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What Is Developer Marketing?

Developer marketing is comprised of tactics meant to grow awareness, adoption, and advocacy of software tools, solutions, and SaaS platforms. Business-to-developer (B2D) marketing personalizes the developer journey to address fragmented communities and an aversion to traditional marketing tactics.

Much like how account-based marketing (ABM) has been tossed around over the last few years, developer marketing is one of the latest buzzwords used by marketers, and for good reason. The State of Developer Nation reported that somewhere between 87% to 96% of developers with leadership functions are involved in purchase decisions. Developers are influential in buying groups and organizations are starting to realize the potential.

However, while developer marketing may seem literal and straightforward—it’s just marketing to capture the attention of software developers—it is anything but. Imagine embarking on a journey for which you know the route, the vehicle you’ll drive, and the final destination. Now imagine that along your trip, the roads cease to exist, the fuel gauge stops working, and you come to realize that you are no longer progressing but traveling in circles- and now you’re also surrounded by a moat.

This is how most developer programs are structured.

“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.” 

Why are B2B Tech companies marketing to developers?

Is developer marketing a necessary ingredient that needs to be added to your strategy? If your organization is selling technology products and/or services then the answer is YES. With so many developers holding numerous roles at the businesses that fall within the B2B tech scope, the level of communication you have with them can make or break customer acquisition.

Any company looking to purchase technology has developers behind the scenes, within that business, influencing purchasing decisions. Developer media found that 60% of developers have the ability to approve or reject a tool purchase. In turn, organizations are increasing their efforts to tap into this group of influencers in the technology space, not only in developer marketing but also in developer relations (DevRel) to take developers from acquisition to advocacy. In short, not adding developer marketing as a component to your strategy will result in many missed opportunities.

That’s not to say you need to switch from B2B to B2D, but organizations are realizing the value of having a B2D component. In the 8th DevRel survey by the State of Developer Relations, it was discovered that 63% of the businesses that practice DevRel are developer plus companies, meaning they target developers to extend their primary business model.

Developer marketing is not.

Here’s where people get tripped up on developer marketing. You’ve come here to learn what developer marketing is, but it’s important we first touch on what it’s not.

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.

Re-read that last line again and let it sink in. Developer marketing is not marketing. It’s a hard lesson learned by most (if not all) of us in the developer space, but once you accept this truth, your developer outreach programs will flourish.

Why isn’t developer “marketing,” marketing?

To better understand why we can’t approach developers using traditional marketing, we want to point out the most common hurdles that every developer relations team faces.

  • Fragmented communities. 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. 

What is developer marketing?

  1. Engaging as a peer. Reaching developer communities and micro-communities to participate in constructive conversation and adding value as colleagues and thought leaders.
  2. Solving real-world developer problems. Providing products, resources, and solutions to help augment developer tech stacks to improve workflow and development efficiency.
  3. Creating advocacy. Enabling, empowering, and evangelizing developers to champion your product within their professional and personal networks.

You’ll notice the word “marketing” is missing in all of the above. Because the best-in-market developer “marketing” programs are only marketing in name. 

To successfully market to developers, build programs that (or optimize existing programs to) frame solutions from the perspective of a target developer’s needs. Don’t literally “market” to developers in a traditional sense; rather, create developer relationships, support product adoption, and partner with developer influencers and communities to work toward common goals. Brands and companies should speak with developers, not at them.

Most important to developer marketing program success is continual (excuse the pun) development. Technology and developers change rapidly, meaning that messaging and deployment should mirror industry velocity. Similar to the solutions and products that are built by developers, developer marketing programs should strive to be relevant, progressive, and constantly reshaped to address market/developer issues.    

Creating effective developer programs.

Is your dev program in need of a tune up? It’s tough to take a hard look in the mirror and honestly audit the effectiveness of your campaigns. As fellow marketers, we get it. Whereas traditional audience marketing focuses on breadth and reach, truly effective developer programs focus on depth of engagement. The primary key to driving efficacy in developer programs is mobilizing your adopters and educating them with pertinent assets and resources to provide to others on your behalf. That’s done through DevRel, which is often a swing and miss for most companies if they’ve yet to differentiate demand gen from nurture.

