What marketers can learn from developer advocates

November 9, 2020

This article was written with help from Jason Yee, Director of Advocacy at Gremlin. Thanks, Jason!

Developer advocacy is a way of giving software engineers a voice within your company, and helping them be successful with your product. Related disciplines include community management, which is about building a community around your product, and evangelism, which is about more deliberately promoting your product, through tools, assets, and building relationships.

All of these are ways of building interest that rely on deeply understanding users, building relationships with them, and constantly demonstrating how the product solves their problems. There are some specific lessons from this practice that are helpful for all marketers.

Your audience wants to be unblocked

Your audience is trying to accomplish a task. Whether it’s an HR manager setting up rubrics for employee performance, a sales leader trying to close more deals, or a software engineer trying to solve a very specific technical problem – your audience is looking for ways to solve very specific problems.

The goal of developer advocacy is to unblock the work of developers. But as a marketer, you’ll do your best marketing when you think about unblocking the work of your audience.

What’s getting in their way, today? How does your product address those problems, specifically? And what content can you produce that will help alongside your product? For the HR manager, maybe it’s a template for performance reviews, or a guide to setting goal areas, or something else. Those assets attract visitors, and they work alongside your product to help solve your users’ problem.

A deep understanding of your product is key

Someone working with developers has to have a detailed technical understanding of what it is that their product does, and how. It isn’t much use if, at a tradeshow, a technical evangelist can’t answer detailed questions about what their product does.

But a deep understanding of your product can be helpful to anyone in a marketing role, too. For demand generation, the specific problems of a customer can show up in search terms for paid advertising and landing page copy. For content marketing, knowing what your product does is important for generating content ideas, and then promoting them with the right language on social and other channels. Even brand marketers should have a good sense of what the product really does – if a product solves a problem by increasing ease of use, that might result in a different brand message from a solution that involves saving money or time.

It isn’t necessary for everyone to be able to effectively pitch, or even understand a lot of technical details. But knowing enough to develop empathy with customers can improve your marketing dramatically. Otherwise, you end up talking in vague, ineffective ways.

Being not-sales helps you close the sale

A big part of marketing is building credibility over time. Most marketing tactics have this as a goal, at least indirectly. For example, advertising can make your brand seem more real, and communicate your value proposition in a memorable way. High-quality blog content conveys expertise. Even excellent design can help because it makes you appear thoughtful about your product and what it delivers.

Buyers know when your motivation is to close a sale, and that undermines credibility; this is particularly true when marketing to developers who are generally experts in your product’s domain.

It works better when someone else is involved who’s viewed as being there to educate, rather than sell. That person can accurately and honestly answer questions about whether a product will solve a specific use case, and is viewed as an educator, rather than a seller.

Documentation makes great marketing

An often-overlooked but major driver of traffic for a lot of our clients is product documentation.

One obvious reason is that customers need access to documentation in order to use your product. But documentation can also be a valuable tool to reach people who are not customers yet. Documentation builds credibility by:

  • Giving visitors a sense of what it’s like to use your product. Is your documentation well-organized, easy to use, and comprehensive? Is its language and tone clear, but also warm and accessible?
  • Showing the problems your product solves, what it can do, and what use cases it’s for – particularly if it contains wide-ranging tutorial and use case content,
  • Explaining how your product has evolved over time, and what new features have been released.
  • Laying out exact technical specifications.

Today, documentation is viewed as critical for developer-facing products. But in fact, for all products, documentation is an opportunity to sell the product (and, by the way, increase customer satisfaction and reduce support costs.)

Conclusion

Marketing that frustrates, annoys, or confuses prospects is extremely common and is becoming less and less effective over time. Take inspiration from advocacy and evangelism teams to keep the focus on credibility, authenticity, and value – which can help build a far more effective marketing funnel, too.


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