Developer portals are supposed to be engaging interactive communities with lots of content, comments, and contributions from users and staff.
But that doesn’t always happen. We’ve all come across developer zones that resemble graveyards. The blog posts are over a year old and nobody has posted to the forum in months.
These wastelands occur when a company has ambitious plans for engaging with developers, but it doesn’t quite come together. Perhaps there wasn’t the appetite to provide the necessary content and curation.
This blog post includes ideas for how to tip the scales toward success. Because I believe that a robust developer community is the single most important element for successfully marketing to developers.
Why Market to Developers?
Increasingly, developers make technology adoption decisions. They are suggesting which platforms to build from and what products to purchase or use.
Good software developer marketing is different from consumer marketing or even B2B marketing. Technical outreach and education, such as software documentation and example code are critical as tools, downloads, and knowledge bases. Marketers need to reach out online and through focused events.
A developer marketing program has a number of aspects and channels. We can measure the maturity, to some extent, by its uptake. Let’s take a look at the phases of developer marketing from the least to the most mature.
Newbie developer programs are limited in scope and provide just a few APIs or SDKs, with limited documentation or hands-on support. The developer liaison team is small (2-3 engineers focused on API product and documentation) and runs on a tight budget.
Newbie programs must first establish a developer portal to attract and encourage registered developers. Second, they need to engage through online channels by joining conversations about solving problems. The marketer needs to reach developers in the online places where they are already hanging out.
At this stage, marketers should focus on building momentum and encouraging engagement with their program.
Challenger developer programs are Newbies that are taking root and growing. They have matured to the point of offering a range of APIs or SDKs. The portal provides solid levels of documentation plus hands-on support. The audience is typically focused in one area and has grown to about 10,000 developers. Engagement is mostly through the online developer portal and other third-party channels, but there is some face-to-face outreach via hackathons and meetups, typically within a single region.
There is an overall developer marketing budget of up to $1 million in place and a team to provide product management, product engineering, developer outreach, and engineering support.
Challenger programs ask questions about marketing strategy, such as the best activities for ROI, how to effectively reach their target audience, and best practices to justify budget.
Authority developer programs are well established and offer a portfolio of developer products for their audience. There will be a range of APIs or SDKs available for a disparate developer audience of up to several hundred thousand across multiple global regions.
The total developer marketing program is staffed and funded at a level appropriate to its size, typically up to $5 million. Companies in this segment typically employ product managers, product engineers, separate teams for developer relations and developer marketing, and a developer product business development group.
Developer marketing hosts events, maintains a mature developer portal with high levels of documentation and technical support, as well as engagement via third-party channels. Authority developer programs are sufficiently established to run a number of developer-facing events per year across different regions, including hackathons, conferences, and sponsored events. They may also provide training and developer certification.
The Authority programs are always gauging marketing spend against ROI. They focus on finding the right segments, extending their reach, and building upon their established audience.
Unicorn developer programs are well-established. They provide a number of different APIs and SDKS to a variety of developer profiles across a broad audience that numbers in the millions. The program is well-staffed and funded with a budget of over $5 million, which is used to provide a wide level of engagement online and in person at events, hackathons, and training.
The Unicorns focus on staying ahead of the competition and building regional audiences where they don’t currently exist.
How to Evolve Your Developer Marketing Program
So how does a program make the leap from one level to the next? Your core platform and product’s value to developers is key (obviously). Marketing alone won’t move the needle for a niche product.
But investment in the right elements of the developer program is also key. The best product, backed by a visionary roadmap, will go nowhere. If you do not provide what your audience needs and values, you will not reach the next level.
SlashData’s Developer Program Benchmark reports track the leading developer programs through twice-yearly surveys that assess developer satisfaction across more than 20 developer program features and services, including marketing. The reports show the levels of importance that developers place upon each feature, which can be used to guide marketing spend at any stage of program maturity.
Ultimately, building reputation among developers comes down to the quality and nature of the communication you have with them, and in this, your developer marketing and relations teams are crucial. As I write in Selling it Softly, developers possess a healthy cynicism toward anything that could be interpreted as marketing. They have an intense disdain for the hard sell.
Jo Stichbury edited the recently published book. Developer Marketing: The Essential Guide.