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Sachin Agarwal

The title of this post is a misnomer. Developers detest marketers and do not like the fluffy stuff that most marketers throw at them. Developers do not even hang around the traditional channels that most marketers tend to use. So as an enterprise that is rolling out an API, how do you attract developers to your APIs? But first, lets look at why enterprises should be interested in marketing to developers.

The digital economy makes it imperative for businesses to provide engaging and contextual experiences to customers, irrespective of access point (i.e., cloud, mobile or IoT-based apps). Customers are spending more time interacting with these digital channels and all enterprises need to quickly retool the way they engage with customers or risk being left behind. To capitalize on the new digital channels, enterprises need to first externalize their data and applications via APIs. However APIs are only a means. Enterprises need developers to create apps for the respective channels and their corresponding app stores or marketplace like the iPhone and Android app stores. There are just too many devices, too many platforms and too many channels for the enterprises to build all the apps themselves. They need to appeal to an ever-growing army of public developers that are outside the realm of their own organizations. They need to gain the attention of these developers and turn them into partners. To do so, they need to understand what appeals to developers, what they want and where they hang out.

In this post I will highlight four best practices that every enterprise should embrace if they want to appeal to external developers and make them part of their digital ecosystem. The most important aspect of starting to market to developers is to understand who the developers are and what motivates them. They need to understand developer psychographics. To get started, you might want to check out a great report by Evans Data Corp. that goes into interesting detail about developer attitudes and demographics.

Segment your Developers

There are about 19M developers (as of late 2013) and you need to identify the characteristics of the developers you want to reach out to based on the development environment (Microsoft, Java), type of device (iPhone, Android, Web, tablet), geography and specific industry or technology expertise (communications, social, ecommerce, big data, etc.). You can further sub-segment your target audience, but the core concept is that you need to understand and find the developers who would be both interested and productive as a consumer of your API.

As part of identifying your developers, you should also understand where these developers hang out. Developers do not react well to email marketing, webinars, white papers etc. Instead, developers like blogs, videos and forums and they attend tech conferences, hackathons and meetups. They hang around at forums like Stack Overflow and read developer blogs.

Focus on Developer Experience (DX) – Make it easy

The most often overlooked aspect of engaging developers is making it easy for them to try out your API. Doing this right requires you to first embrace Developer Experience (DX) as a culture. You need to provide them not only with well-designed APIs, but also with dynamic and interactive API documentation. Provide tools that developers can use to test the API – like Google Playground or some other sort of sandbox. For public or open APIs, make it simple for developers to provision access to an API. For B2B APIs, put in place automatic approvals so that developers don’t have to wait indefinitely. Provide samples and code snippets for the target environment with the goal of bringing down the “Time to First Hello World (TTFHW)”. Provide complete sample apps that developers can use as templates. Finally provide them with testing tools and prompt technical support with real people. Hire developer evangelists, not marketers, to interact with and hang around with your developers. Developers do not have patience – if they get stuck in the process, they will probably get distracted and will be lured away by someone else.

Incentivize developers through gamification

Two things motivate developers – how they can get more productive and how they can build up their skills to get the next job, or project or even gain bragging rights about being the first one to have solved a hard problem. Use forums, communities and events to institute programs to recognize active developers and reciprocate back with a “badge of honors”. Rewards could be anything like elevating the status in a forum of a frequent contributor, providing free tickets to events or identifying a group of ace developers who have a cult like following amongst other developers. Identifying ace developers is key for marketing your APIs, as these ace developers are not only prolific contributors to your community, but they act as your voice and amplify your reach with other developers.

Keep developers engaged, solicit feedback and create a vibrant community

Once you start attracting attention from developers, you need to keep them engaged. Keep providing them with new content. You will be surprised at how much content developers consume, but only if it is of high quality. Take active feedback from your developer community, incorporate it and encourage open debate about it. Make them partners in your API initiative. Maintaining an active dialogue that is open and not defensive is extremely important to build a vibrant developer community.

These four simple steps are the key essential ingredients to any successful API developer-marketing program. If done right, you will be amazed at how it can grow virally among like-minded developers in a dedicated community. Developers are active on several social channels like Twitter, blogs and forums and they will start evangelizing your APIs and best practices on other channels, amplifying your reach and effectiveness of your “marketing” initiatives. However, before you start your developer outreach, make sure you have well designed APIs, document them well and staff your development support with people who have the right level of technical depth and the right attitude towards helping developers.

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  1. Hi Sachin, great piece, thank you. As a business who earns its money by helping Enterprise engage with developers I will agree with most of your thoughts and suggestions. But I do need to challenge the notion that ‘developers detest marketers’. I think this is a myth. Very few people like marketers as such but we tolerate them for two reasons, firstly we accept that without advertising much of what we use for free would need to be paid for and secondly because just occasionally something is presented to us through marketing that we are interested in.

    And it’s this second point in particular that is relevant to developers. If you are part of a genuine software development business, not an individual honing their skills or coding for fun, who I accept are not interested in marketing, then in my experience you will respond well to a timely, relevant, approach to consider a new service, tool, API or platform.

  2. Hi Rich,
    I agree, though when I state “developers detest marketers”, I meant traditional marketers. My point was that the traditional ways and channels that marketers leverage to either appeal to consumers or even technical B2B audience are not the ones that appeal to developers. The common term used to define individuals who reach out to developers is “Technical Evangelists”, and they are in real terms “marketers”, but the tools and channels they use to appeal to developers are quite different.
    You still need to “market” to develop, increase their awareness, provide interest triggers, create content etc., however, they way you do it is quite different, as mentioned in my post.

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