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What is developer marketing?

Read Time: 8 Mins

Developer marketing is a collection of strategies and tactics meant to grow awareness, adoption and advocacy of software tools, solutions, and SaaS platforms by developers who would use them. Also called business-to-developer (B2D) marketing, developer marketing personalizes the developer journey to address fragmented communities and an aversion to traditional marketing tactics.

Like your other marketing efforts, developer marketing is about engaging an important audience to help drive conversion—but that’s where the similarities end.

Developer marketing is different than traditional product marketing because developers are unlike most other B2B audiences. These highly skilled professionals are well-versed in the latest technologies and are skeptical of traditional marketing tactics.

To build the trust and credibility necessary for developers to become loyal customers and get the results you want, you’ll need to provide technical information, resources, and tools that will help them solve their problems and achieve their goals. This requires a deep understanding of the developer perspective and a willingness to engage with developer communities in a meaningful way.

In this article, we’ll look at:

  • What developer marketing is—and isn’t
  • Why developer marketing is an important part of any tech company’s marketing strategy
  • Common hurdles that get in the way of developer marketing
  • Four steps to launch or improve your developer marketing program

What developer marketing is.

Instead of “marketing” to developers in the traditional sense, developer marketing programs aim to create relationships, support product adoption, and partner with developer influencers and communities to work toward common goals. Whereas traditional audience marketing focuses on breadth and reach, developer programs focus on depth of engagement.

The core components of developer marketing programs are:

  1. Peer validation. Developer marketers participate in constructive conversation in developer communities and micro-communities, adding value as colleagues and thought-leaders.
  2. Solving real-world developer problems. Companies provide products, resources, and solutions to help augment developer tech stacks to improve workflow and development efficiency.
  3. Creating advocacy. Developer marketers focus on enabling and empowering developers to convert them into champions for your product within their professional and personal networks.

What developer marketing isn’t.

When most companies think about marketing to developers, they think about adapting their current marketing tactics and assets for a developer audience. This is actually going about it all wrong.

It’s important to understand that developer marketing is not:

  • Business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), or even business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) marketing tailored to developers.
  • A universal, one-size-fits all framework for engaging with developers to get them to purchase or use your solution.
  • Marketing.

Read that last line again and let it sink in. Developer marketing is not marketing, at least not in traditional thinking. It’s a hard lesson that must be learned by all of us in the developer space, but once you accept this truth, your developer outreach programs will flourish.

Why are B2B tech companies marketing to developers?

In our 2023 State of Developer Marketing benchmarks survey, 97% of B2B tech marketing leaders reported that marketing to developers was an important part of their organization’s growth objectives.

These leaders understand that developers are key decision makers in the software industry and have significant influence on the adoption of new technologies. In fact, the State of Developer Nation reported that somewhere between 87% to 96% of developers with leadership functions are involved in purchase decisions. And, DeveloperMedia found that 60% of developers have the ability to approve or reject a tool purchase.

Companies that are looking to purchase technology almost definitely have developers behind the scenes who influence purchasing decisions. Ignoring this audience can delay or even derail a sale.

That’s not to say you need to switch from product to developer marketing. Rather, organizations are realizing the value of having a business to developer (B2D) component. In the 8th DevRel survey by the State of Developer Relations, 63% of the businesses that practice developer relations reported being developer plus companies, meaning they target developers to extend their primary business model.

What makes developer marketing different.

Successful marketing leaders know that good marketing starts with understanding your target audience and crafting messaging, tactics, and campaigns that address their specific needs, habits and preferences. The same is true for developer marketing. The difference is that as a rule, the needs, habits and preferences of developers are unlike those of most other audiences you are trying to engage and convert. Here are four of the main reasons why:

  • Developer communities are fragmented. Developers are inherently skeptical and inclusive. This means that there are very few centralized marketplaces in which you will find developers en masse. Brand messages and assets must be tailored to each channel and community or they’ll miss engagement with their targets.
  • Developers binge. Unlike traditional business and consumer audiences, developers tend to consume content all at once or not at all. With typical time-based drip and nurture campaigns, developers lose interest and focus on the opportunity at hand.
  • Developers aren’t your only audience. One of the mistakes marketers make when engaging with developers is not fully realizing that the developer is only one piece of the puzzle. While developers are end users, they are usually just one role within a multi-faceted team; messaging for a developer would not be appropriate for a procurement or product leader, or vice versa. Therefore, make sure your messaging and assets are tailored for multiple audiences, including, but not exclusive to, developers.
  • Developers HATE marketing. At their core, developers are usually more technical and pragmatic than consumers and business leads. Developers sniff out marketing jargon and superfluous messaging, leading to negative connotations and distrust of your brand or claims.

