Decoding Developer Marketing

If you’re relying on traditional demand gen methods that only target the decision-maker, you could be missing key influencers and significantly slowing down your sale. | Originally aired on November 4, 2021

Key takeaways.


Developer marketing takes a bottom-up approach.

In direct contrast with traditional technology marketing, developer marketing targets the end user to influence the sale.




Audience segmentation is key in a dev marketing program.

Developers are not a monolith—understanding the nuances among them will help you better reach and connect with them.


Being authentic is crucial when relating to developers. 

Developers want you to talk WITH them, not AT them. Plus, they tend to be marketing averse and can sniff out when you’re being disingenuous.

HubSpot Video

The best companies think of developers as a key ingredient of their technology marketing strategy.


Episode Transcript

Stephanie Siemens: Developer marketing is something that's very near and dear to our hearts here at Iron Horse and we've got a lot to cover, so let's jump right into our conversation. Uzair, why don't you kick us off? What's the difference between technology and developer marketing?

Uzair Dada: That's a great question. We hear about this all the time from a lot of our customers, and we work with some of the largest and most fast-growing companies in the world, and all of them are selling products, solutions, and services to technologists. And most of the time when they're selling technology and they want to do developer marketing, they're going out and talking to IT decision makers. These are people who probably have a strong influence in writing the checks, are the last point of making a decision, but are not really the users. And so when they spend all this time and they don't get results, they get frustrated.

Uzair Dada: What we've seen is the smarter organization really thinks of technology marketing as kind of holistic. So the whole notion of you sell to a company that is made up of a bunch of people, and a bunch of people are decision makers, but also users and other people who may be peripherally involved in the conversation. So when you think about technology, you almost always have to think about the developer as the user, the developer as the evaluator, the developer as someone who's going through the process of knowing if it's going to work for me or not, and then their boss or their manager or someone else in their organization, may be the ultimate signer and signer on the check, but really not the person who's making the decision. So for the best companies who are doing the coolest work and are being very successful, they think of developers as a key ingredient of their technology marketing strategy and really two sides of the same coin [of technology marketing]. Darren, anything else to add?

Darren Yuen: Yeah, I think one of the most simplistic ways that I think about it is that general tech marketing is a bit more B2B. And there's a top down approach like you talked about here in that, you're trying to reach the decision makers in the company. Whereas as we view at Iron Horse with the programs that we run [they] are sort of from the bottom up. We want to start with the practitioners and the developers at the bottom to influence those that are going to be making the buying decisions at the procurement level.

Darren Yuen: So one of the analogies that I like to use with clients, because I used to be in the toy industry is, we want to influence the kids here. And because we want the kids to be excited about technology products and software that you guys are offering so they can tell the parents, "Hey, we need this for our company. We want this." They're not going to be the ones who are going to be out and holding the dollars most of the time to make these purchases. But the goal for developer programs should be really appealing to the end user, as you mentioned earlier.

Uzair Dada: Yeah and we see this today, if you take technology marketing out, and if you look at generally how smart marketers are doing personalized marketing in general B2B frames, we do that pretty well. We talk to the end user, we talk to the people who actually have key input and are the key benefiters of that technology or that use case or those services. But for whatever reason, when it comes to tech marketing, we've gotten used to going straight to the decision maker because we believe that's the only point. So it's interesting how it's evolved, but you're starting to see that change.

Darren Yuen: I'm on the same page as you—that's not to say that we should be remiss of the decision makers and not focus on them. But I think one of the big things that we see with clients that they miss is that there are teams of decision makers. It's the person who's using the product and the person making the decision and sometimes it's the same person or they work very closely. So in terms of assets, in terms of messaging, really successful developer programs will touch on all these different levels and not just the developer or not just the decision maker, but the team as a whole, like you mentioned.

Uzair Dada: Totally.

Stephanie Siemens: Great. So what are some critical foundational elements to get developer marketing right?

Uzair Dada: Yeah to me, I think it starts with making sure that you have really good alignment within your sales and marketing organization first of all, to say that this is who we need to go talk to, this is who we need to influence, this is who we need as part of the conversation, this is sort of a clarity of once we engage with them, what we want them to do, and if they do these three or four or five things that we will be successful. In terms of developer marketing, oftentimes that is making sure you are discoverable when someone is looking for a solution. So if I'm a developer, oftentimes I prefer to do my research on my own in trusted locations. I go to my community sites, I go to my other places to go find the information, I talk to my peers to understand what's going on, what they like or don't like. And build my own opinion, I want to maybe even try things.

Uzair Dada: So making information available where they are, I think is super important and being aligned on how we engage with them to me is really important. I think another area that I feel is super important as you think about the foundational element is really understanding your customer. So knowing who these developers are, what are the different types of developers? When you say developer, developer is a category. There are so many different people involved when you're doing technology development. So understanding the nuances of a DevOps person or a Dev security person versus a front end developer or a backend developer are super important because what you do with them and how you talk to them is critical.

