7 Developer Marketing Tactics That Work

Developers are a tight-knit group that can smell BS from a figurative mile away. They hate being pandered to. They are, to put it mildly, discerning.

Frank L.
Frank L.
Published December 18, 2019 Updated April 7, 2021

That makes them a challenge to market to. They're not an audience to whom you can target an Instagram ad and expect to reap the rewards. They want straightforward messaging about your product's features and clear pricing information upfront and to see the product in action.

Developer marketing is just another phrase for marketing to software developers who can influence purchasing decisions. It can make a big impact on your SaaS business when you have the right approach to attracting developers. We'll show you seven tactics you can add to your strategy, including the tried and tested techniques that we practice here at Stream.

Seven Tactics for Your Developer Marketing Strategy

Whether you're a startup writing your go-to-market strategy or you're updating your existing marketing campaigns, it's important to pick one or two tactics to focus on first before adding others.

Don't just choose at random, though. Select tactics that can help you reach the right developers for your product by defining your target audience. You can start with your own customer base — send them a survey or interview a few of them. Find out what they read, what types of industry information they look for, whether or not they go to in-person events, and where they search for information on products and services.

Once your target audience is well-defined, consider trying some of the tactics below.

1. Give Them Something for Free

Developers are inherently skeptical and want to try your product firsthand. A sales demo won't cut it. They need to see the technology in action and play with it in low-risk, "curiosity" scenarios before deciding whether to bring it into their core tech stacks. Developers decide on new technologies to use by experimenting and building to find pain points and ways around them.

Provide a free version of your product, open-source products they can play with, templates, and other developer tools that they may find useful. Let them test out what you have to offer, so they can see how it can add value to their workflow or solve a problem they regularly face. If they like what you have to offer, they are likely to share their findings within their communities.

This tactic is a big one for us at Stream. We offer walkthroughs that guide developers on how our API works. Our efforts paid off when we won the ProgrammableWeb's Developer Experience award for our unique onboarding process.

Our Stream Chat API tour guides the developer through the process of creating a chat application with a hands-on approach. It focuses on what developers want to see — code and the underlying SDKs that power the chat product. In less than three minutes, developers have a solid understanding of how our chat product works.

We do the same for Stream Activity Feeds by guiding users through the process of creating users, adding an activity, and so on. This process creates a connection between Stream and our end user, the developer, by putting them first.

In addition to our live onboarding guides, we have several API tutorials that show developers how to build on top of Stream Activity Feeds or Chat with Android, iOS, React, and React Native. We test them regularly to ensure they're always in working condition, and we're always one step ahead of our code should things go awry.

2. Create Content Marketing That's Not Fluff

Companies have long relied on blog content to promote their products. The problem is many companies try to sell too hard in the process. To developers, this doesn't provide an analytical justification to purchase or even try out the product. It can come across negatively because it's self-serving.

Remember, developers do not like to be marketed to. A blog post about your company and all of the bells and whistles that your product comes with won't work. Speak the same language as your core developer audience. Write about common use cases, development stacks, your engineering team, and anything that doesn't read like marketing fluff.

At Stream, we have a wide variety of blog posts, ranging from how long it takes to buy and implement Stream vs. build the product from scratch to how we migrated from one language to another. We've found these are the types of posts that win developers over by offering information that can help them make a decision or provide insight into a situation they're facing. This allows you to establish trust and, eventually, build a relationship.

The rule of thumb with a blog post is to give 90-95% of your wisdom away for free to prove your expertise as a thought leader in the space. Because you are perceived as an expert, you won't have to actively sell to developers.

Submit your blog posts to publications on Medium, such as Better Programming or DEV, where developers will discover your content. Then fire off a tweet or two to make yourself known, and developers will come to you — as long as your content isn't too pushy. Your developer marketing team can also repurpose this content to attract developers on social media or as a way to launch a podcast.

