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Developer Marketing: Yes – there is such a thing

If you've taken any marketing classes, you've definitely heard of Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing and Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing. But we can almost guarantee that they didn't teach you about Business-to-Developer (B2D) marketing! Post-secondary institutions tend to be behind on emerging areas, and there is even some debate amongst our peers about whether developer marketing is a 'thing'. In this article, we'll outline why it is indeed a distinct craft, and why it's important for API and SDK providers who target developers to know the difference.

What's the Outcome?

In a typical business scenario, a seller is looking for a sale as a final outcome. Once the sale is done, the seller may provide a little post-sale support if they want to reduce returns (e.g., for consumer offerings) or to please a big customer (e.g., a business) spending big bucks. Either way, the marketing goal is uptake: “Please buy our product or service. You'll be happy with the usefulness of your purchase, and we'll be happy because we made money. We both benefit.”

This is not the case for developer marketing - you don't just want the uptake. It's not enough for a developer to use your API or SDK. You are only successful when a) they actually develop something useful with your API; b) when a user (consumer or business) uses the outcome (e.g., app, service, etc.); and c) all three parties obtain some sort of benefit. So here, the marketing goal is about co-creation.

Co-creation is the premise of the “Open Innovation Theory” coined by Henry Chesbrough back in 2003, where he encouraged firms to use external ideas to advance their technology. The trend caught on resulting in different types of open innovation or co-creation programs of varying titles such as:

  • Partner Programs

  • Affiliate Programs

  • Incubators/accelerators

  • Open Source programs

  • Developer Programs

  • API Programs ·

But regardless of the title, engaging with external partners is no small task. If you want to win, your two most important rules must be:

  1. Get your API right as a product, and

  2. Follow the principles of developer marketing.

Remember, this is co-creation. If your goal is “Let’s get someone else to do our work for us,” you will fail.

There’s plenty to read here on and elsewhere about the product/technical side of things, so we’re going to focus on developer marketing, which calls for a different approach from traditional B2B or B2C marketing. And B2D is indeed 'marketing', given that it’s a set of activities to acquire customers/users and maintain a relationship with them.

Forget about the 4Ps of traditional marketing. Here are four key areas for developer marketing, which we’ll touch on briefly here, and expand upon in other articles:

Build a Community or Ecosystem to partner with you.

You're not building an audience or building a customer base. Engagement with your community is as important as the initial outreach. Once you build a community, you can also leverage them for support and marketing.

Incite their imagination to create.

Your messaging must be developer-centric, not product-centric. Think about what will entice developers to engage their imagination and passion with you and your product. Focus on the desired outcomes, not activities. It's about what developers can build with your product, not what you do with developers.

Provide directions, support, and context to build a viable product.

We call this onboarding: the provision of documentation, code samples, and technical support is crucial, as is context. Don't rely on developers to know your business, your vertical, or your customers. Provide some case studies or use cases.

Have an end goal where everyone wins.

Can developers use your API to create an app they own and sell? Are you providing a revenue-sharing option for your goods and services sold through their hard work? Can they enable advertising in the app? If there are no wins for the developers, there are no wins for you either.

So who are these developers or co-creators?

This is the biggest differentiator of developer marketing and one you need to figure out specific to your product. In general, developers tend to be a technical audience and for the most part, a younger crowd; and yes, this crowd still tends to be mostly male, although this is starting to evolve. They don't like to be marketed to, and have high guano-meters. But they are also a very diverse crowd, so making generalizations won't be absolutely effective. Our next article in this series will be on segmentation, which will provide a deeper dive into this unique market and more tips on how to succeed with developer marketing.


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