At Developer Marketing Summit in San Francisco, Mauricio Vergara, America's Developer Marketing Lead at Google, gave a talk on ‘Decoding Solutions Marketing.’

Topics covered in this article include:

Let’s dive in. 👇

Addressing complex developer needs

Developers are multifaceted individuals who need to be shifting gears on a day-to-day basis. For example, they have to go from debugging an existing tool, to building a new one, to influencing different stakeholders to adopt or not adopt a new one.

At the same time, they constantly need to be thinking about relearning how to do their job, so they're definitely evolving on a day-to-day basis.

And to make it more interesting, developers constantly need to be navigating through many different tools, features, and resources. And many of those might not even be part of your own organization’s portfolio.

So, if you think about it, developers are really hard to segment. If you were to think about how you’d go about condensing a developer persona, I'm sure everyone has struggled with that exercise. So how do you come up with a segmentation analysis to determine that this is who they are? You simply can't.

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The key here is that we, as developer marketers, need to think about marketing in a different way. We need to think about our jobs in terms of knowing the developers so that we can help them succeed, and not necessarily sell to them.

And that's where I think many of us (myself included) might not have the right mindset in order to approach marketing correctly with a developer community.

A big part of helping them to succeed and understanding them is to know what the developer journey is. So, you can effectively think about the developer journey as the end-to-end process to build, design, deploy, and maintain a given software system.

And just like developer experiences have common traits, so does the developer journey.

In my opinion, the developer journey is quite unique. I think most people would agree that the developer journey is never lineal; they’re constantly shifting gears between tasks and activities, and recognizing that early on is a great way to figure out how you serve your content.

Rather than being approached from a place of marketing a product, your information architecture can be approached in an intuitive way so that you serve content when it’s mostly relevant to developers.

On the other side, it's ever-evolving. With new tech stocks coming into the space and the next software release, they always have to be thinking about how that's going to affect them on a day-to-day basis. And it's completely disjointed. As I said, you need to be shifting between so many different tools and resources, whether that be learning resources, documentation, etc.

So, what does all of this have to do with solutions? In many ways, solutions is meant to be a tool to help you address many of the common characteristics that developers share, either by using some of the frameworks that solutions marketing uses, (even if you're a product marketer), or by thinking about marketing a specific product in a more customer-centric way.

A solution is basically a way to package different components to solve for a specific problem or derive a specific outcome. So let me just unpack that.

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The developer journey involves different products, different tools, and different resources. Having a common understanding of what that developer journey is and figuring out how you can map it back to the developers is what the solutions marketing approach talks about.

You can think about solutions as a blueprint. The main characteristics they have are that they're usually customer or developer-centric, they're already in practice out in the field, and they're being used to solve a specific problem for a specific vertical or tech horizon.

For instance, they can be used to address horizontal developer needs like security access control. That's a specific tech horizon. Or when it comes to a specific outcome for a specific vertical, you can talk about optimizing monetization for game developers. That's basically the outcome that you're trying to drive.

What makes them unique is that they’re vertical and product agnostic, and they start with the developer's needs. Another aspect worth noting is that they have to be standardized. They need to offer seamless and consistent experience in order to scale properly.

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The key differences between solution and product

Traditionally, product has a single attribute and functionality when it comes to its components, whereas a solution tries to integrate a set of product services and resources together.

When you think about customer input, product usually needs it early on, whereas a solution needs customer input on an ongoing basis. But at the same time, from a subset of your customers, products are usually a lot more broad. When you go and do product marketing, you have to think about your broad set of users, whereas solutions are a lot more narrow.

I think that's something that’s important to know; solutions do not work for everything. They only work for specific subsets that you deem important within your organization.

Traditional product is developed by a single engineering team that lives within a specific business or product function. In contrast, solutions requires collaborations between engineering, product teams within different silos, and even sales support.

When it comes to a solution, you really need to think about how you map different resources together to match the developer journey.

I think the main component that solutions offer is that you deliver value through the developer experience, not the product itself. You're basically delivering value through the developer experience to come up with a specific outcome. So, what solutions gives you is literally a blueprint of how different products and resources meet specific needs and objectives.

