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difference between developer relations and developer marketing

The Difference Between Developer Relations and Developer Marketing

August 7, 2018 - Practitioner Marketing - , , ,
By: Yolanda Fintschenko


Developer relations (DevRel), once waning, is back in vogue, and often in surprising companies. As companies try to compete in a digital world, even those selling in-person services find that they need a software application ecosystem in order to create a customer experience that lets them dominate a market. Often, this means providing APIs that developers can run with. Suddenly, building relationships with developers is as important to banks and car companies as it has been to traditional IT hardware and software companies. As companies attempt to engage the developer, it is helpful to understand the difference between developer relations and developer marketing.

What’s in a word?

Developer marketing comprises the activities that are employed to promote and sell products and services that developers buy and use. However, developer relations is less transactional because they are giving you their time, not their money. It is about building a relationship with developers who are interested in building applications around an application program interface (API). This requires attracting developers and helping them use your company’s API.

Unlike developer marketing, the developer segment that developer relations is targeting is not paying your company, and you are not paying them. The end game for a company engaging in DevRel is to have an API useful and interesting enough that developers volunteer to build applications and even products around your API, making it more valuable as it gets embedded in applications. Developer relations is, of course, about relationships, but ultimately, it is about enlisting developers in your value creation strategy for your business.  

Where is developer relations in an organization?

It depends. Developer relations can be its own organization, but in many companies, developer relations consists of just one or two people on a marketing team. Sometimes DevRel activities can be harnessed as marketing activities. Often, DevRel requires some marketing strategies and tactics to succeed as well. The lines can be blurry, as both can sometimes be focused on the developer experience (DevX). However, DevX is really different for an API than a finished product. The developer community isn’t paying for a product, but they can easily walk away from an API if it is too frustrating to implement. And if you are trying to get adoption and value creation, you can’t afford not to support your dev community.

DevRel requires a content strategy

DevRel isn’t strictly marketing, but it needs marketing to succeed. Before you invite developers to beat a path to your API, you need to make sure they will find the tutorials, use cases, and documentation on your developer portal that will pique their interest and get them to “Hello World.” While some content can be sourced internally, it’s likely to be a strain on your product developers. Engaging developer practitioners from outside your organization to create content that demonstrates value to your prospective developer community and gives them documentation to succeed is a much stronger strategy.

It’s really striking a balance between content marketing and developer support. When approaching developer relations, it is helpful to start with the developer journey. With this in mind, it is possible to ensure that your developers:

  • Won’t hit roadblocks
  • Have relevant use cases
  • Leave with a positive user experience

Use developer practitioners outside your organization

Practitioner networks outside a company are often deployed for traditional developer content marketing—In fact, it is the eventual result of having a robust developer relations program. However, until you have a developer community, it can be built or rented by contracting with a company like Fixate IO.

However, practitioner content marketing isn’t just about creating brand awareness pieces (which you still need). Documentation should be a part of your content strategy whether you are in developer marketing or developer relations. There is a strong case to be made for why that should not be done by your product developers.

The takeaway

Developer marketing is usually focused on selling a product or service to developers. Developer relations is a strategy for building a developer user base which is volunteering their time to create value by using your company’s API within their applications. Developer relations means creating a value flow toward developers in order to have it returned. For this, developer marketing strategies, tools, and tactics can be borrowed successfully.

Yolanda is a scientist, writer, marketer, coach and avid runner who lives and works in Livermore, CA.  She founded Common SciSense, a marketing company for technical products, and co-founded founderTRACTION, lean marketing services for startups. 

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