In The Guide to Developer Marketing, we’ll go back to basics to help you understand the ins and outs of building a developer or partner program. Later editions in this series will look at the rules for marketing and selling to developers. This article is an introduction to developer programs and developer marketing.
Whether you’re planning a developer program from scratch, or you’re managing an established business that needs a fresh approach, building an incisive, long-term developer strategy can seem like a daunting prospect.
We’ll take you behind the scenes of some the world’s best programs, so you can learn from the best. We’ll also answer the basic questions that will help you shape and target your own developer strategy: what is a developer? What is developer marketing? What are “developer programs” and why are they so important?
Once you’ve read the guide, we hope you’ll feel better prepared to take your next steps in marketing to developers.
Why do Developer Programs matter?
Developers are a growing, highly valuable audience and the rapid proliferation of technology in modern society means their skills have never been more in demand. As set out by Slash Data (VisionMobile) in their State of the Developer Nation survey, “Software skills are generally scarce and good developers are highly coveted”.
Accelerating competition, targeting a limited developer population, means that building engagement and advocacy is critical to the adoption of tools and platforms. Put simply, if your competitors are building or operating a developer program and you aren’t, then your business faces a significant, potentially critical, adoption challenge.
No area of commerce is unaffected by the influence of software and technology, so the good news is that there are significant rewards to be secured across the industry. But the disruptive power of technology means that for every platform or technology that gains traction, there are many that fail.
While your own engineers build leading-edge solutions, technical marketers need to build engagement strategies that ensure this limited audience of developers rush to your platform rather than your competitors’. As we’ll see, addressing the diverse needs that influence key decision makers is no easy task.
We firmly believe that winning the hearts and minds of developers is a journey. A long and loyal developer relationship is far more rewarding than a quick transaction. But maintaining that relationship takes insight, ideas and continued energy – be prepared to have to convince your advocates over and over again. You don’t have to have the best technology – strong support, great communications and first-class engagement can be a winning formula.
What is a Developer?
Before we dive deeper into the world of developer programs, we should ask a fundamental question: what is a developer? You possibly have an image in your mind already, but we think about “developers” in quite broad terms.
A developer can be a programmer or technical engineer of any kind, but we think of a developer as anyone involved in the selection of tools and products used to create software or devices. Indeed, we speak of developers as both individuals and organizations.
Think, for a moment, about the range of people who could influence the selection of technology within a business – large or small. Obviously, a coder or designer has a say – whether they’re working in a huge corporation or a student starting out in their mom’s garage. What about sysadmins, finance managers or the sales force?
Because the organizations, individuals and decision-making processes involved in creating software and devices are diverse, our definition of “a developer” must also be diverse.
When thinking about your developer relations strategy – or any strategy, for that matter – you’ll need to identify your audience. They’ll vary by business and even by product or project, but here are a few people to consider:
Sometimes known as a “bedroom coder” or “community developer”, this population can be hugely influential and vitally important to the growth of a technology. They select, adopt and evangelize technology because they care about it. Passion is infectious. We like people that care.
While computer science and engineering students are learning their trade, they’re experimenting with a wide variety of tools and platforms (among other things), the best of which they’ll stick with throughout their careers. Not only are they a great audience to influence, close-proximity to other students and word of mouth ensures your buzz will spread quickly.
Startups and growing businesses
Small businesses often with tiny budgets and huge dreams. Only the best will survive, but your tools and technologies could be the foundations on which they build the next Twitter, Tesla or Nest Labs.
Depending on your technology, creative teams can be influential developer advocates within a business. The working lives of industrial designers, materials experts, graphic artists, UX and interactive designers can all be influenced by the features and benefits of your tools and platforms – positively and negatively. Working closely with product management and engineering teams, they’re a great audience to have on your side.
Obviously, the developers that work directly with your products and services are vitally important. For most businesses we support, they’re the primary audience. Perhaps they’re the hobbyists and students of yesteryear – perhaps they’re still hobbyists on the side, working on community projects in their spare time.
While they may not be hands on with your technologies, product managers have a vested interest in what’s developed using them. So, not only do they need a strong and positive understanding of your product, they need the confidence that their engineering team have the right tools to deliver against a business or customer need. Accountable for bringing a product or product feature to market, they’re an important audience to engage.
Business & Finance Managers
Someone’s got to pay the bills, right? Whether it’s a developer finance manager evaluating a BOM (bill of materials) sheet, a supply chain analyst seeking to shave percentages off annual costs or the finance director accountable for the company’s balance sheet, if you’re not engaging the money guys with stories of how you’re helping their bottom line, then there’s always a risk someone else will.
