Why the Best Kind of Marketing for Developers May Be “Anti-Marketing”

If you want to get ahead with developers, a winning strategy is to market exactly what your product can’t do. I found why.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Pink Pills

Developers like to pretend they’re allergic to marketing, but they’re just as sensitive as anyone else. In fact, ask a developer-turned-business-founder what they wish they had done much more, much sooner, and they’ll probably say “marketing.”

The question is: what kind of marketing?

The best kind of developer marketing may not look like the kind of marketing you’re used to. Take, for example, the co-founder of HashiCorp Mitchell Hashimoto’s Suggestion that a company should market what it can not do, not just what he can. It’s a seemingly backward approach to getting developers to try your product, but given HashiCorp’s outsized popularity with developers, it’s worth taking a closer look at Hashimoto’s advice.

maybe you should try something else

HashiCorp’s atypical approach to marketing first caught my eye in a tweet from Redmonk co-founder James Governor. The Governor noted that it was “remarkable” that “in the obligatory Vendor Competitive Landscape slide, HashiCorp shows the [things that] API Gateway…is not it do what competitive platforms do. As he goes on to mention, “[T]his is quite rare, but he is very useful.

Useful, perhaps, but not the norm. In effect, Gartner’s Fintan Ryan lamented that when he suggested a similar approach to clients, he got “Very, very negative [reactions].” Why? Because, he noted“[M]arketing believe that admitting they can’t do x and are better suited for y is a weakness (it’s not)”, and most companies “Absolute[ly] refuse[e] to mention a competitor in any of their documents or other materials. It’s “silly,” he said, but it’s the norm.

TO SEE: Recruitment Kit: Android Developer (TechRepublic Premium)

HashiCorp chose a different path, as I stated above, for reasons that Hashimoto says are more compelling than trying to pretend to be everything to everyone. On Ryan’s first point, Hashimoto replied“[Y]You might get more people through the front door, but they get a lot more pissed off when they inevitably walk out the exit. And the second point (not to refer to competitors)? “Disrespectful strategy, head in the sand [because] customers will find competitors anyway.

He has a point. It’s not like it’s hard to find detailed information on just about anything today. (Want to adopt a pig for your apartment in town? Here’s what you need to know!) By shading or trying to hide the truth, you just make it more likely that the developer will lose interest in finding the answers they want.

TO SEE: Business leaders like developer: The to get up of no codes and low code software (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

One of the things I liked most about MongoDB when I first considered joining the company in 2013 was how co-founder Dwight Merriman explicitly called out when you could do not want to use the database. I loved questions like this in the docs: “If you had to pick one thing you wouldn’t use it for, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?” Although the database has evolved to encompass some of the use cases that Merriman might have previously steered users away from, such honesty helps foster trust.

Which, ultimately, is what the best marketing is all about: creating a relationship of trust that helps a potential buyer make an informed decision about your product. The more detailed and honest the information you provide, the less a potential customer will look to other competing sources for information about your product.

It all boils down to saying that marketing is key for developer products. But no marketing as usual. Instead, the best developer marketing should focus on educating developers on how best to use your product and when to try something else. The resulting developer trust is an excellent foundation on which to build a lasting customer relationship.

Disclosure: I work for MongoDB, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

Comments are closed.