How to create effective developer marketing programs.

I challenge you to ask yourself three questions that we’ve found to be key indicators of developer program success:

  1. Without provocation or external touchpoints, are developers talking about your product or solution organically?
  2. Do your developer audiences see your brand or company as a solution partner rather than just a solution provider?
  3. Beyond initial adoption, are your target developers actively deploying or integrating your solution into their products without being managed by your teams?

If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s time to upgrade your developer marketing program. Here are four areas to think through and use to build a strong foundation for authentic developer engagement.

1. Build a strong developer marketing team—from evangelists to SMEs.

Dev marketing programs typically need at least two roles: a developer evangelist, who participates in the developer community and discovers what’s needed in terms of content and solutions, and a subject matter expert (SME) who ensures what is being created is up to the technical standards and needs of the audience. Depending on your size, resourcing, and budget, these roles may be filled by a single person or many. You may also have a developer marketing manager who oversees the strategy and execution of your developer marketing campaigns.

The most successful developer marketing teams consist of people who have past development experience or are in close contact with developers. If you don’t have those people on your team, a developer marketing agency can be a good option to fill the gap.

2. Create content and messaging that is meaningful to developers.

We see a lot of organizations trying to push their existing product messaging and content to a developer audience. The problem is that these things were developed with the needs of business or IT decision makers in mind. They often focus on the overall benefits of the solution. The greatest feature set doesn’t make a difference when you have your hands full with coding bugs and system bottlenecks. The most important deciding factor for developers when evaluating solutions is not what it can do, but whether they’ll be able to use it.

Aim to talk with developers, not at them, with straightforward language, clear use cases, and content that helps solve common development issues. Top content types for developers include:

  • Content they can crack open and start using, such as code and project samples
  • Tools that make it easier to build with or implement your solution, such as easy-to-use APIs, libraries or developer tools
  • Educational content, such as documentation, tutorials, and trainings
  • Experiences that foster peer-to-peer discussions and collaboration with like-minded people, such as AMAs, hackathons and meetups.

3. Put real effort into engaging and growing a developer community. 

Developers trust peers more than they trust brands. Way more. Who else can honestly tell them whether a solution is easy to implement, has clear documentation, and can fit their particular use case? Knowing there is a community of developers who are actively using a solution gives those evaluating the solution peace of mind that the solution is worth their effort and that there will be people to turn to if they need help. Being part of a community working to solve problems together is also enriching and fun!

Follow these tips to engage authentically with the community of developers using or likely to use your solution.

  • Look for active communities rather than trying to start your own
  • Participate like a peer, not a brand
  • Pay attention to your audience’s actual needs and what they value most about your solution—these might be quite different than what you expect!
  • Listen to feedback and collaborate on solutions

4. Measure micro and macro KPIs to extract deeper engagement analytics.

To actually see results, you’ll need to use the right metrics to determine what’s working and optimize as you grow your program. Measuring micro KPIs alone will not do the trick. Instead, you’ll need to measure holistically at each stage of the funnel:.

  • Top of funnel. Typical measurements at this stage have to do with volume of impressions, views, and clicks. To really get a sense of how developers are engaging with your messaging and content, you’ll need to go deeper than that! Track and measure what those viewers are looking at and for how long. Find out what is being clicked on and by whom.
  • Middle of funnel. The volume of actions taken at this stage matters, but so too does the depth of engagement. Seek out nuanced knowledge of your audience is a must to improve your messaging and resourcing. Ultimately, you don’t want every goal to be centered around a download or event registration. There should also be room for touchpoints that help build relationships and feed into your goal for advocacy.
  • Bottom of funnel. The bottom should not mean the end. Your journey should be cyclical, continuing to build relationships to power feedback and advocacy, which will lead to better optimization and stronger community influence.

The Iron Horse insight. 

While most developers share a set of common traits that make marketing to them very different from other audiences, they are not a homogenous group. Depending on your solution, your audience may consist of engineers, architects, data scientists, and DevOps, and all the unique titles within those categories. Take the time to learn about your specific developer audiences and make sure that as you adhere to the principles above, you are also tailoring your strategy to their specific needs.

Want to know how developer marketing leads to results? Read how Iron Horse helped a cloud infrastructure company generate 7,000+ new developer contacts and a 25% increase in MQLs when targeting a new (to them) DevSecOps audience.

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