Coming up with content ideas and then getting your engineering team to support the development of that content can be tricky for developer marketers.
As the former Head of Data for HelloFresh, UK and a Lead Engineer at a B2B EdTech company, I explore how you can tap into your engineering team’s strategy, the development lifecycle and the team’s existing ways of working to create great content.
I’m now viewing my experience as an engineer through a marketing lens as the co-founder of HowdyGo, an interactive product demo tool for developer marketing teams.
Hopefully, you’ll find ways to collaborate more effectively with your engineering team and get them excited about contributing to your company’s marketing strategy.
To keep things practical, I’ll explain the high-level idea behind each section, and share a series of questions you can use (almost) verbatim, to work with your team.
Strategy, ethos and tools - Content & guest posting opportunities
Engineers tend to be opinionated, it’s a meme these days (See above).
Those opinions are developed throughout their careers and they often define the strategy, values, and approach that they use to build the product that ultimately, you’re responsible for marketing.
By embracing those opinions and using them as a source of inspiration for great content you can start to develop your brand’s position.
Values & ethos as a source of content
Explaining your team’s values & ethos to your prospects is a great source of brand awareness content, particularly when you start to get into value-driven purchasing decisions. These value-driven purchasing decisions are at least partially why there’s been a proliferation of Commercialized Open Source software products.
An example of this approach is Flagsmith, an open source feature flagging tool, where they use their founder’s Open Source First mindset as an opportunity for brand awareness. As it allows them to connect with their target audience and talk about the approach to their product development in a disarming context.
- Why did you choose this commercialization model for our product?
- What motivated you to solve this problem?
- Why did you decide to work for X?
- When did you decide you were going to commercialize this product (COSS/open source) and why did you make that decision?
Strategy as a source of content
The team’s immediate strategy, both what’s to come and what’s already been implemented is a great source of content.
By exploring their strategy, and helping to elevate the conversation above the practical implementation you’ll be able to find new opportunities for both content and guest posting opportunities.
- What were the team’s OKRs for the quarter - what has been the most interesting thing that’s been implemented?Note: Lift the conversation up a level and ask them to focus on the Why behind the change, rather than the What they’ve changed.
- What are the systems, processes and values that the team has in place to achieve their OKRs?Note: From a content perspective, other engineering teams can be very interested in how other teams operate.
- Are we integrating with any tools for our users? Why did we make that decision?Note: Integrations are great opportunities for guest posts on other company’s websites. As an example, Hubspot accepts guest post pitches for their Developer blog.
The software they use as a source of content & guest posts
This type of content can help you guest post on company blogs that may otherwise be “out of reach”. By exploring how your team operates and the software they use, you’ll often find that they rave about some software and have incorporated it into their ways of working.
As an example, an organization like PagerDuty shares “Best Practices”, which can be improved with real examples from engineering teams.
- Are there any products you use, that you absolutely cannot live without, how has it changed the way you work?Note: This can be great for SEO / Link Building if you provide testimonials or if you write long-form content for their blog. Look specifically for smaller/earlier-stage dev products and tools if your goal is backlink opportunities.
- Looking at Question 2 (Which systems, processes and values have you used to achieve your OKRs?), from “Strategy as a source of content”, did they mention any software that could be added to your target list of guest posts?Note: A company like PagerDuty can be interested to hear about how your team handles their on-call schedule for instance. It’s a great opportunity for a backlink.
Using the development lifecycle as a source of content, and a content strategy
The development lifecycle is a great source of content
The development lifecycle is a process that every engineering team follows in some form. Both your internal engineering team, as well as your prospect’s development lifecycle.
By creating content that covers the entire “development lifecycle” you’ll be helping your prospects answer key questions they’ll need to answer at some stage during the adoption of your product.
You can use the development lifecycle as a source of questions to brainstorm with your own engineering team to identify content ideas that will help your prospects too. Let’s walk through the lifecycle step by step and offer a few different questions that you can ask.
- How/When do people discover they will need our product?
- What aspects about our product make them consider us, more than any other solution - whether that’s built in-house or one of your competitors?
- What is our prioritisation process for inbound changes?
- How do we handle inbound issues (Open-source projects primarily)?Note: An active issue/resolution process on GitHub is a primary point of consideration when you’re assessing a tool as an engineer. Make sure yours is a positive environment.
