Having a marketing strategy sounds like something basic that all companies should have. Yet, several don’t because they believe that marketing activities are the strategy. Engaging in marketing activities is not the same as having a comprehensive marketing plan. If there is no strategy directing tactics, then they are just random acts of marketing that cost precious resources and don’t drive long-term results. Without a solid foundation to build off of, companies often make even worse decisions later to try and make up for it.
It's quite simple: avoid building a marketing strategy now and end up in a precarious situation later. At tech start-ups, in particular, limited resources are usually first put into the product or engineering leaving marketing with what feels like few choices. That doesn’t mean that the company should be random in its marketing. Many start-ups face major growth challenges such as plateauing new user sign-ups and/or revenue. When working with limited resources, it is essential to learn and practice the most efficient and cost-effective way to grow the company.
In this article, I will go over some important considerations in building a marketing strategy and the nuances of a developer marketing strategy for software platforms.
In the words of Karen Hayward, from her book “Stop Random Acts of Marketing: Deliberate and Practical Growth Strategies for Mid-Market CEOs”, growth will not occur by implementing a slew of random activities.
Anything random is:
Note: I recommend this book to any marketer despite its title targeting mid-market CEOs.
If you want sustainable growth, you need a plan. Once you have a plan, then tactical execution has a direction and a purpose. It seems odd that any CEO of a start-up would expect to go from zero customers to enough to provide a solid stream of revenue, without a plan. Yet, I’ve seen the mentality “if you build it, they will come” which prevents strategy building from taking place. If you have a new software platform that you want developers to use, you can’t expect them to use it just because it's “good”. A user base won’t appear out of thin air.
Many companies believe that they can solve growth problems by allocating their limited resources to ads or agencies. Regardless of what the marketing budget is, it doesn’t make sense to spend it on ads without having a plan for them. Ads aren’t guaranteed to produce long-term results and don’t work when the strategy hasn’t addressed brand awareness, recognition and credibility first. (I wrote an article on this topic)
Agencies are great partners to help execute a well-thought-out plan, but they won’t build the growth strategy. Every start-up needs a systematic roadmap to grow. The agencies and the ads will be a part of that strategy, but they are not the strategy. As Karen Hayward says “Before you send out messages in advertising, at tradeshows or in sales presentations, it is important that you know those messages will resonate with your target audience.”
The first step in building a strategy is to do market and customer research to gather the insights that will inform the strategy. This information will be found in the outside world and will help identify how to leverage the company’s competitive advantages.
A simple SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is a great place to start. It might sound basic, but by doing it, you might be surprised at what you uncover about the company and the market. Strengths and weaknesses are internal to the company whereas the threats and opportunities are external. The SWOT analysis will shed light on where the company lands in the competitive landscape and help find differentiation factors in order to identify a value proposition.
For example, a software platform that has a strong and engaged engineering team that interacts with users; this strength could be a differentiating factor from competitors who don’t give their users the same access to their engineering team. In addition, identifying threats and opportunities might help with prioritization and timelines. A threat could be that a competitor recently raised a large round of funding and will be able to move forward with certain initiatives that might impact your business. How should your company react to this?
It is important to assess what your market position is in the competitive landscape. Who are your main competitors and how can you win against them? Market positioning comes from understanding your customers, your competitors, and the value-add of your product. From the start, you need to establish your market position, your company’s story, and your value proposition to give clarity on whom you serve and how you serve them.
In fact, it is essential to figure out exactly what your value proposition is before working on any messaging or messaging channels. Your value proposition is your company’s unique identifier. Why should someone choose you over your competitors? Or in the case of the developer audience, why should a developer use your platform over another?