Of course, this is just a few examples of diverse audiences that can influence product selection. Each of these audiences can be further niched and targeted as required, but for many of the businesses we support, engineers are the number one priority. They too can be segmented into an assortment of categories – traditionally by discipline.
For example, take a look at Stack Overflow’s 2017 global hiring landscape report. Here, developers are clustered by an area of specialism:
- Web Developer
- Desktop Application Developer
- Mobile Developer
- Database Administrator
- Developer with a statistics or maths background
- Systems Administrator
- DevOps Specialist
- Embedded Applications/Devices
- Data Scientist
- Graphics Programmer
- Machine Learning Specialist
- Quality assurance engineer
But today coders can be defined in many different ways, perhaps referring more broadly to their focus:
- Front End Developer
- Game Developer
- Full Stack Developer
- Back End Developer
- Enterprise Developer
- Systems Developer
- IoT Software Developer
- IoT Hardware Developer
- Industrial IoT Developer
The overarching point here is to define, understand and target those you wish to engage. However you choose to segment and prioritise your audience, be sure to build an understanding of their needs and address those needs in your actions. You may find one approach that works for all, but it’s more likely that a variety of developer marketing tactics are required to serve the varying needs of influencers.
Our relationship with developers – for our own business and on behalf of our clients – takes many subtly different forms. We might be the first point of contact between an organisation and a prospective individual developer. We might take a consultative role, advising a client on a product created to solve a problem for developers. We provide analysis and develop marketing strategy for some of the planet’s biggest tech companies, helping to serve their existing developer communities more effectively. We also provide logistical and practical support at developer events.
But whatever the activity, our approach is grounded in a thorough understanding of customer need. How our clients’ goals and technical solutions meet developer and business objectives. Put simply, if you want to have a great conversation, it pays to know who you’re talking to and why they’d be interested in what you have to say.
What is Developer Marketing?
So, now that we’ve defined what a “developer” is (and why it’s important to get to know them), let’s talk about developer marketing. Again, it’s a term that sounds straightforward and in some respects, it is. Let’s quickly reach for the Kotler handbook for a basic definition of “marketing”.
“Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit. Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires. It defines, measures and quantifies the size of the identified market and the profit potential.”
What we’re talking about here is promoting and selling (or giving away) products and services to developers. But, as we now know that there are diverse populations of “developers” (with a host of different needs) out there in the world, it follows that there would be a similarly diverse array of activities that comprise the “science and art” of marketing to developers. Again, it comes down to knowing your audience – those unfulfilled needs and desires. But just as important as knowing what to say, is how to say it. Or where to say it.
Marketing to developers and developer relations comprises a wealth of communication channels and activities. They include ad placement, paid media, direct outreach via phone and email, newsletters, blogging, demos, online engagement, events, partnerships and integrations, evangelism and advocacy, tutorials and webinars, social media and even promotional giveaways.
A great developer program is built on an insightful blend of the most engaging activities, conducted through the audience’s preferred channels, designed to deliver a functional or emotional outcome: what do you want the developer to do, to believe, or to say following your interaction?
Unlike a one-off marketing campaign or initiative, developer programs are a series of activities designed to support delivery of your business strategy. Plus a healthy dose of supporting insight, deep thinking and robust measurement. Later in the series we will discover more about the rules of developer marketing and the tactics for successfully selling to developers.
As you may expect from a company that specializes in creating developer engagement strategies, we have a clear perspective on what defines a strong and successful developer or partner program.
Let’s take a look.
What is a Developer Program?
Put simply, a developer program is a set of aligned content, programs, support and developer marketing activities brought together with the intention of attracting and engaging developers to use your product.
We use this model of an eight-spoke wheel to help structure program development.
Experience has taught us that leading developer programs typically harness these eight interlocking components. They combine to support a developer’s journey from first impressions through to becoming an experienced, enthusiastic advocate. While each of these elements are important to the success of the program, the best programs are more than the sum of its parts. Just look at FAMGA (Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon) and you will see five world class developer programs integral to business ecosystems worth billions of dollars.
Let’s drill down into each of the eight elements to understand what they are and why they matter:
A business term that’s thrown around a lot, but for good reason. Before you go out into the world to spread your message, you should spend your time figuring out what you want to say. In short, your value proposition is a simple statement that expresses why your product or service exists, who it’s for and why it succeeds.
