Developer marketing refers to a set of activities (strategic and tactical) that have the aim of effectively targeting developers.
In some ways, it's anti-marketing, as a key reason for the concept is the working assumption that developers behave differently from other buyer persons in that they’re hard to reach and immune to persuasion, to name two common perspectives.
They’re often early adopters and are keen to try out the latest technologies on their own terms which is why they’re particularly appealing for entrepreneurs and startups.
In short, the broad category of developer marketing thus recognizes that typical sales and marketing techniques are not likely to be effective and alternative approaches are needed.
When do you need to undertake developer marketing?
It may be that developers will be the primary end-user of your product or service, or that they’re key parts of the decision-making process, be they influencers or leaders in the purchase decision.
Developer marketing is thus common when selling solutions (including B2B SaaS offerings) over a certain price point, or when the offering is either technical or will impact other departments.
As mentioned, they're also often strongly represented as early adopters when it comes to embracing new solutions, which are important when selling in emerging categories. They’ll be reluctant to deploy any applications that are half-baked or lax when it comes to security.
Developers will often represent a strong voice at the table and thus the goal of developer marketing is to ensure they're advocates of your product.
This leads to a key point, the fact that their approach is typically evidence-based and, therefore, they're usually focused on the most secure solution, the most developer-friendly or the one with strong technical capabilities, in contrast to other decision-makers who may be focused on other features.
How is it different from traditional marketing?
Traditional marketing is a broad category, ranging from raising awareness to creating demand to ultimately persuading prospects to act by appealing emotionally to buyers.
Developer marketing exists because it’s perceived that traditional marketing approaches based primarily on persuasion will not be effective with the buyer cohort that is developers.
The following represent some of the characteristics synonymous with developers as buyers:
- Developers will view themselves as being immune to persuasion.
- They're unlikely to “Book a Demo”, preferring “Get Started” every time.
- They tend to be pretty unresponsive to unsolicited cold emails.
- Unlike most business professionals, they tend to prefer different social channels. E.g. Discord over Linkedin.
- They tend to be very time-pressed and are naturally technical, so are likely to want to access technical documentation and lift the hood, and try the software, rather than rely on blogs and content to shape purchase decisions.
In short, the goal of developer marketing is to raise awareness of your offering, to encourage adoption, and to ultimately have those who use your solution act as champions or brand advocates.
The emphasis is primarily on education rather than persuasion when it comes to the marketing strategies and tactics you employ.
Why is developer marketing needed?
Developer marketing is needed as developers often represent key buyer personas. They're hard to reach as we’ve noted above, but are active in channels in which other business professionals are less active.
When they're representatives of your buyer persona/target buyer, they're key buyers you want to get on side with, while recognizing the approach you use to target other buyers is unlikely to be effective when targeting them.
It has thus emerged as a discrete category of activity that is notably different from typical B2B marketing playbooks used to target non-developer buyer groups.
How does marketing to developers work?
The starting point is assigning responsibility to someone in the team. For early-stage startups, it may be part of someone's role, for slightly larger companies, it's likely to be a dedicated hire, e.g., Developer Relations Manager.
The remit's pretty simple – to raise awareness and to encourage the adoption of a particular solution. When it comes to SaaS offerings, a further goal is to extend into downstream advocacy as ‘word of mouth’ referrals can be significant drivers in terms of customer acquisition.
It's a long-term play, much like investing in content so expectations as to immediate payoffs need to be managed carefully.
Ideally, the individual responsible has some of the following characteristics:
- Is technical enough to actively participate in conversations.
- Already has a personal presence in some of these key communities.
- Is senior enough to be a credible authority and are subject matter experts.
- Has some existing social media presence so are not arriving late to the party.
- Aligns on a philosophy of educating rather than persuading.
With an agreed budget, they can then decide which channels and set of activities are worth prioritizing from an investment perspective. Some examples of the types of activities they can undertake include:
- Answering questions posed on the likes of Reddit, Quora, and developer-centric communities like Dev.to, GitHub and Stack Overflow.
- Creating educational content (documentation and videos) and posting in the right channels.
- Participating in forums like Discourse, Slack groups, and Substack channels.
How can you be successful at marketing to developers?
So what are some of the criteria that define those that are good at developer marketing?
- They need to be clear on the core benefits for the different personas in terms of the buyers but also the users.
- They should focus on education and helping others rather than trying to promote or persuade. As US VC Tomas Tunguz argues: “You should be in the business of selling promotions”.
- They need to manage internal expectations as to ‘the results’ – developer marketing activity is closer to brand awareness than lead generation.
- They need to have a bias for action – developers are likely to want to try themselves rather than read long-form content or sit in on a demo so any activities should align with this (they’ll assume it will be overtly salesy or that the UI/UX is not intuitive if they can’t self-serve).
- They need to be familiar with the sites frequented by developers (SparkToro is a useful application that supports audience research and discovery).
“Developers are more likely to try a product if they can test it out first, so offering a free trial or demo can help entice them to give your product a chance. After all, developers love a hands-on experience as it allows them to explore a product’s features and limitations at their own pace, which can increase the chances of them turning into paying customers.” – Teresa Garanhel in How to market a SaaS product to developers
Developer marketing and B2B SaaS
So, what has developer marketing got to do with B2B SaaS? Well, in some ways, it's where the concept first emerged. B2B SaaS is a fast-growing sector with lots of offerings spanning all elements of growing businesses. For certain SaaS products, developer marketing makes sense:
- Where the average contract value is sufficiently high to warrant the effort.
- Where there is significant competition.
- Where developers represent key actors in the purchase decision.
Contento and developer marketing
In terms of a real-life example, this author's experience with Contento.io is instructive. Contento is a Headless Content Management System (CMS), designed specifically for B2B SaaS and technology company’s websites. It's a technical offering with two key buyer personas, a marketing leader and a tech/dev leader.
It's clear from our analysis of the broader Headless CMS market that most of our competitors focus exclusively on dev leaders and, thus, they're actively marketing to developers using some of the approaches mentioned above.
Naturally, it makes sense for us to insert ourselves into conversations about our own category – that of Headless CMS.
As an early-stage application in a relatively new category, we’re very much in the early adopter stage (arguably transitioning to the early majority). We want to ensure the developer community is aware of our offering and what is unique about it.
And this is a key point. Positioning is everything in competitive categories and it's important that as the community becomes aware of your offering; they also understand how it's differentiated from the leading competitors.
For now, we’re beginning to undertake some developer marketing activities, while planning to transition to a full-time dedicated developer marketing hire or evangelist in due course.
Finally, it's worth noting our visual identity utilizes a Yin and Yang type logo mark as a deliberate nod to the fact we have two dominant personas – a marketing one and a dev one.
As we evolve the site, each user group will have distinct content which is designed to meet their specific needs.
In short, developer marketing relates to a set of strategies and tactics that reflect a commonly held view that marketing to dev needs to reflect some specific peculiarities about them as a buyer cohort.
By the nature of their roles, as creators, innovators and early adopters, they often represent key buyers (especially for B2B SaaS companies). However, they're hard to reach, tend to be skeptical, and will be rigorous and evidence based in their analysis.
An increasing number of B2B SaaS companies have dedicated developer relations evangelists and managers sitting in their marketing function to help ensure their unique needs are well met when it comes to driving and converting demand.
Alan Gleeson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Contento, a Headless CMS for B2B SaaS and Technology companies.