Marketing to the Most Skeptical Audience in Technology: Developers

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The following is a guest post by Future Buzz community member Joe Chernov

I dreaded I’d made an irreversible mistake. Shortly after joining Kinvey, a mobile backend as a service start-up, I had lunch with Mike Volpe. Mike’s the CMO of HubSpot, a company after which I’ve modeled my approach to marketing.

But unlike HubSpot or my previous employer where I ran content marketing, Kinvey doesn’t market to marketers. We market to developers. Mike’s question awakened my latent fear that developers might not respond to content-driven marketing as enthusiastically as marketers do. He asked, with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief, “Do developers really download stuff like eBooks?”

I said, “If they don’t, then I’m in trouble.” Fortunately, as it turns out, they do respond to “content marketing.” But early indicators suggest their reasons may differ from marketers.

At the risk of oversimplifying, marketers respond to packaging, developers respond to the “product.”

With marketers, the way content looks impacts on how it is received. This realization helped me build one of the most awarded content programs in the marketing technology industry. We knew that that good substance packaged with great design yielded success. This isn’t to say that marketers are indifferent to substance. My point is simply that the most direct path to marketers’ hearts is through their eyes.

Developers? Not so much. Back in early November, we produced a hand-illustrated presentation – as beautiful as anything I produced in my past role – on the impact mobile technology played in helping people prepare for and combat Hurricane Sandy. Although the presentation enjoyed more than 40,000 views, it was marketers – marketers at SlideShare, marketers at design firms, and marketers at content agencies that drove the attention. Our developer audience never took notice.

More recently we published an infographic titled “How long does it take to build a native mobile app?” It was featured on the homepage of ReadWriteWeb for two full days, which, as you would imagine, drove a busload of traffic to our website. And, unlike the Hurricane Sandy presentation, developers took notice. While most cheered the graphic for answering a real-world question, a few immediately found weaknesses in some of the research and questioned the methodology. In some cases, the infographic’s attractiveness backfired – in fact one skeptical commenter on a software development blog damned marketers for “putting pretty pictures in front of us.”

So what’s the solution? Content designed for developers needs to be eye-catching enough to entice them to engage yet substantive enough to earn their respect. It’s not enough to have data; the methodology behind the data needs to be part of the narrative.  It’s not enough to have citations; the sources themselves need to be “part of the club.”

Today Kinvey published a piece of content that I hope converges style and substance. It’s an eBook that details how to make an iOS app. It’s written by a highly regarded technical writer based on hours of interviews with an iOS developer, then designed with the flat, geometric elements that are rising in popularity in developer circles. And it includes page after page of actual, useable code.

Do you market to a skeptical audience? If so, I’d love to hear how you overcome that challenge. Better still, are you a skeptic? If so, what can marketers do to earn your confidence.

Joe Chernov is the VP of Marketing for Kinvey, a mobile backend as a service start-up in Cambridge, MA. Joe joined Kinvey from Eloqua, where he served as VP of Content Marketing. The Content Marketing Institute named him “Content Marketer of the Year” in 2012. Joe speaks at universities and conferences around the world on content marketing and social media.

image credit: Shutterstock