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 touch points, are developers talking about your product or solution organically?
  2. Do your developer audiences see your brand or company as a solution provider or a solution partner?
  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’re up for the task, there are four areas to think through and use to build a strong foundation for your developer marketing program.

Challenges and opportunities.

Since traditional marketing doesn’t work, engaging effectively with developers requires a more personalized approach. Specifically, the content you create and the way deliver that content needs to be thoughtful and helpful above all else. Promoting a product’s features does very little, if anything, for developers. This audience has its hands full with coding bugs and system bottlenecks, and they want solutions. Here’s where the opportunity comes.

Too many B2B tech organizations are broadcasting messages about how great their products are and what they can do, while few (who are highly successful) are attempting to solve common development issues using their product. This audience is not stupid, and they’ll see the value in your product, but first, they need proof with straightforward messaging and use cases. If you give developers exactly what they need for specific problems, you’ll have their attention and gratitude, which is the start to turning brand users into brand advocates.

Strategy and tactics.

Knowing your audience and identifying the proper channels to engage with them is important for crafting the right user experience. To know your audience, understand who they are, what they want, and how they want to engage. 

Who. Developers are problem solvers and tinkerers, first and foremost. Give them solutions and let them play! But it’s important to note that beneath their desire to tinker, developers are knowledge seekers who narrow their focus and get highly specific about their needs. Because of this, they seek out and trust the guidance of their fellow developers above all else.

What. Developers want content they can crack open and start using, such as code and project samples. But educational content is also highly successful with this audience. They want to educate themselves with documentation, tutorials, and trainings. They also want to hear from likeminded people, which is why hosting meetups and promoting developer accomplishments do wonders for the engagement and advocacy goals of a developer marketing program.

How. Developers are busy and want easy access to products, code samples, guides, trainings, and anything else that could help with whatever is their current bottleneck. Provide frictionless content engagement to save them time now and they’ll use more time to reach a purchasing decision later.

Dive deeper into your audience of developers to identify which segments fit your products. Not all developers are the same, in fact, they are wildly diverse, but do fall into four main cross-functional buckets so to speak — Engineers, Architects, Data Scientists, and DevOps. I go into greater detail about these audiences in my article on B2D marketing, but it will be up to you to figure out who will be using your product and to create a buyer’s journey that allows them to easily play with, test, and research your product.

Hiring and alignment.

Developer marketing requires the right kind of people with the right kind of experience and knowledge of developers. It might be time to hire a developer marketing manager to ensure your content and messaging are beneficial to your audience. To do that, dev marketing programs typically need a developer evangelist and a subject matter expert (SME). The evangelist acts as a part of the community and discovers what’s needed in terms of content and solutions, while the SME ensures what is being created is up to the technical standards and needs of the audience. Depending on your size, resourcing and budget, you may hire both of these roles and a developer marketing manager to oversee operations or you may just go with the latter, combining these roles into one until the program grows.

Benchmarking and metrics.

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 using micro and macro-level metrics.

Top of the funnel. Don’t focus on volume alone — impressions, views, and clicks. Go deep than that! Track and measure what those viewers are looking at and for how long. Find out what is being clicked on and by who.

Middle of the funnel. The volume of actions taken at this stage matters, but so too does the depth of engagement. Seeking 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 the 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. 

Developers are not monolithic. Nor are they a homogenous group. When we say “developer,” we mean a cohort of people or people with multiple functions. In fact, your developer marketing audience won’t be made up of just developers either. It could include IT decision-makers (ITDM), business decision-makers (BDM), CMOs, and other non-technical entities.

In summary, your developer marketing and DevRel strategy will have to tailor messaging and assets to multiple audiences–both developer and business. Developer marketing should take a bottom-up approach. In the same way that your B2B marketing strategy should not only target the top decision-maker, your developer marketing strategy should not just target developers.