How to do developer marketing that doesn’t suck
What to avoid, and what to do, when you’re trying to win over developers
This post explores specific ways to make your developer marketing notably not bad, maybe even good! Read on for what to avoid, and what to do, in order to hit the mark with your developer audience.
I’d love to get your additions to this piece. Who is doing an amazing job with developer marketing and DevRel right now1? I’d like, in future editions, to highlight companies doing great work, so please reach out and feel free to even share your own company if you believe you’re doing great work.
Things to Avoid. The bad.
Bad 1: Tone-deaf Content
💫 Join the movement, create customer magic, drive success, better-together, instant innovation, unleash the power, the platform of platforms. 💫
Phrases like these are why people say that “developers hate marketing.” Tone deaf copy is, in my opinion, the greatest offender in the world of bad dev marketing.
You can always tell when marketing content was written and built by someone who does not think about, talk to, or understand what motivates developers.
If you show most developers, especially “good” ones, this hiring plea it feels overly try hard. It looks developer-y, it’s code! But it repels. You could say this is “code-washed,” the marketer thinks they are speaking the developer’s language, but their assumption is in error.
Companies that hire B2B marketers with track records of success marketing to enterprise buyers. Sometimes these marketers use marketing words like “strategic alignment” and “drive success” and “join the movement” and “create customer magic.”
Those aren’t inherently bad words.
They are actually great words for enterprise software buyers. In fact, I took most of them from the salesforce.com homepage! But these AREN’T words that you’d hear from most developers.
Companies hire a big-budget, brand-heavy marketing agency, and they come up with things that look and smell developer-y. They probably put brackets <> or slashes // in front of the logo or as part of the new developer feel, but again they aren't talking to actual developers, they are just trying to do things that FEEL “developer-y” to them.
Developers come in many flavors
One more note before I turn the tables: there are a LOT of types of developers. “Developer” is not one, single audience. There are frontend, backend, data engineers, and DevOps, to name a few, and even within those buckets groups of developers have language preferences, levels of seniority and expertise that vary. Developers, without qualification, are not a valid audience. If you are targeting developers, dial in an understanding of what types of developers you’re working with.
Good developer marketing copy is concise, uses language that your target audience uses, and focuses on their actual pain points. Good developer marketing is done by people who work with, get feedback from, and understand developers.
I wish I could share some cringe examples out in the wild…but I feel like that would be too cruel. Let’s look at good examples instead.
AWS: I have a lot of respect for the AWS’s product marketing. They aren’t as cute as some companies in the dev space, but they are gloriously straightforward. Copy cuts right to the value. No jargon. Knowing their user, they are not afraid to expect their audience to do some reading. If you’re feeling lost, copy AWS’s style and you’ll instantly be in better shape.
Vercel: Vercel’s homepage is another example of great audience awareness and quality product marketing. Unlike AWS, they bring a bit of personality to the table. The copy doesn’t get lost in personality, though - it tells us right away (1) who the product is for and (2) what it can do for me. Again, no jargon that makes my eyes glaze over.
Now - let’s look at the two examples together through the lens of understanding your audience. AWS and Vercel are trying to attract different types of developers. Vercel’s homepage is super smooth and focuses on getting straight into the action. They’re nicely packaged up and make me feel like I could use their product, even without being an expert.
If AWS used Vercel’s homepage vibe, it would frustrate users. Vercel is targeting individuals who want to bypass the hassle of setup, this will include both less experienced developers and experienced developers looking for a solution that internal stakeholders can use without it being too technical to access. AWS, on the other hand, is not trying to position itself for beginners. Content is deeper, more descriptive, and more heavily technical - right off the bat.
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Bad 2: Do nothing.
Developers hate marketing, so let’s just not do it.
Actually, a number of very successful developer companies have taken this approach.
There are companies that “do” this and succeed - so I want to be careful on this point. Here’s my thesis: even if your company doesn’t have a marketing team, you are doing marketing. Marketing is how you show up to the world, the way you talk to the industry and users, and the way your product gets discovered. You don’t need a card carrying marketer in order to “do” marketing.
BUT, if you don’t have anyone who:
Carries the brand or cares about how the company looks and feels to outsiders
Can effectively position the product - aka explain what it does and why use it on a website, blog, etc
Can help the company win more developers over
Then it’s time to figure out how to do developer marketing. This can mean hiring DevX, or “growth!” or actual marketing, I don’t care what you call it.
Worst case here
If you build it they usually won’t just come (unless you built OpenAIor a product with ridiculous product market fit.)
You look messy and inconsistent externally - this doesn’t engender trust
Some developers can use your product, but a lot of them either never hear of it, or if they do, they find it confusing or unappealing and move on quickly
So, consider your company - who might be doing “developer marketing” without the official role? How can you enable them to do it more? Or, if you do hire a marketer but feel that you’ve been doing a decent job with your developer brand, make sure that they sit down with each of your shadow marketers to understand what the look, feel, and language of your developer “brand” is (like a sleuth!). Some of the best marketers I’ve met don’t have marketing titles. They are DevRel, widely read CEOs, devs, or PMs on Twitter/X, and developers who frequent and write on HN.
