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Season 2, Ep. 19 – How we market to developers even though developer marketing doesn’t exist

Free t-shirts only get you so far. So how do you market to a group of people with discerning tastes highly-attuned BS meters? Authenticity and expertise are our two best tools, as Content Lead, Abbey Charles, talks about in this episode.

Faith Benson
Faith Benson

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Transcript

Faith (00:05):

How’s it going, Abbey? (Abbey: It’s going) Is your Monday busy? 

Abbey (00:12):

Ugh, yeah. <laugh> I feel like this whole week’s gonna be like that, though. Just to try and get a bunch of stuff done before Thanksgiving.

Faith (00:13):

And then just to come back to like just a couple weeks until basically everyone is out of office, and you’re kind of just waiting until like the second week of January, because you don’t wanna bother anyone until after New Year’s. Yeah. (Abbey: It’s *the holidays*!) This is like the weirdest time of year. I get a ton of energy from it though, because I’m such a like—I don’t know if strategic thinker is the right word, but I love thinking about the future. It is my favorite, and it’s why I’m like always doing shit to my house, ‘cause I’m like, it could be so much better.

Abbey (01:04):

And I think that there’s something about like the beginning of the year where it’s like—I like big ideas. So it’s like the beginning of the year is when you’re like, alright, what kind of big things are we gonna do this year? (Faith: And like, anything’s possible ‘cause you have 12 months to do it.) Yeah, totally. And then all of a sudden you’re like, oh shit, it’s mid-November. 

Faith:

Yeah. <laugh> Mid-November also means we’re like two weeks away from your one year anniversary at Gun. (Abbey: Yep. December 1st.) Crazy. Crazy. Well, obviously Abbey has been on the podcast before, but for those of you who do not know, Abbey, do you wanna introduce yourself real quick? 

Abbey:

Uh, my name is Abbey, as Faith mentioned <laugh>. Um, I am the Content Lead here at Gun.io. I work with Faith to do marketing and content stuff for the brand. We’re a small team. We get it done.

Faith (02:04):

We sure do. One of my favorite things is when people ask about our team, and I’m like, yeah, it’s just the three of us. And they’re like, ‘Excuse me?’ <laugh>

Abbey:

Like…Three of you? Yeah.

Faith:

Yeah. It’s the same thing with our engineering team. I feel like people are always like very surprised how lean we run. 

Abbey:

Because we don’t, I mean, our engineering team is like…four people? (Faith: Mm-hmm.) Five?

Faith:

Yeah, and they crush it, or like two releases a week, just absolute animals.

Abbey:

Friday releases to boot, which is such a bold move.

Faith: 

I know. <laugh> Thankfully, like our product right now, like at this stage is mostly internal facing. So if anything breaks, it’s like, ‘Sorry, staff if you were planning on working this weekend.’ (Abbey: Right.) Maybe don’t, you know, but usually nothing breaks. (Abbey: you shouldn’t be) <laugh>. Yeah. They have a pretty good testing practice. So you joined the team like a year ago, and I think one of the big kind of hurdles that we were trying to get over with our content production is like, how do we market to developers when developer marketing notoriously does not exist?

Like it is so hard to market to and talk to developers. And Abbey, in a past life, was a front end developer, so we’re like, great. You obviously have all the answers, so come on.

Abbey:

All of ’em! I have three to four answers, <laugh>

Faith:

Um, but I was thinking about this this morning, just like prepping for this podcast. Like, yes, developers are hard to market to, but I think everybody has their own thing where it’s like, you know, it is—you cannot sell me this thing. Right? (Abbey: Yeah.) When there’s like one specific flavor of marketing that just like, doesn’t do it for you.

Abbey:

You gotta find the next flavor.