Uzair Dada: And then what we talk to a lot of our customers about is the most frustrating thing for developers is when they are in the mode of developing, they want to develop. They want to do their research, they want to go, go, go, go, go. So when you create unnatural dead ends in their journey, where they're looking for something and they can't get to something, or you spend all this time getting in front of them and driving them back to your website, and your website is just a bunch of stuff, a bunch of gunk that's there and it becomes really hard for them to find things, that's extremely frustrating. So having a sense of what the developer journey should be, having a sense of clarity of what their action should be, I think is very important. Darren, any thoughts?

Darren Yuen: Yeah and I think you hit on one of the big things here is that's for developer programs to be successful I think segmentation is key and it's not just separating out DevOps from developers and engineers, but it's really getting down to specific applications. I know for some clients and companies, they just don't have bandwidth to create different pathways and journeys for every single type of developer. But at the same time, oftentimes companies do themselves a disservice by saying, "All right, all DevSecOps guys, or all engineers are going to be using this one application." And frankly a lot of developers are somewhat turned off by that and are saying, "Oh, this is similar to what I want, but I'm looking for this very specific thing." And that's something to keep in mind is that every developer is looking for something very specific and sort of painting broad strokes isn't the best way to present yourselves because getting into the second point, one thing that developers really want in a successful developer program is [knowing that] it’s authentic.

Darren Yuen: It's less about chest beating and less about telling the customer and the users about what's great about the product, what are the new features and stuff, what differentiates, but really addressing, how does this affect you? How does this benefit you as a developer right now in building something in this moment or in the future, and how can we attend to that issue right now. Secondarily the other big thing that I see that besides just being authentic about stuff is really being a part of the community. One of the big things that we stress with our clients in our programs is really about talking with the developer communities, not at them. And that's sort of a distinct change between general tech and just broader traditional marketing versus something that's more influencer and developer focused, is that you as a company and as a brand should be more of a community resource, as opposed to someone talking down and pitching products.

Darren Yuen: That's probably the number one way to really turn off a developer community about yourselves; if every conversation is about using your product only and staying within a proprietary range. A better way to focus stuff and really to build that trust and relationship with developers is to speak about things from more of a community perspective. How do your products fit in with what they're doing now? How does it solve issues that are broader across different communities and just being really genuine about that and less about using our stuff, but showcase how your product can potentially be a more effective way of solving an issue.

And I think one of the last things really to keep in mind is that, where a lot of programs that we see sort of stop off is in initial adoption of a product or solution on the software side. And that's really the beginning point for us. I mean, developer marketing, as we sort of define it here is really about attracting people and getting to adopt, but where developer programs should really focus is on the relationship and community part. And that's where things start getting really interesting because now we've gotten people to adopt software, we've gotten people to adopt a new solution from your brand or company, but what next? How do we get them to use it? From our perspective what we always like to do is, the main focus of developer programs is that it starts at adoption. And our end goal is really advocacy for you guys.

Stephanie Siemens: What do good developer marketing programs look like?

Darren Yuen: So I think one of the big things, and this goes for a lot of marketing programs, but it's really important for developers, is that the [audience is] extraordinarily fragmented. You have niche communities everywhere. There's no central place to find people. I think we all gravitate toward places like stack overflow, but stack overflow is more of a sort of customer support, technical support instance to go help people in that time. For discovery, for questions directly about stuff or different verticals and industries, those are much more hard to find and really having a community evangelist on your team is going to be helpful to identify these and just be alive and be present there. And that's part of what a good developer marketing program looks like—that you are sort of omnichannel and you are everywhere.

Darren Yuen: Obviously we are all resource confined here and we can't be everywhere, but a good developer program will really identify where the watering holes are and where are the best places to talk and communicate with your specific audiences are and you should always have a presence there, whether it's through paid activities, whether it's through community activities or just general nurture stuff, but there should be an act of presence. It shouldn't just be, "Hey, we have an account here and we sometimes go here." If you're going to commit to a community and to do stuff like you should, you should be all in. And this goes back to the whole authenticity and sort of being a partner of a community as opposed to a brand selling something in.

Uzair Dada: Being everywhere they are—can't emphasize enough. There are companies that are still of the mindset of, "I need to build all this stuff and I need to get them to my website." And those companies fail. The world has changed where the developers are really someone who adopted the whole self-service mechanism to heart. They go out, seek information, they are binge consumers. They want to get the information in a really easy way. And when they're ready, they want to come to you and they want to have a clear path. So both externally and internally having a cohesive unified journey and conversation arc is very important. I think the second thing is we talked about authenticity, but peer influence in this category is insane. So having good developer stories, being able to say how others are using [your product] and what they did, having good developer user generated content that's there, that's authentic.

Uzair Dada: We talked about not chest beating. I can't emphasize enough. Most of the content that large organizations and even smaller organizations create has so much about me, me, me and why me versus here is how you can solve this to solve x and use this to solve x. And I think the more people embrace that, the more people un-gate, and I'm sure there's probably some haters out there saying we can't un-gate stuff because I need leads, but the more you can un-gate things so that people come and consume stuff and become fans and advocates and enthusiasts about your products and your services, because you are so embracing of them, the more love fest between developers and companies and brands begins. And so I think that is a really important thing and a very different mindset from traditional lead gen approaches that exist.

