Practitioner marketing, a form of product marketing, employs content written by actively technical subject-matter experts. Similar to influencer content marketing, practitioner marketing is gaining traction as a strategy for business-to-business (B2B) companies.
For technical markets, its origins in business-to-consumer (B2C) influencer marketing may result in misguided efforts to identify “influencers.” Particularly, this is true in very specific technical markets like DevOps, DevSecOps, and Big Data. In these markets, influencers are rather classified as “practitioners” and may be developers, scientists, or engineers. They are probably not journalists. Due to technical expertise, practitioners are influential to their peers. Over time, practitioners garner greater influence via the content they write.
As practitioner content marketing integrates itself into B2B marketing strategies, it is clear that many B2C influencer companies are facilitating social influencers. Generally, influencer platforms measure the number of followers, shares, retweets and blog comments. Based on these metrics alone, it’s tempting to choose influencers who are professional “opinionators” – often journalists – who have a lot of followers on social media.
If your only goal is to get your product mentioned on TechCrunch, this will be enough for you. In practitioner marketing, however, if you intend to persuade a technical person that your company understands their world – that your company is THE EXPERT in a space that is a small niche populated with lots of players (like, oh, container security, or biotech and AI) – then press-release-fueled product stories in the popular press, however technical the bent, will be insufficient to turn clicks into customers.
Say “Influencer,” Mean “Practitioner”
Detail-fueled opinions about technical issues, by a technical person, are truly persuasive to deeply technical people. Consequently, it is an expertise-riddled diatribe that packs a passionate punch. Yes, I’m talking about passion. Wet, hot code—code expertly wielded by a developer facing the same problem as the audience, not just a marketer or journalist glibly summarizing the high points. It is trench warfare, but reported from the trench, not an agency in New York.
A practitioner lives and dies by the ability to use tools to both anticipate and solve problems. So when a practitioner says, “Hey, this is an emerging unaddressed problem, and here is the right way to think about it,” fellow practitioners listen.
They may argue. They may object. But in the end, if the practitioner they followed has the best answer, or even a good answer, they will do one more very important thing: imitate.
The Imitation Game in Practitioner Marketing
Ultimately, the goal of content marketing campaigns is to attract, educate, and persuade. Without this tempting configuration, you put out information to the closed lips of a recalcitrant toddler.
In order to get consumption (even better, conversion), your practitioner has to be indistinguishable from your customer, not your company. And winning that imitation game is what persuades customers that you really understand them and can help them.
So, how does practitioner content stack up at each step?
- Attract. Practitioner-marketing content will entice skeptical customers by focusing on a niche problem faced at the monitor level, not the C-suite. Conversely, influencer content may gloss over this issue as one of many, focusing on a larger theme.
- Educate. Practitioner content is deeply technical. In order to educate another deeply technical person, it has to be. It raises issues, and educates readers about the right approach. It doesn’t necessarily promote a product directly. Influencer content is probably technical and accurate, but will likely not go into enough detail to inform someone who is already somewhat of an expert.
- Persuade. The art of persuasion is in the beautiful storyline developed by the practitioner whose rant resonates, and whose solution works. The heart of the practitioner and the customer beat as one for a brief moment. Influencers who are not practitioners will get the occasional nod and snort, but no heart-beating unity.
Practitioner Marketing Content Matters Most
Let’s not misunderstand: practitioners that have a following do matter. They need to have people who enjoy reading their work. Most importantly, they have to have the technical depth to support their passion for their subject. This is what will ignite the like-minded passion in their readers and your customers.
Practitioner Content Matters Even More in Tight Markets
The market space for developer tools is highly fragmented and highly populated. Whether your market is life sciences tools, SecOps, DevOps, Big Data, IoTOps, BotOps, or Bioinformatics, you are facing a lot of competition from bright people who are solving more or less the same problems.
Yet, we all know people use facts to justify emotions. When facing a technical skeptic, this doesn’t mean paying a journalist or celebrity to use and talk about your product. Even if Elon Musk was your spokesperson, if he couldn’t speak directly to the technical problem and present the innovative solution plus implementation at a detailed, technical level, he would be dismissed as another talking head.
Instead, enlist the practitioner. Developers have very strong emotions tied to their work. Engage them as only a fellow practitioner can engage them—with deeply technical content.
There’s nothing wrong with borrowing a leaf from the book of B2C marketing and applying it to B2B. Developers are human. However, for influencer marketing to successfully cross over to your B2B content marketing, you need to look at influencers with more than a following. You need to look at influencers who can light a fire in a heart that pumps code.
This post was originally published in January 2019 and updated in June 2021.