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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. 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.” 

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.    

Are your developer programs truly effective?

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.

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?

Not sure if you’re effectively reaching and engaging your target developer audience? It might be time to hire a developer marketing manager.

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. 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.