“You can create articles of detailed technical investigations you are doing and convert them into pieces of content. Benchmarking content is super valuable since it's really time-consuming to do the work yourself” - CTO & Co-founder, Daniel Engelke, howdygo.com
- What architectural decisions do people need to answer before selecting us?
- What is it about our product that specifically makes it easier for us to implement than our competitors?
- What is complex about someone trying to do this in-house?
- Have you made any specific decisions related to reliability, resilience, security or data privacy that make our product stand out?
- Depending on your product, things like GDPR and SOC2 compliance might be very interesting topics to write about.
- Writing about resilience from a technical perspective can also be very interesting. (Even, in some cases, admitting to a mistake and describing your recovery actions can be interesting…)
- Writing about infrastructure can be interesting, and can have the potential for guest posts on AWS, Azure and GCP blogs as well as a variety of other company blogs.
- What is it about the development experience (DX) that makes the product good to work with? (Example: Do you offer a typescript package?)
- Have you done anything recently to improve the DX with the product?
4. Testing & Q/A
- How do we make it easier to test and quality assure our product when incorporated into our customer’s code base?
- Do we offer mock libraries for popular tools like Jest, pytest, etc?
- If we have an Open Source product, is the code base fully tested?
- If not, are we close? - this could be an announcement.
There are automated tools to list all major changes and if they are new features or bug fixes based on the GitHub PRs and/or tickets, which can be relatively easily restructured for external consumption - Daniel Engelke
- Could we create a “Release” checklist for our product?
- Does our product do anything specific to make it easier to release it?
“Quality of published post mortems is a really good sign that a product will be reliable. Compare Cloudflare's post-mortem on Okta vs Okta’s own. Cloudflare’s explanation, by comparison, generated a huge amount of positive support and discussion.” - Daniel Engelke, CTO & Cofounder
- How are product updates handled?
- Do we have specific policies around product updates, what is our support period?
- Do we have on-call engineering support, is that something we consider noteworthy in this product space?
- The existence of a well-managed and coordinated status page can improve confidence in the reliability of a tool that an engineer is assessing.
- How do we help to minimise regression issues?
- How do we handle major version releases of our product?
Embracing their ways of working to collaborate more effectively
At the end of the day, engineers are supposed to be developing your product, not contributing to marketing. Unfortunately, they are also in a position as a source of knowledge and understanding that is often unmatched within your company, so you need to find ways to collaborate with them.
There are two challenges to address in this environment:
- Getting their input effectively
Improving prioritization of content generation
Here are a few ideas on how you can help your team prioritize content generation without it feeling like a complete divergence from their primary responsibilities:
- Don’t ignore their sprints: Engineering teams almost always work in sprints, so if you don’t have story points assigned to the task, good luck! Work with their manager to get it incorporated into their sprint.
- Asynchronous working: Find ways for them to contribute to marketing collateral asynchronously. Most engineers need to work on tasks when they feel like they’re “clicking” with the problem. Disrupting their day with a meeting can be a burden, so finding ways to work asynchronously is super valuable.
- Use recruitment and your company profile to increase priority and get your engineering managers on board: Technical marketing content is fantastic as a recruitment tool. I used to look at development blogs to understand if the company I was joining was, well, good. You can capitalize on their recruitment needs to improve the priority of this content.
- Tie personal growth/progression to marketing content: If you have an engineer who is interested in presenting a professional image on LinkedIn this can be a great opportunity for them and allows you to tap into their existing engineering network.Of equal importance, some engineering teams look at domain expertise at a senior individual contributor level as a promotional requirement. It’s worthwhile investigating what the promotion track looks like for your engineering teams.
Getting their input effectively
- Don’t make them stress about creating a perfect “ready-to-go” article: Get them to focus on the salient facts, you can always improve the writing style and restructure the content afterwards.
- Don’t stress too much about not understanding the content: If the structure feels confusing to you, it’ll feel confusing to someone who is reading this content without any context. So feel free to restructure and rework so that it flows.
- Give them help to make “creative assets” that support the content:
- Things like diagrams can be generated quickly using “Mermaid” and ChatGPT these days. They add a lot of depth to articles and can be relatively quick to produce.
- Interactive product demos can also be great assets to incorporate into your content because they can record the application doing what they’re describing and then pass it to you to clean up.
- Screenshots and code blocks always go down well.
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