How to market to developers without causing dis-content
Contributor Josh Aberant explains the right way to apply the principles of content marketing to meet the needs of developers.
Look at the website of any business selling enterprise services or technology, and I’m certain you’ll find libraries of e-books, white papers and other content for download. Fill out a form that asks for your name and email address to get access to all the PDFs and infographics you’d like.
Ideally, you’ve found information that helps you get new insight into a strategic challenge or that provides really practical solutions to an ongoing business need.
When done right, that’s content marketing in a nutshell. You’ve traded something valuable (your contact info) for something else valuable (great content). It’s a win-win for you and for the business that published it.
Too many times, the outcome isn’t as ideal
In fact, I’ll bet you (like me) have had the unfortunate experience of feeling like you just made a Faustian bargain — trading your soul for something that wasn’t quite as worthwhile as you’d imagined. And now you’re hounded relentlessly by Mephistophelean sales reps who don’t seem to understand your needs.
This frustrating situation is one we’ve all experienced, and it’s something that developers, in particular, say they encounter more often than not. In fact, more than one dev friend has told me they simply ignore that stuff when they see it on websites. And it’s why tech marketers who put up gated white papers or similar content, hoping for developer leads, usually wind up disappointed with the results.
So, is content marketing a hopeless exercise for businesses like mine that sell primarily to developers and other technical users? In my experience, if you use a cookie-cutter approach to content marketing, the answer may well be yes.
But when done the way content marketing really should be done, I think you’ll find connecting with developers through content can be a very effective way to nurture the growth of your technology platform.
Content marketing is essential in B2B
Let’s take a step back to remember why content marketing has become the de facto strategy for connecting with B2B prospects.
When the business world migrated online, there was a power shift from the marketer to the prospect. Advertising and other push strategies lost ground, because the “self-directed buyer” is interested in useful, relevant and valuable content, not in selling messages — especially so in B2B. Marketers are naturally obliged to feed that need.
Today, 93 percent of B2B firms use content marketing (PDF), largely because it just plain works in an environment where prospects rule the purchase decision process. There’s debate about the exact figure, but it’s been estimated that around two-thirds of the buyer’s journey is complete before they think of calling a sales rep.
That’s because they’re checking out content before assembling their short list. According to a CMO Council study, 90 percent of B2B buyers say online content has a moderate to major effect on their vendor selection.
But. As important as content marketing is to reaching prospects, it’s even more important to use the right kind of content, properly targeted against your specific audience. Especially if you’re trying to engage developers.
It’s a mistake to try to engage devs by defaulting to content strategies that may have worked with other audiences, even if those were also within the tech/IT space.
With devs, value trumps vision
If you’ve ever got the time or the patience, you should browse through a random cross-section of the content that’s published for B2B. You’ll find a lot of it is repetitive, almost just “copyscraped” filler, designed to simply capture eyeballs.
Even when it’s got originality and value, it’s very often devised to express “thought leadership,” written as though aimed at the CTO or CIO level, revolving around big-picture strategic concerns or industry trends. How will XYZ transform the industry in the next 10 years? How can you lead the charge in upending your company’s digital paradigms? That kind of thing.
It’s where a lot of content marketing falls into a trap. It’s guilty of offering too much vision, not enough value.
That’s a problem for anyone. But developers are less likely to tolerate it than other professionals. I suppose some of that is temperamental, but it’s also because the nature of their work means fuzzy content offers them very little value. In other words, you’re not holding up your end of the content marketing bargain.
What’s the right content to deliver value to developers?
Great developer marketing (like any effective marketing) is full of empathy for the needs of your audience. So, instead of trying to shoehorn the content we marketers like to read into a developer space, instead think about the kinds of content developers actually use.
There are specific types of content that’ll resonate with developers because they first and foremost help them do a better job, grow their skills and move ahead in their career path. (And when you think about why content marketing works, well, those criteria are no different from those any of us have when we judge its quality.)
The kinds of content that I’ve found effective when working with developer customers of companies like mine include:
- Development or migration guides that help developers understand the characteristics of your platform and APIs, how to move existing code or systems onto your platform or how to integrate it with what their existing stack.
- Best practice guides for security, accessibility and other “hard” issues that a developer shouldn’t be left to figure out on his/her own.
- Code samples, in-depth walkthroughs, projects and any hands-on examples that give them a demonstrable idea of what you’ve got to offer — and how your platform or service actually works.
- Third-party examples and community contributions that drill down into real detail on how other developers have benefited from your product.
- Tools and scripts that help them be more efficient, or simplify time-consuming and repetitive tasks.
- Internal sell-in support material to help a developer pitch your product to his/her boss or other decision-makers inside the organization, turning that dev into the kind of “mobilizer” you want on your side as they get the organization aligned behind adoption.
The dos and don’ts of developer-targeted content:
- DON’T rely on “vision piece” or topline white papers and e-books: If you skew toward the thought leadership approach, or become too thesis-like, or focus on just delivering an overview, you’re not being useful to a developer.
- DO be careful what you call it: However useful content may be, labeling it a “white paper” or “e-book” can be a mistake for the very reason above, so be careful — terms like “guide” or “handbook” will resonate more.
- DON’T be too generic: They’ll happily accept highly technical, detailed content that’s specific to their job and challenges. But if you’re being too broad in focus in order to broaden your reach, you’ll lose their interest very quickly.
- DO geek out: Create content that shows you’re looking at things from their perspective. Write a blog post that digs really deep into the latest release of a developer tool, or post a podcast interview with a programming legend, or even recruit existing customers to submit posts, case studies and more.
- DO be transparent: Engineers are skeptical by nature, and they need to understand how things work, so if you’re showing any sign of holding back or trying to apply spin, they’ll spot it and tune you out.
- DON’T go textbook-y on them: Yes, they like technical information and thorough guidance, but don’t think that means they’ll accept “wall-o’ text” dissertations or hard-to-scan content. They want it sharp, short and to-the-point.
- DON’T overcook content design: They also don’t need clever design flourishes to spice up the material. Again, they’re looking for simplicity, clarity and easy absorption, not distraction.
- DO keep it all current: Developers seriously hate documentation of any kind that’s out-of-date, for obvious reasons. So any content you target them with has to be timely, and older content you assume is “evergreen” had better be updated, too.
- DO use humor: Judiciously going off-the-wall with the right kind of humor makes you relatable — and authentic, even — to developers, because they’re inherently skeptical, even cynical. So (good) nerd humor or skewering sacred cows is right on their wavelength.