Bad 3: Try to out-market a weak product
This CAN work in enterprise and consumer land - you can out sell, out market, a weak product in the short run. Influencers can push thousands of units of products before consumers realize that they’re wasting money. Sales teams can close annual subscriptions that might not renew…
But in developer products…you can’t. The user (developer) is too intimate with your product and too picky to deal with junk.
If the product isn’t there, fix that first. This sounds obvious but sadly isn’t at many companies.
One big exception: if you’re building an ecosystem, you can have a bad platform API and acquire developers if you are winning them users. This can be abided. But, you cannot have a developer tool that is simply weak and expect marketing to solve that problem.
Not invest in documentation or DevX
Try to be super cute without delivering value
Bad 4: Forget about the other audiences
Developers don’t build in a vacuum. PMs, security teams, procurement, legal, etc are part of the process - don’t forget them. They can be surprising champions! Beware of alienating these audiences. Give them on-ramps with your product, even a landing page or friendly blog that helps them understand WHY they should want to hang out with you. Giving a non dev audience the chance to look cool championing your product is a win.
Developers tend to consume developer products, but other stakeholders do access them and block or approve their use. A couple of examples of companies that have kept secondary audiences in mind:
Twilio - developers care about the API for sending texts, but a product manager is worrying about deliverability and ability to send to WhatsApp - both audiences need to be won over.
Figma (ok, designer product but hang with me) has done an excellent job with extending to non-design audiences. The core product is readily accessible to non-designers (unlike many other design tools), so the non-core user still has a great experience in Figma. And FigJam is a their product for everyone, bringing periphery or secondary users in as newly minted product champions.
So, what’s good?
GOOD 1: Show don’t tell.
The consummate learning in developer marketing is show don’t tell. Developers want to build, they are a sophisticated audience, the goal is to unblock them with marketing, and literally showing the product in action is one of the best ways to do that.
Show the code snippet. Show the product doing something. Help the developer to “get it” and they will get started.
Example 1: Retool. Here’s a gif that runs on ReTool’s homepage, which shows the drag and drop power of their product in action:
Example 2: WorkOS showcases their APIs and language support:
Example 3: Astral. Maybe my favorite example, here’s a screenshot from the Astral homepage. They’re showcasing just how fast RUFF (a python linter) runs with a literal speed test - excellent showing.
GOOD 2: Your marketing site matters, but your docs REALLY MATTER
Say what you want, Stripe has built the most iconic developer brand of the last decade. What made them so amazing? My take: docs.
Are clear and well written, well ordered, and have good information architecture. It is really easy to end up with hairy, messy docs that are too long and hard to parse, or don’t explain enough. Invest here.
Have excellent samples to pull from quickly - again, unblock your audience. If they want to try it out, make it easy for them. Add links to a product like Codesandbox or Replit to let people try the product out right away.
GOOD 3: Be Succinct.
This is the opposite of the first “bad,” which is to be tone-deaf, and part of what makes “good docs,” but it needs to be repeated. Be ruthless about marketing copy. Eliminate jargon and business lingo. Speak plainly. Be technical. Speak like your audience.
How can you do this?
Conduct user interviews - it’s so basic, but if you have developers who use your product, then interview them, understand them, and literally record their words. Make sure your copy matches their tone (as a group). So many companies don’t talk to users. Don’t be that company!
Use the Hemingway tool to cut writing down. Or try an AI writing tool. There are a lot of them right now. Somehow I didn’t use one to write this post and feel like that was a little dumb.
Run content by your dev team, if they cringe, edit.
GOOD 4: Content marketing has to be high value.
Fluffy content marketing like listicles are not going to pay off for your team. Do content marketing like fly.io, Honeycomb, or earthly.dev.
What makes it good?
They are serving up steaks. Their writing is technical and they understand what they are talking about. There aren’t paragraphs of fluff to cut through in order to get something of value. It’s harder to write technical content with depth, but will drive your content engine: fueling impressions, SEO boost, and overall growth of your audience. Writing puff pieces to try and fill a content calendar won’t get you anywhere.
Fly.io has great content. These articles are specific and they explain how to solve a real problem. Best of all, they are not written for SEO bots, but for real humans. Here’s a great example - this is a 25 minute read, but with a lot of real, valuable information. Yes, SEO will pick it up because there are keywords hit, but those are really written for a human to consume.
GOOD 5: Provide a variety of onramps
Provide everything from drag and drop or copy/paste integration options to totally raw endpoints. Why? Developer use cases vary.
Stripe is a great example here - they have everything from adding payments with no code to building the full, robust, customized integration with their APIs. You might be surprised to find that often the people using the no or low-code option of your product are actually highly technical developers! Your product is often a small step in a bigger project, and making it really easy to integrate or build can help them move on to other technical challenges.
Your audience may also have different levels of skill and/or desire to build with your product. Be ready for both! Provide:
Samples of varying level
Copy paste options
See Stripe’s many levels of getting started:
And Plaid’s quickstart guides:
I hope this guide is helpful! What else would you add to the list? Any further sins or virtues of developer marketing that you consider?
Send us your examples of excellent developer marketing - whether you’ve built them as a team, or you’re admiring them from afar! We want to showcase more companies succeeding at this work. Don’t be a stranger: email@example.com.
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