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by John Casey
June 22, 2012 2:45 PM
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How Are Filmmakers Like App Developers? It's the Marketing, Stupid.

A version of this article was first published by Mobile Marketing Magazine. Casey is the founder of freshfluff.com, a site that promotes “smart, strategic PR and social media counsel and tactics.”

"I’m going to stick it in the iTunes store and hope for the best!”

That may sound familiar to mobile app developers, but the quote actually comes from independent filmmaker Mark von Sternberg. This was before a marketing strategy had been implemented for his film “Love Simple” but after it had already run the festival circuit and received no distribution offers.

It wasn’t until he partnered with two lupus organizations for cause-marketing programs (his film’s lead character is a lupus survivor) and developed a comprehensive media outreach program with a review strategy involving bloggers that the film gained an audience and an international distribution deal.

“I got lucky,” von Sternberg says now. “But in the future I’m not going to wait until production is done before I start to think about marketing. I’ve seen what an effective and well-thought out campaign can do.”

Last week Apple held its Worldwide Developers Conference, or, as it is otherwise known, “Oscars Week for app developers.” Which begs the question: What do aspiring filmmakers and app developers have in common? Quite a lot, actually. Most notable, though, is that both often mistakenly forgo the marketing process for a focus on production.

“I think many filmmakers shun, or even disdain, in a way, the notion that they have to ‘sell’ their film,” said producer Stephen R. Greenwald, a former film industry executive and author of “This Business of Film.” “There is sometimes a naive belief that the ‘film will sell itself.’ It won't; it has to be sold. Consumers will not make the effort or take the time to search for products they have never heard about.”

Many films, like apps, are never discovered by audiences. Both are, in many cases, well produced by creative individuals with a particular audience in mind, and they’re usually accomplished with tight budgets. However, in the end, many films, like the plethora of apps, are relegated to a small and crowded space in the iTunes Store.

In March, Apple made headlines by announcing that it had recorded 25 billion app downloads by users of more than 315 million iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices. According to a recent article in 148apps.biz, there are at least 657,575 apps available for download in the iTunes Store developed by 163,909 active publishers. That’s more than the population of Napa, CA, the favorite get-away destination for the folks from Silicon Valley. And the ocean of film content is no less imposing.

But despite the daunting numbers, mobile app developers and filmmakers often don’t feel the need to market their products. And that’s a bad idea.

“If you build it, they won't come,” said Nihal Mehta, an entrepreneur and expert in the emerging adoption of wireless technology for media properties and consumer brands. “There are nearly a million apps, and more becoming available every day by a growing number of developers, resulting in a fight for limited iTunes storefront and phone icon space. So developers need paid marketing and viral hooks in their app to succeed.”

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