On going viral. Or at least bacterial.
A few days ago I launched my first iPhone/iPad app, First World Problems.
My journey to app stardom began a few months ago, when an old friend whose high-end Polaroid photography I proudly display in my home reached out to me on Facebook and said she was having a blast publishing travel apps for an outfit called Sutro Media and that she would “sign” me in “a second.”
Sign me for what?
As it happened, I had been griping on Facebook this summer about the woodpeckers attacking the garage in our vacation house on Moosehead Lake in northern Maine and the fact that the painter had forgotten to replace the batteries in the fist-sized, motion-activated spider that the exterminator installed, the same spider that now lives up in the eaves and descends on a cord at the first peck to frighten away the birds. (That’s the theory, at least; all I’ve got proof of thus far is that it frightened a renter half to death at 6:00 in the morning when she was trying to open the garage door and store some empties.)
As for the dilemma of the spider’s batteries, a philosopher friend named Julia reached out to comfort me; to say that I was “sore oppressed” by this problem and that I should “contact Angelina immediately and have her submit a humanitarian declaration at the United Nations,” etc. Which opened a bit of a floodgate for me. The daily catharsis of complaining about First World problems such as chirpy Trader Joe’s cashiers and the fact that I’d received only two slices of octopus sopressata in my appetizer easily was worth the effort of posting. It was all tongue-in-cheek, of course; that was part of the joke.
Not long after, people I hadn’t heard from in years were LOL’ing their support. A CEO friend said she kept a guest in stitches reading about my disgust that the complimentary cappuccino bar at my car dealership only had whole milk. Another told me my feed was officially his favorite one on Facebook. Given all the online-to-print plays I’d seen — Sh*t My Dad Says and I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar — I wondered whether I might soon be on the verge of what today’s editors and agents call a “platform.” And I had better be, because I’m certainly not starting a cooking show and I don’t shop near enough to generate more than two haul videos a year.
So I decided to give it a whirl, and over the three months from my friend’s initial contact to my apps first download (thanks, Tom), I learned a few things:
1. It pays to be king of the portal. My app publisher gets their cut for account set-up, providing a content management system, linking me to Creative Commons for imagery search, submitting the app to the Apple Store, etc., but Apple itself gets a bigger cut of every 99 cents I earn (okay, “earn”) than the Federal Government does every two weeks when I get paid. Draw advertisers to your content or better yet own the stage and you’re golden.
2. The world’s standards may not be not your own; a.k.a., I do not live in France. Apple is very touchy about photography. A (to me) completely innocent beach shot of a toddler dressed only in a hat bounced back from Brother Apple twice for being potentially offensive (thanks a heap, Mary Ellen Mark). Good thing I didn’t submit any orchid images with big dangling stamens or there would have been panic in the streets. But point taken: know your audience and what you can get away with. If you’re marketing to the Fortune 500, you can’t sound like a three-person start-up.
3. It’s hard to be a client. Suddenly I was at the mercy of someone with greater technical knowledge and know-how than I had, and even worse I had no true control over when my requests and input — e.g., politely pointing out that Sutro’s home page appeared to have been hacked (it had) — would be addressed. It reminded me all over again that you’ve got to take the client’s point of view every day if you’re in the position of serving them, and that over-communicating is rare. More often than not clients around the world are sitting at their desks or behind the wheel or lying awake in the dark wondering what the hell is taking so long with their project. And since we’re all in the service business, we’ve got to remember that.
4. If you build it, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that they’ll come. Now that I have a public (why yes, that US Weekly telephoto shot of the man in the sweatshirt schlepping Pellegrino out of BJ’s Wholesale Club might indeed have been me), I must not only read but also act on the astonishing number of articles with titles like “575 Things You Should Be DoingRight This Minute to Promote Your App” in order to grow that public. And I must serve that public with scheduled updates, even if that little red Update bubble above the App Store icon isn’t anyone’s favorite sight in the world right now. If you are a marketer, the same applies to you. Fresh, updated content is a huge draw, as long as it’s interesting, entertaining, credible and informative, so you’ve got to generate it. In my case, I’ve got 134,000 iPhone apps and counting competing against me, most of them free. Sounds like a First World Problem in the making, come to think of it…
5. Be open to feedback. In the spirit of the marketer’s blood that courses through my body, here is the link to First World Problems: http://bit.ly/bKTCaj If you download it (sorry, out of review codes), I’d love to hear what you think. Review it. Post about the problems in the Feedback section. Share your own personal tragedies of soggy toast points and indifferent service at Saks. It’s all about transparency. A good lesson for anyone who’s a marketer. You put yourself out there; you’ve got to be ready for what comes flying back at you.
And here is another link you may find useful: http://www.eaaa.org It’s the address for the Eastern Agency on Aging, a Bangor, Maine-based charity that will receive all the after-tax (and after Apple-tax; Jeez) proceeds from my little iPhone experiment. They buy fuel oil and provide on-call meals to Maine’s retired workers who have a hard time making ends meet, especially during the winter, and often think, in true Maine humble pie style, that there must be someone out there much worse off than they are. These people do a great job with dignity and aplomb. And if you send them $25 they’ll send you a well-made baseball cap that will have all your friends thinking you earned a degree in gerontology on the side.
As Summer gives it up to Fall, it occurs to me that I’d better start planning for that 3D version of the app. I’m sure it’ll be all the rage by next year. In the meantime, I think I’ll keep my day job. It gives me so much material.
Author: Hugh Kennedy is EVP, Partner at PJA Advertising + Marketing