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Disclaimer up front - I'm definitely not going to include any links in here - this question isn't part of my marketing!

I've had a few projects recently where the end product is something that developers will use.

In the past I've been on the receiving end of all sorts of marketing - as a developer I've gotten no end of junk - 1000s of pens, tee-shirts and mouse pads; enough CDs to keep my desk tea-free; some very useful USB keys with some logos I no longer recognise; a small forest's worth of leaflets; a bulging spam folder full of ignored emails, etc...

So that's my question - What are good ways to market to developers?

And as an aside - are developers the wrong people to target? - since we so often don't have a purchasing budget anyways!

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closed as off topic by Jim G., Walter, Robert Harvey, Caleb, ChrisF Dec 18 '12 at 19:49

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Many programmers are not the decision markers in terms of purchasing. So .. good luck. – ohho Mar 4 '11 at 4:54
@ohho: And many of them are, or have strong influence. – Brian Dec 18 '12 at 20:21

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Marketing to developers is tough because we are mostly sick of "marketing talk" and can usually think and reason logically (even though we often choose not to :)), which rules out the most common strategies.

Marketing material, be it written or performed should be simple and slick, you might mesmerise a PHB with a presentation littered with animated clipart, but developers are trained to filter out the unnecessary detail and if there's nothing left, that's not going to improve your chances. Although a related Dilbert strip is always a big hit. :)

Another aspect is honesty: be as honest as you possibly can. This is where the aforementioned traits come to your rescue: you can talk about the limitations of your product freely, so long as they don't affect the main functionality severely. We know that no product is bug-free, so if you admit it, you will actually come out with more credibility than if you don't.

But I guess from your question that you're having trouble reaching the target audience and make them listen to you in the first place. That is where social networking mentioned in other answers will help. Development tools aren't bought on the back of TV ads, developers usually spread the word themselves. As you can see from PSE itself, the communities are pretty active. But for this to work, you must have something they can try for free.

Alternatively, you can just target the managers and have them ram it down our throats, which happens all too often. I personally hate it but I won't lie to you: as a marketing strategy it is probably more effective and requires less effort than convincing developers themselves. However, if your product is reallly good, you can benefit from developers actually liking it and willing to help improve it even further.

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+1. Also, shiny stuff for PHB:s and honest feature/missing-feature lists for us developers is probably the best. That way, when a developer is asked to "look at it" they will be very happy to avoid wading through shiny powerpoints full of marketing-speak. If the features/details/tech-specs are honest and clear you'll convince both camps. – Macke Dec 18 '12 at 17:29

Show us rationally why this is a good investment to use your product or service. How does it help us and how much pain is there in learning to use it? If you can state factually why it is a good product then you may have a chance for some developers to adopt it and see if it is as good as you say.

I don't think developers are wrong to target if the idea is to get adoption and get your tools being used by people. If management tries to force a tool onto developers this is where there can be mutiny in some cases.

Demos and presentations through various vendors,e.g. if Microsoft or Google has some big event see if you could get a foot hold in there somehow, may help spread the word of this tool and how it isn't that hard to try to use. Consider which competitors exist for your products and look at how they market to developers for another idea.

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Thanks for the answer - so you like real information more than anything else. The problem here is how to show people - is it through sponsoring conferences/meetups/hacks and doing demos? Is it through blog posts? Through sponsoring open source? Thanks again (and no need to answer more - I'm just thinking aloud as I type really!) – Stuart Mar 4 '11 at 0:11

I would put your product in the hands of developers that people listen to. People like Ayende and Jeff Atwood others listen to them. If your product is good they will probably talk about it for some reason in their posts.

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I want to believe you are a programmer who is interested in helping other programmers. Eventually your online identity is going to have to show you are a real person with solutions to real problems. The confidence game is played by you giving your trust to me and not the other way around. Be active. Write/blog. Make a video. Show us a picture of you and your pet/anything. Answer/ask SO questions. Share your development experience and let us know the pains you went through to create your software. When your version 5.0 app has only been on the market for a week (and no one ever heard of version 1-4), you will fool no one - especially programmers. Publish some code. Sure some people will use it for their own purposes and may never buy your software, but then they're not your market or your software doesn't really provide a solution worth paying for. Be someone worth talking to and about.

Your website made it difficult for me to figure out its purpose. Had to scroll way too far to the bottom. The short description was plenty. What really caught my eye was the Developer link. Nice to see you have an API. Programmers like tools and platforms and rarely just an application or service.

Never heard of Joel Spolsky until I saw him as a keynote speaker at a conference. Listened to his webcast and found out who Jeff Attwood was. Never bought anything from either, but they seemed genuine in wanting to promote this profession. Along with 37signals and balsamiq, I think they are taking the right approach in the area of self-promotion.

I just don't see me giving my credit card number to User9878SkullyMoulderYardBirdA-Train; you have to be a real person or a company run by real people.

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Here are some things you can do:

  • Buy ads on sites that are in the 'now'. You know about Stack Exchange, so that's good.
  • Sponsor user groups. Give away free stuff at user groups (like a copy of your product). The people that go to user groups are engaged. They're the same people that tweet and blog. They're the ones that will spread the word about your product if it's good (or if it's bad).
  • Sponsor startup events. I know of an event right now that needs a sponsor. Other devs do too.
  • Approach bloggers and twitter users that talk about your product (tweets that have said something negatively would be preferred), and ask them if they've tried the newest version and what they didn't like about it. Yes, this approach doesn't really scale, but you're going to change their mind about you just by approaching them because no one else does that.
  • The people that work at your company should tweet and blog naturally. No, I'm not talking about your company blog that gets updated once a year with press releases, I'm talking about honest-to-god-warts-and-all blogging and tweeting. It's ok to show that you're human. As a developer, I'm as interested in the process as I am the product. If you give me something to read (like frontline stories of what your workplace is like, or something neat that happened with your product, or anything that can give me a true picture of you) then I'm going to come back and read more. Eventually, I will try out your product. I may not have otherwise.
  • Lower the barrier to entry to try out your product. I mean, at most, ask for an email. At most. Once you have that email, have a real-live person send me an email about the product after a few days. Someone that if I hit 'reply' to, I'll be able to talk to them. Like the olden days, but not.
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I think Jason Fried's marketing approach is best for programmers; Teach us.

Not only does teaching keep us tuned in, but it also builds trust.

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