In a developer program, you convince with two forms of content. Marketing content delivers branded opinion, in the form of blog posts, newsletters, press features and technical whitepapers, while case studies tell success stories of how developers are already using your product to great effect.
Meanwhile, technical content is vital for driving and supporting hands-on testing and adoption. How to guides, code samples, API/SDK documentation and technical deep dives are great for showcasing the power or flexibility of your technology and break down traditional barriers to adoption. Build an ongoing narrative that helps developer understanding, confidence and appreciation for your technology and be sure to encourage discussion and sharing.
Developing and publishing first-class content can be tough, but all that work goes to waste if developers don’t know it exists. Developer Marketing programs help raise awareness of your product and associated resources. Use contests and free giveaways to encourage sampling, reward and recognition programs to drive extended use. Be sure to engage the full range of developer types we outlined earlier – this is a great time to reach out to startups and incubators, build community advocacy and influencer programs and target student engineers.
While, in time, developers will undoubtedly come to you to take advantage of your technologies, tools and platforms, in the early days of your program, be prepared to go to them. Here, as budget allows, you should take advantage of a whole range of digital and traditional marketing channels. Social media, email outreach, local events, community user group meet ups, podcasts, blogs – even above and below the line media if that works for your target developer audience.
The more you can do to introduce yourselves to developers and get your product into their hands, the better. It’s critical for new products or platforms, but important too for established players. Building strong and trusted developer relationships is hard work, but fundamental to long-term success. Face to face meetings and get-togethers can kick-start great relationships with key influencers – host your own meetups (if you know a great space) or head out to developer events, trade shows, hackathons and launch parties.
Online developer communities can work really well for building relationships at scale. You may run your own forums, but open engagement and discussion on third-party sites, like Reddit, StackOverflow, Github and enthusiast forums can help build trust and advocacy. For many companies developer to developer marketing is the cornerstone of their developer program.
If your plan is to host developer resources yourself (a great way to capture contact details and engage confidentially with trusted developers), you should consider building a developer portal. Creating an online space for technical discussion – distinct from a broader, consumer targeted site – ensures you can engage the right audience with the most relevant content.
As mentioned, registration is a simple tactic for capturing contacts, but be sure to think about what you offer developers in return for their details. Sandbox areas, access to tools, code snippets, documentation and SDKs are all great ideas. A smooth onboarding experience is essential to the success of a developer portal, but also consider your portal’s UX. Over time, you may build up a wealth of resources on your portal – how will you ensure that content is up to date and easy to find?
You’ve built your portal. You have hundreds, if not thousands of engaged users working with your technology. But, if you want to keep those advocates, they’ll need to be supported.
Support can be expensive, so it pays to combine responsive assistance – conducted through email, web chat, telephone or social networks – with self-service resources. You could start with a simple FAQ list, building to a full Knowledge Base or community support forum. From there, support product updates and new features with proactive communications, webinars and online learning modules.
The more you can do to make your product experience frictionless, the less risk there is of your advocates jumping to your competitors. Remember support starts with developer on-boarding, proactive help to get a developer to Hello World, it’s not just there for when things go wrong.
By now, you may have guessed that designing, building and operating a developer program can involve a significant investment in time and other resources. So, it’s important to understand (and internally, be able to communicate) its value.
Define a clear and relevant suite of metrics and targets that help you evaluate the success of your program. Return on investment and product adoption is a good place to start. But be sure to consider a blend of hard metrics (for example, sales, downloads and registrations) and softer measures (such as Net Promoter Score or community sentiment) to understand 360° value.
Once you’ve nailed the family of metrics, you’ll need to build the analytics and reporting dashboards that make ongoing evaluation and reporting a cinch. When you’re up and running, it’s smarter to invest most your time delivering your program than scrabbling to figure out whether it’s working.
While it may seem like a huge amount of work, defining the right strategy to build and execute on each of these eight components is critical to the success of a developer program. But it’s extremely rare for any organization to plan and launch all eight elements in full, simultaneously. As you can see from the infographic, each of the eight elements have their own strands. Some of the strands are essential for launching a program, while others can be built as your program scales.
Now that you know the eight components of a developer program, you can spend time with your team figuring out what’s right for your own business.
Here at Catchy, we’re fortunate enough to work with some of the biggest names in tech on their developer marketing. We’ve helped to shape successful developer and partner marketing programs for Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Qualcomm and others, so we know what makes developers tick. If you need a sounding board or more insight from our adventures we’d be delighted to discuss your goals.