Questions answered about my iPhone app promotion

My Billy Sheahan Photography iPhone app (link opens iTunes), has been out for a little over a week now. It’s done phenomenally well. Beyond my wildest expectations. A little over 1000 installs every day. Really tremendous.

And besides all the installs, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about why I felt I needed an iPhone app and many more about how I promoted it to get so many people interested in downloading it. All good questions.

First the why. There are a lot of photographers out there. And a lot of people who have cameras who fancy themselves photographers. It’s a very competitive business. Over the years I’ve sent out monthly postcards with a new photograph to clients and fans to keep my name and images in front of them on a regular basis. When the postage and printing of hundreds of mailings a month became too expensive from a business standpoint, I pared the mailing list down to a few dozen clients I wanted to stay in contact with and offered everyone else and fans the choice of a free email postcard, or switch to a subscription of $25 a year for 12 postcards.

And that’s worked great. The surprise benefit of switching to email is that it was easy to track who was looking and who wasn’t as well as giving people the ability to click reply and send me instant feedback. Always nice to hear what people think.

But email is becoming something people really only have time to glance at. Our email boxes are filled with so many things that’s it’s so easy to get lost in the clutter. It’s becoming difficult to communicate with email.

Then there were the social networking sites. Friendster (for those who remember that one), MySpace (becoming less and less useful), Facebook (everyone is on Facebook), Tumblr, and finally, my favorite of them all, Twitter because sometimes I don’t have time to write an entire blog entry, but I want to keep my name on people’s minds. Also Twitter is actually a great resource for information. Really.

SoloModels and ModelMayhem are two additional sites I’m on. And I even have a listing on TED.

But these are things any and most photographers can do. So how to come up with another new way to differentiate myself?

I began working with SoloModels this year on an iPhone app they offer. I had explored the idea of downloading the Apple iPhone Software Developers Kit and learning how to code an iPhone app on my own, but the SoloModels version offered what I was looking to do without all the heavy learning on my part. They had totally figured it out so I didn’t have to.

And there were a couple of things I liked about the SoloModels iPhone app. They had done it already and it worked. And even better, updating my photography, video and other content was easy since the iPhone app uses my SoloModels account to feed the app. I make a change on my SoloModels account and boom, my iPhone app is updated as well. My app always stays live. Couldn’t be easier.

So then, how to promote it? I’ve worked in advertising for about 20 years now. I’ve seen how successful campaigns have been created and I’ve also seen how bad ones don’t succeed. I decided to use that knowledge on promoting my own app.

I’ve edited hundreds of television commercials over the years. And I know that it’s not just about getting the message across. You have to make a spot something people want to watch. Your message is usually plunked down in the middle of something entertaining people are watching. The commercial is an interruption. Something people would rather skip, unless it’s interesting or compelling in some way.

So I knew any commercial I created for it had to be fun. To the point.

And I decided to treat it like a movie campaign. Before the app was even finished, I had the developer at SoloModels record video of him running the app through it’s paces on his computer desktop, since it didn’t physically exist on an iPhone yet. Basically a video screen capture.

I took that video and imported it into Final Cut Studio, cut out the developer’s desktop background so all you could see was the iPhone and flew it around on a white background, showcasing what it would do once it was available to download. The editing process took about 20 hours.

Then I created two versions, a “Coming This November” version to run while it when through the Apple iTunes Store approval process, which usually takes a few weeks. The second version was the “It’s Here” version.

I posted the “Coming This November” version everywhere I could think of: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, MySpace, and Tumblr as well as my blog and Twitter. It ran for two weeks and generated a bit of buzz for the app. Just like a Coming Soon trailer for a movie, the idea was to get people aware of it before it was available.

When I got the email that the iPhone app had been approved and was on the Apple iTunes Store, I immediately took down all the “Coming This November” versions of the commercial and uploaded the “It’s Here” version to the same places.

Billy Sheahan Photography iPhone App is now available from Billy Sheahan on Vimeo.

Over the course of the three weeks of the Coming this November and It’s Here campaign, I monitored Google and found it had been picked up on a lot of iPhone app and photography websites. By putting it up in so many places and keywording the postings with “iPhone app” and “photography,” it was easy for people who’s job it is to find new iPhone apps to find it. It even got picked up by a Japanese language iPhone app site. In fact about 30% of the installs are from Japan, a market that I had been virtually unknown in previously.

But what does it cost? Photographers, the good ones anyway, spend thousands of dollars a year creating promotional pieces and marketing their work. Just like any other business, you have to surround yourself with good people and create a polished, well designed campaign for yourself. It’s what separates the pro photographers from the GWCs (Guys with Cameras). The SoloModels iPhone app will run you about $1000 to get up and running. Is it worth it? Well, each photographer will have to make that assessment for themselves.

For me, it was a no-brainer because it’s a new way to get my Billy Sheahan Photography Brand literally into the hands of thousands of people who I wouldn’t have access to. Will it generate any future work for me? Too early to tell. But the feedback from my current clients so far has been very good. They show the app around to their network circles and more and more people learn about my photography.

I also decided to make my iPhone app a free download. I could have charged a buck or two for it, but the idea was not to make money from the app, but to get it into as many hands as possible. Rather than make a few dollars on the app, I’m hoping to make even more from actual photography work and build my client base.

We’re already working on version 2.0 of Billy Sheahan Photography that will have more goodies.

I spend about 70% of my time on the business of photography and 30% of it actually photographing and retouching and what not. Behind every beautiful image is hours and hours of paperwork, research, marketing and meeting new clients before I even pick up my camera. It’s a business.

Someday everyone and their mom will have an iPhone app, or a Droid app, or whatever the next thing is that we don’t know about yet. But for now, my iPhone app seems to be ahead of the curve, generating nice buzz. It’s just another piece of my photography marketing pie.

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