Business-to-developer marketing (often shortened “B2D marketing”) describes marketing initiatives designed to reach software developers. As a former software developer, I can tell you that devs are a notoriously difficult group to market to. They’re tech-savvy, generally skeptical, and often use tools like adblockers to prevent popups and banner advertisements from reaching them.
At the same time, developers are an extremely valuable market to reach. They are well-paid and invest in educational materials and tools to help them do their jobs. Developers also carry a lot of influence on spending within their companies. If a developer needs a new tool to do their job, there’s a good chance their managers will put it under consideration.
Because developers are harder to reach than the average consumer, many marketers struggle with B2D marketing. Gimmicks like free t-shirts or exclusionary events centered around alcohol are not the way to go, but they’re still rampant in the space.
As a former software developer and engineering manager, I’ve seen many attempts at B2D marketing. In this post, I’ll focus on what works in B2D marketing today, and I’ll offer some tips for generating marketing campaigns that will reach software developers. Using these tips will make your outreach efforts more genuine and ultimately successful.
Software developers appreciate honesty. It’s no coincidence that some of the most sought-after jobs in the industry are with companies developing open-source software, and developers appreciate this same openness in vendors.
As a marketer, this means you should be honest about your role in the community. If you’re not a developer, you can’t just make it up as you go along. Instead, use your role as a marketer to help advance the causes that developers care about or invest in marketing material created by other developers.
You can do this in several different ways. You can hire a developer advocate - someone with a technical background who will champion your product at live events. Large software companies like Microsoft and Amazon have teams of these people traveling worldwide to give talks, lead training sessions, and write content about their company’s products.
Another option is to hire software developers to contribute case studies or blog posts to your site. During my years as a software developer I wrote blog posts for several companies whose products I used. I was paid several hundred dollars per post, and the company got some unique technical material for their marketing efforts.
One analogy I love for marketing is that of the watering hole:
You want to get a great shot of the elusive white tiger. Where do you go?
How about where the tigers hang out? Where is their watering hole? Odds are pretty good that if you hang out where the tigers hang out — you’ll get that shot.
While developers also use some of the same social networks you’re already familiar with (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), they have their own set of niche platforms they frequently use. Hacker News, Reddit, Lobste.rs, StackOverflow, and GitHub are all popular haunts for software developers online.
The good news is that you can join most of these communities without having any prior knowledge or special invitation. Spending some time in these communities will help you better understand developer culture and give you insight into how they spend their time.
As you get familiar with these channels, notice the kind of content that gets shared frequently, and think about how you might create similar content in your marketing efforts. Shameless self-promotion is usually hard to pull off in these communities, so you’ll need to take a more subtle approach.
Another thing that trips up many B2D marketers is the vast array of programming concepts and terminology. If you’re not a developer, you likely don’t know the difference between continuous integration and continuous deployment or understand the difference between unit tests and integration tests. Honestly, many developers struggle with these definitions.
Subtle differences between terms can be the difference between building trust with a highly technical audience and hurting your reputation. Take time to understand the terminology developers use, and when you don’t know something, just ask. Even after ten years of programming, I have to look up new concepts a few times per week.
Two of the best ways to reach a software developer audience today are written content (blog posts, guides, guest posts) and videos (tutorials, conference talks). If you want your content to stand out, it can’t be thin, junior-level fluff. Reaching decision-makers takes in-depth technical knowledge and unique expertise, which is hard to fake.
The best way to generate this kind of content is to hire people who can create it for you (disclaimer: this is what we do for our clients at Draft.dev). If you don’t want to bring on in-house writers, freelancers or an agency are both viable options.
That said, if you’re looking to start creating technical content without a budget, there are a few things you can do to get started:
It may be hard to get time on their calendars, but if technical content is a priority, use the resources you already have first. Give engineers a style guide and content brief to help them produce better work.
Another strategy is to publish an interview with a technical expert. Get them to explain a topic and dig deep into the details. These experts can be at your company, or they could be partners, customers, or people in your network. Learning to interview well is a valuable skill for any content marketer.
Finally, you can ask software developers who blog about relevant topics if they are willing to let you republish some of their work on your site. This won’t get you much search engine juice, but you might get traffic from social media, and it’ll give you some technical content to seed your blog.
While live events are currently on hold, many developers still attend online conferences, and local meetup groups will likely come back after the pandemic subsides. The lowest cost way to get in front of developers at these events is to start going to some. Besides learning more of the terminology by attending talks, you’ll have the chance to network with people between sessions and get some quality market research time in.
If you have a budget for it, sponsoring conferences and meetups is a great way to build a relationship with software engineers. Local meetups are cheaper to support, but because they’re so fragmented, it can take a lot of time to get involved. I’ve run a local meetup for programmers in Chicago for several years. It’s been a great way to build a network of potential hires and customers, but it takes a lot of time to maintain.
Sponsoring a conference is usually more expensive, but they can give you a lot of exposure. Hundreds (in some cases, thousands) of developers pass by the sponsorship booths at large conferences, so if you can find a way to make your display stand out, you can draw some inbound interest.
While not right for every product, one of the most common B2D marketing techniques I see today involves offering a free tier to developers. This bottom-up approach allows developers to try your product out on a side project before recommending a paid plan to their boss.
If you can’t afford to give away your product for free or it doesn’t make sense in your context, you could opt to give developers a free trial. This gives them time to set up your product and learn about it before asking their boss for the company credit card.
Not all B2D marketing is aimed at hands-on developers like this, but even if developers are just one of many parties who need to sign off, you need to get them on board. Offering a free tier, open-source version, or free trial can help assuage objections developers might have.
Business to developer marketing is unique because software developers are such a discerning audience. That said, they aren’t immune to marketing efforts, and when they find a product that serves them well, they can be powerful allies.
Your B2D marketing should center around being authentic, learning your audience, and offering them a valuable tool. Once you build a funnel that attracts developers, get them involved through community-based marketing efforts like forums, open-source projects, or support groups.
Finally, if you’d like to start investing in authentic B2D marketing content created by software developers, check out Draft.dev. We specialize in authoritative, technical blog posts designed to reach developers.
Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.
The Technical Content Manager’s Playbook is a collection of resources you can use to manage a high-quality, technical blog:
- A template for creating content briefs
- An Airtable publishing calendar
- A technical blogging style guide