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My 7 Rules of Developer Marketing

Working as a software engineer the last 10 years, and then being a 2 time conference organizer and user group organizer, one of the most common questions I get is “how do you market to the developer community?

The best answer I can give is, “you don’t.” Now, first let me start by saying that there are two types of marketing, there is passive marketing and aggressive or proactive marketing.

Nearly every decision we make is influenced by marketing some way or another. For example, when you’re thirsty, do you get a Pepsi, a Coke, or do you drink water because of a health commercial you saw? What about Gatorade to fill up on electrolytes? The truth is marketing is all around us, and you can’t escape it. The second truth is that the best marketing comes passively, when people choose you because of who you are and what you mean to them, instead of what you tell them.

Developers are Different

One of the greatest mistakes I see is that companies try to approach developers the same way they do every other audience. Now, developers share many similarities with these other audiences, we are after all, despite many doubts by outsiders, human. But unlike your marketers, developers tend to think differently. Walk into a marketing department at a company, and then walk into the developer pit and you’ll see the difference, immediately.

It’s not that either is weird, but rather that developers tend to think more logically and concisely while marketers tend to think about the emotional aspect, seo, and “selling” a product. The problem is when these two worlds meet, and you have a marketing person trying to convince a developer through sugar coated, elaborate, and emotion based tactics when the developer just wants the information quickly and in a precise, easy to understand format.

Rule #1: Stop Marketing!

My first rule to successful developer marketing is “STOP MARKETING.” If you have a good product, you should be able to tell developers about it without having to “sell” them. For example, if I see a good API, I’m going to be interested and start asking you questions – you don’t need to try and sell me on all the bells and whistles. I get enough calls from recruiters, I don’t need anymore sales pitches.

Rule #2: Be Honest

Don’t sugarcoat or talk around questions. If your API can’t do something, just tell me. I am far more likely to say “ok, I can deal with that” if you’re honest verses walking away thinking you’re full of crap and I can’t trust anything you said. We’re used to sales pitches, so once we let you in our circle of trust, don’t abuse it – or you will lose it. And once you’re out, there’s almost no getting back in.

Rule #3: Be Concise

I don’t want to read a book to find out what your company does or what products you offer. I’m busy, I have a ton of stuff to code, and quite frankly, I don’t want to have to be here all night just because you took two hours trying to tell me how great your mini surf board image generator is.

Rule #4: Be Yourself

If you’re not a developer, don’t pretend to be. Come on, this is like pretending to be sober when you’re drunk at the Christmas party – EVERYBODY knows. So stop trying to be someone else, stop pretending we’re buddies, and just be yourself. You’ll be surprised at just how far that will get you!

Rule #5: It’s Not About You

Developers go to conferences to learn, network, and socialize. They’re not going there to see your booth, so stop making it about you. Don’t bring in models, don’t be all flashy and way out there, and for heaven’s sake, don’t do karaoke. Be part of the conference, supplement the experience, but don’t try to be the show.

Rule #6: Be Part of the Community

If you’re a company that regularly shows up to support the community and tries to make the community better, instead of just trying to sell a product, before you know it we will adopt you into our community. The best part is, all that marketing you didn’t do… will pay off. Because the next time we look at a project that involves your industry, you can bet we’re going to think of you – because we KNOW who you are, and we know you won’t jerk us around. Plus, if anything goes wrong, WE KNOW WHERE TO FIND YOU 😀

Rule #7: Invest

But you really want to know how to reach the developer community… INVEST. Invest in community events, invest your time and resources. Send speakers, send attendees if only to learn. And that money you’re not spending on marketing, spend it on your developer portal, on having a good API, and on good documentation – you’d be surprised just how much that means to us.

To Recap

So again, how can you be successful marketing to the developer community? Look at the DO’s… Do tell us what your product is and how it can help us, but be concise and honest, be courteous, be respectful, be yourself, be a part of the community, and invest in the community, in developers, and in your product.

It’s really just the golden rule, treat developers how you would like to be treated.

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