Are there any books or research out there on how best to market "web programming" services? I find it's hard to communicate to clients the benefits of custom web programming. Also how to put it in laymen terms so it's simple to understand. Are there any good metaphors, analogies, or hyperbole that you can suggest?
TL;DR - People don't care about development. They care about the value the development brings them. Market that.
You have two basic approaches. Nothing stopping you doing both of course - but they need very different messages.
1) Sell to the people who already value development. Design agencies, for example, who need people to implement the techie side of some of the sites that they build.
2) Sell to the people who need development - but do not value development. Here the key point to remember is that they don't care about development and never will. They care about the things that development will give them. Here you need to stop selling development. They don't care or understand about it and never will. Instead you sell the solution that the development will provide - preferably with examples and case studies / references of folk you've done it with before.
An example. This is an lightly edited version of a letter I sent to a while back:
Note how I'm not talking about user interviews, analysing their search engine results, a new visual design, a new custom built CMS, HTML5/CSS, user testing, etc. Despite the fact that we did it all for $similar-company.
Instead I'm saying "You told me this was you're biggest problem. Look we solved it for $other-compay. Here are some people you can talk to for verification. Here is what you should do next".
Good practice is to watch what your competitors are doing. Mainly it's greatly dependent on your portfolio of websites programmed as well as your targeted customers. Nowadays everyone needs a site, so it would be ok to focus on a particular target (niche) where to specialize. Once you do that, the customers will begin coming towards you, no marketing budget need. Word of mouth is best.
As of the second question - how to explain to them the benefits - once you have profiled in a specific business niche you will know that niche and will be able to consult and explain the potential customers what solution will fit for them and how it will reflect on their business. That's the kind of service most valuable to the customers and, frankly, not often proposed to them.