Knowledge over features, keeping the priorities right

Emerald Magazine Covers by, Hattie Stewart | What’s with the random art?

I love business. It provides a constant challenge. It forces me to stay sharp, to learn, to push myself, to never give up. Through my career, I’ve developed a daily habit of journaling the things that I’m working on, the things I’m struggling to solve, the outcomes that I’m driving, and the lessons that I’m learning. Business is systematic. Once you discover that the foundational concepts are universal, the focus shifts to the tactics and strategies to implement those concepts. This is where we do our best work. The work that stands out and gains recognition. When we see the power of a well-executed tactic, it becomes tempting to shift our focus away from the foundational concept that drove the tactic to be successful. Last week, I was looking through an old journal and came across a page with only three words. “Knowledge over features.”

I’ve spent my career in product marketing. I understand the developer tools that I bring to market, the developer tooling ecosystem, developer workflows, and the communities that power them. This understanding can be powerful. But only if I apply it on top of a foundational concept. Knowledge over features, is a foundational concept in developer marketing.

It’s a reminder to keep the priorities right. Every audience has a motivator. There are primary motivators and secondary motivators. Keeping your job is a primary motivator, receiving a badge for completing an online course is a secondary motivator. The hierarchy of motivators changes from person to person, but there are overlaps and trends within an audience segment. Developers are highly-driven to learn. They work in a role that requires them to stay one step ahead of the rapid evolution we’re seeing in tech.

As a developer marketer, it’s easy to default to feature selling. I get excited when a new feature comes out, and I assume that my audience does as well. Sometimes, that assumption is true. For the most part, it’s not. In fact, I would argue that most of the time developers are so bombarded with new feature announcements that they aren’t even aware that you released something new. And why would they? Developers use your product because it meets their current needs, not because of the future features you included in your product road map. Feature selling is a trap. It’s the easy path, the path that checks all the boxes, but misses the primary motivator. The primary motivator is what drives adoption. This is why a how-to guide or an online tutorial will outperform a feature announce. It’s why a developer newsletter will perform better than release notes. It’s why developers flock to your conference session, but don’t visit your booth.