Faith:

Right. Like, imagine working—like running a marketing department for an insurance company. Everybody hates their health insurance, you know? (Abbey: Right.) How do you—

Abbey (04:14):

And so you’re—I mean, especially when you’re—I mean, I think that there are companies that are starting to do it differently. You know, like they’re like, we’re the anti-insurance. So it’s, you know—(Faith: counter positioning.) Yeah. It always like—Friday does insurance, and it’s kind of marketed more towards like millennials where, you know, they’re like, ‘Yeah, this does suck. Here’s how we’re making it suck less for you.’ Not that marketing insurance is ever gonna be fun, regardless, but… 

Faith:

Yeah. I think I’m actually—when I really think about it, I am probably an ideal target for almost every marketing campaign. Like, I’m such a sucker for ads. Like, give me the ads, I will click on them, I will buy your stuff. I will explore your website. I don’t know, I’m just an idiot. I think my, whoever’s my, like my FBI agent is probably always like, Oh my god. Because she’s really gotta—(Abbey: She’s like, you’ll literally buy anything.) Like, yeah.

Abbey (05:17):

Yeah. I think it’s just a—I think you almost have to have to be curious in that way when you’re a marketer, and especially when you’re on such a small team. It’s like, you never know where the next big idea is gonna come from. Why not explore it? And like, we’ve talked about this before—I love good branding, so it doesn’t matter what your product is. If it’s branded well, you’ve got my interest. 

Faith:

Yeah. And if you’re doing something really well that I haven’t mastered yet, like short form video, I will watch all of that shit. I will like and subscribe. I will try to train my algorithm to show me more of you. (Abbey: Yeah.) It’s weird. Yeah. I feel like I’m probably in target audiences for things that I don’t want or need, but I just enjoy getting their marketing content.

Abbey (06:07):

Yeah. So I think that that’s been like a—it’s been an interesting challenge, because prior to being a software developer, I was a copywriter, so I always worked in brand marketing teams. I don’t wanna say it’s not hard, but it’s like, I mostly worked in the outdoor industry. So like, you’re selling things to people who genuinely wanna buy what you’re selling. It’s not nearly as hard as when you’re marketing to a group of people who’s like, I don’t want anything that’s being sold to me regardless of what it is. Which is kind of like what you have to hack when you’re marketing to developers.

Faith:

So let’s talk about that a little bit. Like, why are developers such a notoriously hard group to market to?

Abbey:

‘Cause you can only give away so many free t-shirts. <laugh>.

Faith (07:02):

That’s true. And at this point, no one wants t-shirts anymore. 

Abbey:

No. Because it’s a group of people who’s, you know, by nature, very analytical. You want facts, you want the truth. You already know where to find all of the facts. So somebody selling you marketing bullshit isn’t gonna work. You know, you can see right through it.

Faith:

It’s a very discerning group. And I think developers also have—like, they’ll look at companies and they’re like, ‘I could build that.’ Right? Like, especially if you’re trying to market, we don’t market a software solution, right? Like, we market— essentially like a lifestyle hack. Like, ‘Hey, we can help you fill your pipeline. We’ll manage your billing and contracts. You get to keep your full rate. You don’t have to pay us anything.’ What we’re selling is more of a—we have to help them come around to the idea. And we have to be really good at showing them like, here’s what it is.

It’s not something that’s, um, that’s maybe like familiar to you yet. And so we have to explain it. But I think especially with software solutions, like if we were working on a developer marketing team for like, name any software solution whose strategy is to drive developer adoption and to have like a bottoms up approach that way, that’s really hard, because your developer audience is gonna find every bug. They’re gonna find every opportunity for, you know, better UI. 

Abbey:

And they’re not gonna miss an opportunity to tell you. 

Faith:

Exactly. And if it’s something that’s just—if it’s something that they could build on their own or hack their way around, probably more efficiently than like learning to use your product would be, then that’s what they’re gonna do. So (Abbey: Yeah.) I almost feel like our job as marketers with a developer audience might be a little bit easier than somebody who’s at like a SaaS company. Right?

Abbey (09:07):

Totally agree. And I think that that was one of the reasons why I was like, really drawn to working with this company is because like, we’re saving people the time, energy, frustration, like all of the things that come with interviewing for developer jobs—that was the first thing that drew me to the company. And I think that that was, like—before, I obviously knew all of the ins and outs and all of the ways that we make that happen for people. It was like, this is just a better solution for something that is notoriously shitty. (Faith: Mm-hmm) And I think that automatically makes it easier to market that, because it’s not something–

Faith:

Right! ‘Cause it’s like a—we’re not like making up a problem.

Abbey:

Right. Like, this is a very real problem. Nobody likes going through 70 rounds of interviews and doing like six take home projects so that you can get a follow up email three months after you applied for the job that you didn’t get it.