Resources can be learning artifacts, the community, documentation, your blog, or other companies' blogs. And so the most simple solution that anyone can build is precisely mapping all of those different resources in a way that’s intuitive and easy for developers to follow.

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The four main levels of marketing solutions

There are four levels of different marketing solutions.

The first one is blueprint and, in a way, it's really repackaging existing tools, products, and resources to address issues. They're basically meant to only support discoverability and simplify the journey for developers. In other words, they don’t include any type of developer engineering resources.

The second level of solutions is a heavy lift on the content production space. You don't necessarily need to have any engineering resources, but it’s really important to figure out how you can create an intuitive path and actually build web properties to allow developers to find all the information out there.

And then when it comes to the third level, I call it ‘integrated pathway.’ This one does require developer resources. And what it really means is that you’re integrating different tools through APIs, scripting, etc., in order to create a more simple approach to that specific developer journey.

And finally, standalone interface speaks to having a differentiated UI and UX that brings everything together under one single roof.

When approaching solutions marketing within any given organization, I definitely think that starting here is the best way to get momentum for our solutions.

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Top challenges associated with solutions marketing

Solutions marketing has so many different challenges. Like everything else, solutions basically have their own limitations and many organizational challenges. The biggest one, in my opinion, is cultural change.

A solution strategy requires common understanding of what they are and what they aren’t within your organization and from many different teams. It requires you to work across many different organizational silos.

So, when you're marketing a specific product, the likelihood of you having to answer to individuals based on the business objectives is really high.

When you're trying to come up with a solution, you're basically working across many different senior stakeholders that have their own opinions in terms of what is deemed important for the organization. And coming up with something that everyone agrees with is a really hard job.

Product versus solutions and marketing responsibility is another big one. I feel like product marketers should and are always doing some sort of solutions marketing within their specific functions.

The reason why we don't talk about solutions marketing as much is because we just don't use the language. This is because it's not something that we get to do as our main primary function within our organization.

Defining solutions and target audience I think is key. Since you're basically addressing a subset of your customers, how do you actually go about designing one solution you're going to market?

And the biggest challenge becomes, how do you decide what vertical to address or what tech horizon you’re going to develop a solution for?

The next obstacle then becomes hierarchy. Are you talking to the executives within the organization? Are you talking to the engineering team? All of those conversations are worth having really early on so that you can laser focus on delivering value.

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Best practices for solutions marketing

When it comes to approaching solution, the most important part for me is commitment from the executive team.

At Google, I was coming up with a solution and working on it with a team for almost a year. And, when we were in midflight, our main executive sponsor left the company.

As you can imagine, that was a big problem, because all of a sudden, this senior stakeholder that had transversal responsibilities across the company's portfolio of products was not at Google anymore.

So, how do I go and talk to my Android senior stakeholder to let him know that we're going to talk about Android, but we're also going to talk about Firebase? We're going to talk about Firebase, but we also need to cover something on Google Play?

Figuring that out is really hard. So, I think that it’s really important to get commitment from senior leadership very early on, hopefully more than one in case that person leaves, and then also from a marketing executive.

The second thing that I'd like to mention here is willingness to stay the course, to see the payoff of our solutions marketing approach. It takes time to figure out what solution you're going to market, determine who specifically you want to talk to, and make sure that you get internal buy-in.

Then how do you approach branding when you're talking about different products within the organization? The list goes on and on and you haven't even gone to market.

If you want to see the payoffs, the best approach is to stay the course for a long period of time. Obviously, this is based on the solution that you're developing, but anywhere between a year to longer, which is a hard thing to do because the company's priorities are constantly shifting. Again, there's an extra big product launch ahead that you need to think about.

How do you actually have the creative freedom and executive back up in order to focus on that specific initiative you're developing?

Marketers are change agents. By trying to talk more about solutions marketing, I am also trying to be a bit of a change agent. People within any given organization think about solutions in a different way as an approach that can deliver immense value.

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