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3. Participate in the Online Developer Community

Spend time with developers in the online spaces where they congregate. Developers spend the vast majority of their time on the internet. They push code to GitHub, read through links on Hacker News, scroll Reddit, talk about developer tools on Stack Overflow and Slack communities, and blog about their latest accomplishments on platforms like Medium.

Regularly spend time in the same spaces as the developers you want to target. See what topics interest them and what industry news is catching their attention. This research can help inform your content marketing topics. Take part in conversations and make connections in the online community. This can help people to get to know you as a company, as well as your team. And don't forget about product information and review sites like Product Hunt and G2 — if your product is listed there, make sure all info is up to date and correct.

4. Do Some In-Person Community Building

Just because developers spend a lot of time online doesn't mean they're hermits. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce host events and conferences geared toward developers. Whether you attend just to network with other attendees or you opt to purchase a booth at the expo to showcase your product, you can make valuable connections. You can also learn about what's coming up next in the industry that can inspire your content marketing.

Large developer conferences can be expensive to attend, with ticket prices as high as $1,300, but there are less expensive options, too. You can find local events through sites like Eventbrite, Meetup, and DevOps Days with tickets that are affordable (and, sometimes, free) and don't require the cost of overnight travel.

If you have a developer relations team, partnering with them for community building and events is a great way to make use of their advocacy skills. Connecting with other developers in person can help familiarize them with your company and your product, and in-person events can be a great way to increase word-of-mouth advertising for your product. 

5. Partner with Your Target Audience

Tap into the knowledge of your target audience by partnering with them. Reach out to well-known developers who are trusted in the community to get involved in the creation of your technical content. They can write guest content, be a guest on a podcast, or serve as a subject matter expert on a topic that your target audience cares about.

They can help support your dev marketing efforts by lending their expertise to your developer content, and you'll simultaneously build new relationships within the community. They can also help grow your audience by introducing your company to their followers who may not have heard of you yet, while you introduce them to your audience, too. Your participation efforts in both the online and offline developer communities can help you create these partnerships. 

6. Make Smart Use of Paid Advertising

We're not huge fans of paid advertising, but that doesn't mean we're against it completely. When done well and in the right places, it can pay off. Keep ad copy straightforward and appeal to developers by promoting things they care about. Promote your free version, a problem your product solves, or data from a case study that shows off the value of your product. Place these ads in the places online where your target audience spends time.

Our preferred way to use paid advertising is through newsletters. They work great and will help your marketing team gain company exposure among developers if you hit the right channels. Cooperpress is a great source for finding developer-focused newsletters that have both a high open and click rate. Depending on what we are promoting, we vary what channel we promote on, but React has done exceptionally well for us historically.

7. Hand Out Memorable Swag 

In our experience, every developer loves swag. That means anything from T-shirts to stickers and even socks! If you're going after a specific company and want them to use your product, surprise them with some swag to make them feel loved. The team over at Heroku sent us a box of T-shirts and Heroku-branded socks when they wanted to connect with us. While it may seem silly, this won over our developers, and now we use Heroku for some of our services. A great service for this is Swag.com.

On the other hand, LinkedIn reached out about their recruiting tool by sending our team a book on fun facts about their software. Although nice, it was received with laughter from our team. The book was created with business representatives in mind, but a tome of information about your product isn't going to delight the recipient. This is a tactic best avoided if your target audience is developers.

Refine Your Tactics to Increase the Number of Developers You Reach

Let's face it, marketing to developers is not easy. You need to live, breathe, and think like a developer. And more importantly, you shouldn't overdo it, or you'll come across as desperate. With a small team of marketers, product managers, and developers, you can make serious moves from a developer marketing standpoint and positively impact your product adoption rates.

You just have to figure out which marketing tactics work for your audience, track KPIs and metrics where possible, refine your efforts, and give your tactics time to mature. Just like traditional marketing tactics, it can take a few months to see progress. Once your developer marketing program is established, either work to add new tactics and marketing channels or refresh your strategy for tactics that have plateaued or gone stale.

Want to see more examples of developer marketing? Check out our blog to read more content targeted toward developers. Happy developer marketing! ✌️

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