Thanks for, thanks for letting me know. <laugh>. So I do think that we have, you know, we do have an easier, I guess, lane to work in than doing some more that like SaaS. But there are very few things that people will come to us and say like, ‘Well, this is how I can do it way better,’ because there is no—like, we are the precedent for what we’re doing, which is a really cool space to be in. 

Faith:

Yeah. And I think another thing that benefits us is like folks that are telling this story to the public is that everything that’s been created internally is because we’re trying to solve a really specific problem for developers, right? (Abbey: Mm-hmm) And so from like, even our—the way that we match talent to clients is like, a random client isn’t gonna reach out to you and ask you to do like a trial gig or like ask you to like work for free and basically an interview for eight hours. (Abbey: Right.)

Everything’s managed through us. And that’s because like, we know this about developers, so I agree with you that like our lane is a little bit easier to navigate, probably. Um, but that said, both sides of the market in our case, are developers. Like, it’s not just the developers that we’re trying to help get hired, but it’s also the developers who are managing teams that need to hire devs. Right? (Abbey: Yeah.) So, like, finding a way to talk to both sides I think has been a fun challenge for both of us. 

Abbey:

Yeah. I don’t know. I was thinking about this like— how much credit you are due for doing so much of the growth work, because I think that you can’t position yourself as an expert when nobody’s heard of you. And so for you to have been doing all of this work all along to help like really grow the company that now I—you know, that makes my job a lot easier to be able to come in and say like, look at all of this that’s already on track, that’s already been done. We have people who rely on us heavily now for fulfilling their development needs. And that makes it so that I can kind of come in and say, backfill? Backfilling marketing sounds weird, but it’s kind of like that. Like, you built a really great runway for us to be able to do that. 

Faith:

Let’s talk about that though, because, you know, you’re the first person with development experience to be on the marketing team. And so when you came on board, there was a huge need for somebody to basically like audit our processes and kind of how we think about content and brand marketing and see it through a developer’s point of view. So let’s talk about, I mean—like, one year in, what changes have you made so that we are speaking to developers in a way that resonates more? 

Abbey (13:20):

You know, I think a lot of it just goes back to like, we like being as authentic as we possibly can. The things that we’re writing about are things that are coming from a place of knowledge. I think that there was—we had a pretty successful trial, I would say, of like, sourcing content from developers. I thought that was a really good like program that we did for a little bit of, you know, like, these are the experts who are in the community, these are the experts that you’re working with. Trust that this is like sound advice.

Faith:

Yeah. Working with developers to create the content I think is huge, because nobody understands the questions that are on developers’ minds more than developers. 

Abbey:

Right. And to be able—like, aside from like having them be a part of that content engine, being able to like, get feedback about pieces that people find helpful, you know, like somebody reaching out to me and saying like, ‘That was a really useful article. It’s made me think of X, Y, and Z.’ I appreciate that. You know, like there’s no higher compliment you can get than somebody like taking the time out of their day to reach out to you and say like, ‘That was useful. That was meaningful.’ I think we all wanna be meaningful and useful in life. So I think some of the things that we’ve changed is like, you know, it’s a small thing, but consistency. Like consistently putting out content is super important, because it doesn’t just—it’s not just like that people know to come to us to see these things, to read things that they find useful, but it’s like always knowing that it’s there, making sure that our site is getting indexed for that kind of stuff. There’s a lot of technical SEO stuff that happens behind the scenes that—it’s not sexy, it’s not fun, but it’s things like doing it consistently.

You know, we were just talking earlier today about, like how much more traffic our YouTube channel has right now than it did a year or two ago. And I think that that’s because we’re consistently putting up videos and it’s, you know, our interviews. And I think that there’s something to be said for that, where people are then able also to connect to the team behind the brand, which I think then lends itself more to the authenticity to being able to really like, see us as people and not just a brand that’s making money by getting people jobs. You know, we’re so much more than that. 

