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Developer Marketing Guide: Selling It Softly

Jo Stichbury · November 01, 2018

Have you heard this geek joke?

Q: How can you tell an extroverted software developer from an introverted one?

A: The extrovert looks at YOUR shoes while she’s talking to you.

It is something of a cliché that developers (aka hackers, nerds, geeks) are all pale, bespectacled boffins who ache from endless hours spent in dark rooms in front of multiple screens. Not strictly accurate, it might still be fair to say that developers constitute an audience with some noticeable shared characteristics—among them, a healthy level of cynicism towards anything that could be interpreted as marketing. Anyone venturing into developer marketing swiftly becomes aware of the developer’s disdain for the hard sell.  

So how do you market to developers?

During the Future Developer Summit in October 2017, the /Data team realised that developer marketing is still a young and fragmented industry, with pockets of best practice locked within the companies that master it. While countless books, courses and blogs exist for consumer marketing, and for various forms of B2B marketing, developer marketing has been poorly served. What was evident during the summit was that we needed a medium to spread knowledge—currently held behind closed doors—to a broader audience around the world.

So the vision for the book was simple and powerful: to become the standard textbook that every new recruit into developer marketing reads to immerse himself into this brave new world. A book whose influence may extend beyond the field of developer marketing. Given that developers are the most marketing-averse audience out there, it could become a toolset for B2B marketers in many more industries. We brainstormed the book concept at the summit, and invited leading practitioners from the best companies in the field to contribute.

At this point, if we were in a film, the screen would fade to a blur and we would be brought forward to the 2018 Future Developer Summit, with a caption underneath that read ‘12 months later,’ as we effortlessly launched the book.  Of course, the 12 months between summits brought a number of challenges as Nicolas and Andreas encouraged leading developer marketing practitioners to author chapters in the book, and they were edited together into a whole. But we got there, and the hard work paid off when, finally, we launched Developer Marketing: The Essential Guide last month.

What’s in the book?

Instead of a step-by-step guide to writing a developer marketing strategy, we present a toolbox of knowledge and practical understanding. Topics covered include: running successful developer events, building and maintaining a solid community of developers, how to get the most out of email marketing, how to nurture IoT / hardware developers, how to encourage experts in your community to advocate for you, and how to create a mindset for content marketing in your organization.

In each chapter, our authors have been encouraged to share valuable but non-obvious learnings, including mistakes they’ve made along the way, and a set of actionable best practices. We typically begin each chapter with a problem statement to introduce the topic and make clear why it is important. Then we describe the company’s ‘journey’, with the goal of sharing what does and does not work (and why) so you gain practical insights from the voices of experience.

Each chapter was contributed by experienced developer marketing practitioners working at companies with successful and well-established developer marketing programs:

/Data: Developers Are a Big Deal. Marketing To Them Shouldn’t Be.

Microsoft: Using Developer Personas to Stay Customer-Obsessed

Facebook: Successful Developer Email Marketing

Salesforce: The Power of Community

Oracle: Repositioning Your Brand to Developers

SAP: Connecting Developers with Experts

VMWare: Hands-on Labs for Deeper Engagement

Atlassian: Growing Up by Scaling Down: How a Small Developer Event Can Make Big Impacts on Your Ecosystem

Arm: How to Connect with Developers When You Can’t Meet Them

Qualcomm: Hardware Is the New Software – Building a Developer Community Around a Chip Instead of an SDK

Google: Behind the Scenes of Great Developer Events

Unity: Developing the Right Mindset to Create Great Content

Accenture: Closing Thoughts: How to Attract, Engage and Retain Developers

There are also some common elements throughout the book. One of the key themes that runs throughout is the increasing influence of software developers within the companies in which they work.

How have software developers gained their superpowers?

In the past, technology selection was determined by system administrators and procurement teams, but the availability of open source code and free-to-trial software development kits now allows developers to evaluate platforms and tools and choose what to use without having to ask for authorisation. Developers are increasingly in control of the process by which software enters their organisations, and as complexity increases, the managers to which they once deferred are now asking them to make technology adoption decisions.

This also applies to paid services; let’s take the cloud as an example. It’s easy for a development team to select and adopt a free trial of a cloud platform during the development and testing phases. The team lead can instantly license, provision and use the tools it needs, avoiding delays and paperwork and allowing for rapid experimentation and innovation.

Some months later, when the team is ready to scale up its code to production, the costs kick in for its company. And the decision as to which platform to use? The developers have already made it and wrapped it in many layers of code. The “bean counters” are unlikely to be able to reverse it. Your role in developer marketing is to make sure that initial choice is your platform, app or service. But how?

When a software developer needs to select a tool for a series of projects over the coming year, he or she often already has an idea of what to use, maybe from reading a blog post, watching a webinar or attending a presentation at a recent event. Our chapter from Matthew Pruitt, who works at Unity, shares insights about Developing the Right Mindset to Create Great Content, and explains a range of techniques to communicate meaningfully about your product:

You don’t need to work in a large organization or have multiple teams support you.  I’ve seen great, successful content produced by solo indie developers and that’s because they put themselves in the right mindset.

Let’s explore what I mean by developing the right mindset.  Before you start creating content, you should be asking yourself two very important questions: ’What is the one takeaway I want someone to have after viewing my content?’ And ‘Why should they care?’

Developers really value the opinions of others like them, and will look at feedback on your product before committing. To get a good idea of what other developers think, they may look at discussion forums on your developer website. They are also likely to visit sites such as Stack Overflow, to understand just how easy your offering is (or isn’t) to set up and use. They are looking for statistics, such as the number of recent, active discussions, along with the kind of sentiments expressed, and the commonly mentioned pain points.

Developers want technology that is supported by a community, and they want a community that is growing and enthusiastic. They want to know that, when things go wrong, there’s a place to ask a question and get a swift response, and a place where answers to common issues are easy to find because the community is well-established. When marketing to them, you need to know how to grow your developer community, and how running a developer program for experts in the field will encourage them to advocate for you and amplify your messaging. If developers are happy, they’ll recommend you to others, who will also sign up to be part of your community and will, in their turn, make recommendations to their fellow developers.

You need to understand the dynamic within a developer community and what you can control. Jacob Lehrbaum, of Salesforce, contributed an insightful chapter entitled The Power of Community:

Community is fundamentally about people coming together to help each other, and the first step is to create a community that people want to belong to. A big part of that is your product itself, but there are things you can do above and beyond your product to make your community be a place that people want to spend time. One of the ways you can do that is through culture…

Why read this book?

In much the same way that IT departments, which were a rarity 20 years ago, have become standard in most companies today, it seems likely that, in the near future, companies will need to become increasingly conversant with developer marketing and consider creating departments of people that understand and value developers.

Maybe that’s you! Perhaps you are just starting out on your developer marketing career, transitioning from traditional marketing, or from working as a developer yourself. Or perhaps you already have some experience but want to learn from the experts how to build your ecosystem to attract, support and grow your developer base.

Whatever your experience, you know, or soon will know, that the developer audience is a tough one to market to. This book will teach you how.

Developer Marketing: The Essential Guide is available from mid-September 2018 from Amazon. All profits from the book are to be donated to worthy causes that support software development in vulnerable or minority groups.