Understanding your customer is essential and the customer’s experience should always be a priority. To get a better understanding of your customers and market segments, you can create buyer personas, which are fictional, generalized versions of your ideal customer. If the personas are well-researched and formed, they will help marketing, sales, product development, and innovation teams. They will also help you discover what your prospective customers are actually looking for, versus what you think they are looking for. You need to understand their expectations, trigger events, and buying criteria. Be sure to revisit the personas and keep them up to date as they will change over time. Your marketing messaging and communications need to be highly tailored to your target customers.
When it comes to developer marketing, one should not assume that all developers are the same and will have the same motivations. The software development space is huge. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. If you are targeting developers, it is very important to understand the nuances between the different types of developers.
Start by focusing on what kind of developer you are interested in attracting, for example, mobile or enterprise. Then you can narrow down by the technologies you want to focus on, such as Python, Java, Node, Kubernetes, Windows, Linux, etc. You can narrow even further by what they are interested in such as cloud, IoT, edge computing, AI, Machine Learning, etc.
According to the successful developer marketing professional, Jesse Williams, when it comes to developer marketing a big part of your market research will be identifying your ecosystem (You can check out his developer marketing blog here). This includes other technologies and marketplaces that you will be interacting with and the open-source projects and communities that will be contributing to your success. If you fit into an existing ecosystem, you will be able to tap into a pre-established audience and start building brand awareness in that community.
As you gain insight into where your biggest opportunities are, you can better hone your messaging to speak to your audience. Ultimately, you want to turn all of the learnings and insights you gained from your research into clear statements, values, and ideas that you can leverage across multiple communication channels. The messaging and the channels should be chosen based on what your customers think is important and not what you think is important.
A good strategy involves solid messaging that reflects the targeted end-users’ voice. Without this, messaging and brand voice will be scattered and lacking focus. Many start-ups put substantial resources into the company’s website before doing any of the above-mentioned research and planning. A website should be the end result of a communications strategy.
After identifying who your target audience is and defining the personas, you can write your positioning statement clearly stating your desired position in the marketplace. Next, you want to make at least three key messages; clear and concise statements that speak to what matters most to your audience.
You would also want to include proof points where possible (testimonials, proven results, awards, etc) and come up with 25, 50, and 100-word descriptions of the company and its services. These components, along with a well-articulated value proposition, will form the basis of the messaging strategy. They will be used to deliver a consistent message across all of the channels (hence the varied lengths of descriptions) and to brief agencies or contractors in the future (this will ensure that their work is in line with your company).
In order to be highly organized and efficient, use a messaging framework document to hold all of this valuable information (templates can be downloaded right from google). The messaging framework should be in place before starting on the website as it will guide the content on the site. It will also be used to guide all of your communications on other channels, such as blog articles (on your site and other publications), email campaigns, ads, social media, etc. Cohesiveness is key.
When it comes to the channels you focus on, you can easily get caught up on your website and an aesthetic design. In the developer marketing space, fancy aesthetics aren’t a priority. If you look at the major players, their aesthetics are simple. They are successful in their marketing efforts because they have a solid, cohesive message and it comes across.
Marketing is one piece of the growth puzzle. Sales and customer success play important roles as well. Throughout the brand journey, these three domains (marketing, sales, and customer success) will interact with each other. (The six stages of the brand journey are Identity, Awareness, Credibility, Engagement, Receptivity, and Resonance). For example, a solid marketing strategy should be used to inform a sales strategy, however, this relationship isn’t always linear.
The first two stages of the brand journey - identity and awareness - are typically in the marketing domain. The early stages of the brand journey don’t involve sales or customer success directly, but they will certainly have an impact on them. For example, with a software platform, marketing activities might drive users to sign up for free trials. This will start creating a user base that salespeople can ultimately use to build relationships and close deals, and those developer advocates can tap into for community building and customer success initiatives.
The brand credibility stage is when the sales start to come more into play. A customer will only purchase from a brand when trust has been built. The sales team attempting to make sales at this point needs to speak with the same brand voice and messaging that helped the brand build awareness in the first place. Marketers and salespeople will need to have an in-depth understanding of the product.
