? Is the pricing sustainable? etc.

Like John said in that article, a large investment always carries a risk. But perhaps that makes the following question a useful one to ask:

Would you pay money to advertise your product?

(Currently, for my apps, the answer is probably not.)

Personally, I’m most often consumed by the first two challenges: what to build and making it good[1]. This can (and does) defer thinking about marketing until later.

Yet, a good product development strategy should consider all three of those elements from the beginning. Thinking about your approach to marketing/advertising sooner rather than later might ask questions that lead to a different perspective on things…

  1. Hobbyist developer…