Creating a developer marketing strategy

Emerald Blue Nude by Henri Matisse | What’s with the random art?

Developer marketing is inherently complex. In fact, when it comes to developer marketing, it’s better to not even call it marketing. The reality is that marketing to developers can be simplified into two functions, developer relations and developer experience. In a recent post, (What is a developer program and what does it take to build one?) I took some time to dig into the roles that are important to building a developer program. In this post, I’m going to take a step back and look at it from a slightly higher-level perspective. I’ve written a lot about the tactics that can be used to market to developers. Now, let’s look at the strategies that drive those tactics.

When it comes to marketing, I structure my efforts around a strategy that is comprised of tactics like a program made up of elements and campaigns. Think of it like this, a strategy is your plan to move from A to Z, that can be as complex as world domination, or simple as building a community of 100K developers. Tactics are what move you from A to B, and B to C. They are mechanisms that when used together in an intentional way can create forward movement and momentum.

Before we move on, let’s level-set on definitions from an earlier post.

“Marketing terminology is ambiguous at best and incomprehensible at worst. Throughout this post, I will be using several marketing terms that will be interpreted differently from one reader to the next. To mitigate confusion, lets standardize on a few of terms. A ‘Program’ is defined as an integrated marketing effort targeting a single audience. Programs have dedicated budget and headcount, and generally operate outside of the broader go-to-market, to achieve a very targeted objective. Program headcount usually extends beyond the roles in a marketing organization to include product managers, technical advocates, and even dedicated engineering teams. Programs are comprised of ‘Elements’ and ‘Campaigns’. A ‘Campaign’ is a marketing activity which has a defined start and end date. ‘Elements’ are the opposite, they’re an activity which does not have a defined start and end date. Elements can extend beyond a marketing activity to include assets that require ongoing investment, like a software plugin hosted in a competitor’s library. I should also note that programs have a defined membership status, individuals are either a part of it or not a part of it.”

Developer marketing is all about the developer experience

Unlike other forms of marketing where there is an overwhelming focus on the top-of-funnel, developer marketing is focused on the relational lifecycle that a developer has with a technology. This is because developers play such a unique role with software. Developers discover, evaluate, advocate internally, and then become the end-user of a solution (here’s a full post on the developer buying journey). This is very different from how other roles interact with software, where the most of the time the end-user of a software isn’t involved in the discovery, evaluation, or advocacy phases.

From a marketing standpoint, developer marketing is responsible for this entire lifecycle spanning from building awareness to driving adoption, then maintaining usage and ultimately retention of the account. This is why we focus so heavily on experience.

Aspects of the developer experience

The developer experience is comprised of three aspects, which you should use to balance the tactics you are deploying in your strategy.

  1. Developer Content, which includes thought leadership content, technical content like documentation, release notes, or educational content, product marketing content, and how you deliver that content.
  2. Product, which includes how developers on board and learn about your product, interact with your product, the end-user experience. It also includes your presence in marketplaces, APIs, and developer tools.
  3. Community, which is how developers experience your company in the developer ecosystem like open source, events, hackathons, and online forums.

Creating a developer experience is a massive project, that’s why it’s so important to have a solid strategy that can keep you from diverting all of your effort into a few tactics that don’t result in a long-term win.

Creating a developer marketing strategy

Developer marketing strategies focus on building developer awareness, product adoption, user retention, developer affinity, and developer education. Developer marketing strategies are measured through KPIs (key performance indicators) around developer tool adoption, developer success, and developer engagement like site visitors, blog reads, and social engagement. Adoption is a great goal because if you can gain adoption, you will have enough data to fix any issues around awareness, usage, and retention. The second component you should think about is your database. Many developer marketers hold the belief that developers don’t fill out forms. I can tell you from personal experience helping to grow a database of over 1.5M developer contacts, that the assumption is wrong or at least not true anymore. Regardless, your database is the most valuable channel that you will develop, and it should be prioritized in your strategy.

Once you have your focus, it’s time to narrow down your audience. The software developer space is huge, it’s really important to know exactly who you are targeting. I suggest starting by focusing in on what type of developer you are interested in attracting, is it a mobile developer or enterprise developer? Then narrow that down by the technologies you want to focus on, like Java, Python, Node, Kubernetes, Spring, MongoDB, etc. Finally, narrow that down again by what they are interested in, cloud-native development or AI/ML? That will get you to a defined audience, for example “enterprise python developers, working on AI/ML projects …”

The final part of your strategy is to identify your ecosystem, this includes the other technologies you will be integrating with, the marketplaces you will participate in (think VS Code), and the open source projects/communities that will be contributing to your success. By fitting into the existing ecosystem, you can access a pre-established audience who are interested in what you have to say.

When you bring it all together you end up with a strategy that can be articulated something like this:

“Our goal is to build a community of 100K enterprise python developers working on AI/ML projects, with a 25% adoption rate of our ML Kit and 15K installations of our VS Code extension.”