Brand engagement is the stage when sales truly become front and center. However, marketing plays a role here too as this is when influencer outreach would occur. At this stage, you are not only reaching out to customers but those who will be able to influence prospective customers. Most influencers have their own brand credibility at stake, which is why you can’t expect to simply pay them to promote you. Also, money isn’t an influencer's only motivation. Your brand needs to have credibility and values that resonate with the influencer, as well as a similar audience, otherwise, it's random and pointless.
During the brand receptivity stage, customer success starts to play a bigger role because it involves listening to the customer after they have tried the product. The developer advocates will spend the most time talking to the users, however, sales and marketing need to listen to them as well. It is beneficial for all three domains to understand the users. Users will be able to provide valuable insights which can help with the product, the user experience, and iterating the marketing strategy.
Telling customers success stories will help build strong relationships and communities. Marketing and developer advocates can do so by writing and publishing blog articles. The more the marketers listen to the users, the more they will understand the audience, product, the brand perception that they have managed to create, and whether it needs tweaking.
The final stage in the brand journey is the resonance stage which also involves all three domains. It's one thing to have users, it's another thing for the users to evangelise a brand or product. Brands can build a following on social media, but are the followers excited about what the brand posts? Are they engaged; do they comment and share? The journey to fandom requires a nearly perfected brand experience. That involves all of these three functions working closely together.
The brand journey deserves its own article. My next article will be about the brand journey as it applies to developers.
Typically, the goals of a developer marketing strategy are to build awareness in the community, to promote product adoption, to retain users, to educate developers, and ultimately drive evangelism. In order to iterate the strategy as you go, you must leverage the data you collect about your users. User feedback is highly valuable and should be a priority. If enough users adopt the product, they can provide feedback which is data you can use to help address any issues with awareness, usage, and retention.
Most traditional forms of marketing have a strong emphasis on the top of the funnel (early stages of the brand journey). Developer marketing focuses on the relational life cycle that a developer has with technology. Unlike decision-makers at enterprises, developers are the end-user of the product. But first, they need to discover a product that addresses a need they have, try it out, and evaluate it. If they like it, they will advocate for it within their communities and organizations.
Jesse Williams organizes the tactics in a developer marketing strategy into three aspects:
Content plays a huge role in developer marketing and so does the illusive ‘word of mouth’. For the developer audience, the content needs to be high-quality, technical, and helpful. This further emphasizes the point of getting the messaging framework down before going into any content creation. The developer audience is particularly scrutinizing of content and can also be tougher to reach.
In addition, many start-ups discredit word-of-mouth marketing because it is hard to measure and takes a long time to build. However, according to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey, it is one of the main ways developers find out about new software tools to try out. Therefore, activities that encourage organic awareness, such as building relationships with community members, are important.
The developer community is vast and nuanced and is built on trust and solid relationships, meaning it is that much more important to develop a strategy that reaches the right developer segment. High-quality content also plays an important role in this space, so the strategy should focus on cohesive messaging and the right channels to reach the desired developer audiences.
The payoff of a strategy is that it drives decisions that are synergistic in nature, whether they involve the C-suite, product, sales, marketing, design, or customer success. Without a solid strategy as the foundation to your marketing activities, you will end up in a precarious position where you don’t have a solid user base or source of income, and make even more poor decisions to try and make up for it.
For example, suddenly cutting off free users from your product, removing your source of user feedback overnight, usually isn’t worth the marginal amount of income you will make off of them. It also creates a poor user experience leading to users not evangelizing your product/company. You might even face backlash, that is, if your users actually care enough about your product (debatable if you haven’t built brand awareness and credibility).
It might be time-consuming to build solid trust and relationships in the developer community, but it is worth the effort. When it comes to taking the time to build a solid plan, don’t brush it off, it will cost you in the long run (and probably the short-run too).
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. I also do marketing consulting work.