Shareware Synergy

Earlier this month, I talked about alternative forms of digital marketing that could contribute to an exceptional experience.

One concept was to align brands with shareware developers to provide programs consumers could download. These programs could provide solutions to daily challenges or enhancements to a consumer’s digital lifestyle. Getting a screen saver or desktop wallpaper is an expected experience, but it would be a nice surprise to get a program that helped organized your thoughts, made mobile shopping lists, or even kept track of movies you want to see.

Shareware developers spend millions of hours making software to solve problems and fulfill needs unmet by mainstream software publishers like Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe. Sometimes the programs are free (and referred to as freeware), but in most cases the programs are free to use for a limited time and eventually require user registration along with a payment to the developer.

Shareware programs exist for thousands of computing needs. Developers gravitate toward marketplace and lifestyle voids to provide some undeveloped solution. With the diversity of shareware applications and solutions available, there’s a good chance there’s a program that would enhance your customers’ digital lifestyles.

Who makes these programs? Sometimes, it’s a small team of developers. Other times, it’s a larger team that collaborates from multiple locations across the globe. But most of the time, it’s a single developer working out of her home. Often, the software created by these developers is their primary job and source of income. Developing software is a complicated process, but it can be even more challenging to bring it to market. It takes physical and financial resources to get the word out. And because shareware tends to sell in the thousands, it’s rare for a developer to have the resources or funds to effectively promote her software.

I recently spoke with Jesse Grosjean of Hog Bay Software in Bangor, Maine. Hog Bay Software is a family business that develops personal productivity software for the Mac, including WriteRoom, Clockwork, and Mori. “Aligning with a brand is something that I haven’t heard of before, but it’s intriguing,” said Grosjean. “Exposure is one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to marketing your programs. If someone were to come in and help me get the word out by exposing my programs to a larger audience that’s something I’d be interested in talking about. “Most often, the donations made by customers end up going against the costs to fix bugs, operations costs, and fees associated with keeping the Web site and community going,” he continued. “This money isn’t going into a marketing or advertising program.”

Developers such as Grosjean are competing in a crowded marketplace. There’s a large number of shareware developers, and their exposure opportunities are limited and short in time. They don’t buy ads in consumer magazines or have a regional sales force that calls on Fortune 500 customers. Generally, their editorial coverage is limited to a top-tools list or a daily entry on an enthusiast’s site. From there, they rely heavily on search, word of mouth, and community participation. They covet the opportunity to expand their marketplace. This is where you come in.

Here are some quick tips on how you can partner with a developer:

  • Find an innovative solution. You know your customers. Check out the thousands of consumer programs available for free on the Web, and find something that will appeal to your audience.
  • Engage the developer. Talk to the developer about how you see an alignment between her product and your customers’ interests and needs. Discuss enhancements that could be tailored to your consumers’ or marketing initiatives’ specific needs.
  • Find out how you can help. Perhaps the developer has a list of features that could be developed faster if she had a development budget. Maybe she could use some development hardware?
  • Discuss your reach. Your site may reach millions of visitors every day who have never heard of the developer’s product. You can offer the developer exposure beyond what she could afford to do with time or money.
  • Come up with a unique offer. As part of your deal, see if you can modify the program’s terms to benefit your users. Perhaps you can offset the registration fee if it’s downloaded from your site or extend the evaluation period to give consumers more time to try the software.

It’s really about the consumer experience. If you can enhance a consumer’s daily life, you’re over-delivering with your marketing message. It’s one thing to have your banner read, and another thing to enhance the consumer’s digital experience.

Meet Chad at the ClickZ Specifics: Advertising in Social Media seminar on May 21 in New York.

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