Darren Yuen: Yeah and I think one of the big things here, and it sounds ironic within the context of this conversation, but a great developer marketing program really should look like it's not marketing.

Darren Yuen: And that's sort of at the core of everything here is developers are very—not necessarily adversarialbut they are marketing averse. So they will sniff out BS and marketing fluff in an instant. So in terms of building use cases and building content and thought leadership, that's great. And like we talked about earlier, there are differing levels of a developer team. But that information is usually for sort of the higher up and c-level suite to kind of just get them aware. What developers are really looking for in terms of resources and assets are sort of all the technical stuff.

Darren Yuen: So documentation, code samples, tutorials, that is where in terms of a good developer program, content should really be focused, and like you mentioned earlier, is there like a clear pathway to get there? Like we know that developers are almost always going to prefer a self-serve model. And so making sure that your website or your developer portal is clearly defined and easy to reach and discover should be a big thing in terms of most programs to focus on first. Besides figuring out where we find people to bring them into our funnel, once we get them here, is there an easy way [for them to] get started right away? And one thing that is missed is that oftentimes just because you have technical documentation there, you were also missing people who are sort of searching.

Darren Yuen: And I think a lot of programs running into this problem are typically focused on the person who's in development there. And one thing that does help, because obviously we all know that developers in general, their cycle's really long, right? From when they start a project to when they end one, it could be indefinite almost. So in general, most developers won't necessarily need a getting started point and programs shouldn't really necessarily cater to the novice developer, but there are often a lot of programs that don't address that person. And just having that option of here's where I should start, here's where I should go next and just clearly defining that for new people, I think it's crucial to building the general awareness so that down the line when they are actively going to develop something or use a product or a solution, they know where to go next.

Stephanie Siemens: All right you two, last question for today, how do you define success?

Uzair Dada: I think success is a really interesting kind of general term. I think you need to sort of first define success for what outcome? And I think that's the place where we struggle with most people, I think, "What are you trying to do?" Is it, if you are new, discoverability is a lot of stuff that we focus on—very different metrics. If you are looking to grow your database because you want to sort of build a group that you can talk to—very different metrics. A lot of people focus on, "Hey, I want them to download something or I want to start having them build something." That's a very different outcome  and conversion point. So depending on where you are, I think there's a lot of different metrics and maybe Darren, you can go into sort of how we think about those different stages.

Darren Yuen: Yeah. I think that at the top, the way that I think about this is, for any good developer marketing program, you can't lose sight of that end goal. Oftentimes especially with bigger companies, there are sort of micro goals. It's like, "How many downloads can we get? How many demos can we get set up?" These are great as just sort of a micro KPI, but the journey obviously doesn't stop there. And with everything with developers, it's always cyclical. So making sure to keep the long game in mind always, and besides just measuring the volume of downloads I got or the amount of adoption I've got in this quarter, is thinking about how well did I set them up for the next step?

Darren Yuen: How quickly and how effectively are we getting them to the next stage of actually using a solution and building something on their own using one of our ingredients or using one of our products? That's something to keep in mind and getting out of the more traditional, is someone MQL versus is someone SQL? Really measurement for developer programs should be based on their engagement and here engagement is defined by use of product and what the output is there.

Uzair Dada: Yeah, I'd say, I think all the metrics that we're traditionally using are part of the overall maps. Engagement, discovery, participation are all important, but the end goal needs to be outcome, and the outcome is, did they do what I want them to do? And if they didn't do it, why they didn't do it and kind of focusing on, did I not give them the right content? Was I not on in the right places? Was it really hard for them to sign up? I mean, we've seen certain organizations where they make it so difficult for someone to get started and do something. So I think those are the conversations that people ought to be thinking about. And overall, our goal is to build developers as enthusiasts. We often sort of use the term developer marketing versus developer relations. It's really a relationship that you're building. And if you build that relationship in a proper way, it yields dividends in a long time to come.

Darren Yuen: Right and I think, again, just going back to the analogy of the toy stuff, I think people often take  B2D developer programs as being akin to B2B stuff. And the way that we see it in the real world is that developer marketing is much more like influencer marketing for consumer programs. Like that's the core of it—you want to turn your customers into people who are going to go out there and speak on your behalf. And that idea I think should always be kept in mind for everything you do in terms of how good is your content, how easy is it to share? How often are you involved in talking with these people?

That all comes to fruition in terms of building these relationships because the closer you can get to developers, the more authentic and cohesive part of their community that you're presenting yourself as, that will in turn turn them into evangelists for you and fans of your program and “developer influencers” more or less. Generally, like you mentioned earlier, a lot of the traditional measurements and a lot of the traditional marketing activities work, but again, it needs to be flipped and just looked at a little bit differently in context of getting people to actually use stuff and turning themselves into advocates in the long run.

Stephanie Siemens: Great well, that's all we have time for today. Thank you both so much for the insightful conversation and discussion. Thank you to our viewers for joining us.