Faith:

I think that’s huge. Like, ask me this question again when we’re like, 4x the size, because maybe this is a function of being small, but I feel like when you ask somebody about their experience with Gun.io, they will always mention somebody by name. Like, ‘Oh, Deividi helped me with such and such,’ or ‘(inaudible)’Girish helped me with whatever.’ You know, they’ll talk about Jessi, and it’s because we’re built to enable human interaction, right? (Abbey: Yeah.) So much of our value is driven through like people, and that’s kind of like what the face of our marketing is as well. Like if you sign up for our emails or our newsletter, like you get a letter from me on Fridays (Abbey: Yeah.) and when people—when you respond, it goes to me. And then I respond too, like, I spend my Fridays like writing back to people who write into our newsletter—(Abbey: Which happens like nowhere.) Right. I still—whenever people do it, I’m like, why are you reading this? <laugh> Like, I’m glad you’re reading it. But I don’t read, I like sign up for newsletters ‘cause I have grand plans of like being a well-read person (Abbey: Oh yeah.), and then I just archive them.

But one other thing that I think—and Abbey, you’ve helped us do this over the last year—is like, decide who we’re for and then don’t give a shit about anybody else. (Abbey: Yeah.) And I think that’s where a lot of brands go wrong when they’re marketing to developers, is they say, let me create something as sterile as possible so that nobody could dislike us. And everybody’s just kind of neutral towards us. (Abbey: Yeah.) And if you’ve ever interacted with anything that we’ve created, whether it’s our website or a blog post or whatever, like it is very clear that that is created for developers and for like a pretty like target market of developers too. Like senior folks who are maybe a little bit like, you know, not wisened–what’s the word that I’m looking for? When they’re like— whatever, they’re senior folks who like, you know, take no bullshit and that’s who we’re here for. 

Abbey (18:07):

And they don’t have to, because they’ve had all of these years and years of experience that make them really, really valuable. So they could go right onto the next thing if they want. It’s like, how do you keep these people, how do you let them know that they are valued and that the skills that they have are marketable? And we will make this as easy as we can for you, because you’ve already—you’ve obviously already put in the leg work. You’ve applied to how many jobs in your 10, 20 years of software development, you know? 

Faith:

So I think like, one way that we won for sure this year is by getting super clear on who that is, and that’s who we’re talking to with everything we create. (Abbey: Yeah.) When we think about kind of future plans for growth, how do you see our brand marketing evolving to kind of talk to this audience even better and more clearly?

Abbey (19:12):

I think that there are a lot of ways we can do it. And I think this kind of goes back to that like, beginning of the year big, grand plans. You know, as we’ve been talking about 2023 planning is like getting more in front of people. We have that personal touch everywhere in the company and even, you know, like when people see it through the newsletters, and they see it through the things that are being posted on the blog, and on social, and stuff like that, it’s clear it comes from people. But how do we make that connection even stronger from a marketing perspective so that it feels like, ‘Hey, what would help you and how can we be a part of that?’ How could we make this useful for the people you work with, the people, friends of yours who might be in the market for a new job? So to that end, you know, talking about doing like workshops and doing the conferences, those things people used to go to—those things are people are there in person (Faith: And there’s business cards!) Yeah. And, you know, just kind of seeing like where we can really—where we can utilize the community that we do have to start bringing even more of that out. (Faith: Right.) I think it was really cool, like when we, you know, in working with a bunch of the developers to be a part of that content pipeline, it’s not just showing that like, we have these experts here. It’s also a way for them to showcase, ‘I can teach about this’—helping them market themselves, even though technically what we’re asking of them is to market for us.

Faith (21:04):

Right. Yeah. I think there’s—especially the nature of a freelance developer can feel very isolating. Right? You’re on an island, you are entering another team kind of as like a solo. I mean, you’re a hired gun, right? (Abbey: Yeah.) That can feel super isolating, and there’s not a lot of opportunity to find mentors, coaches, mentees, all these professional relationships that make our professional lives like rich and worthwhile in a lot of cases, aren’t available to freelance engineers. And so I think the kind of next question is, how can we do that in a way that is like organic, that that feels right for developers, doesn’t feel like, you know, something that we’ve created in a vacuum? And I’m really excited for that for next year. I think we’ve got the right people on the job, you know, thinking through that. 

Abbey:

Yeah. So, yeah—and I know I just keep using this word, but like, it’s putting that authenticity in it.

It has to be—that’s the only way you can market to developers, since it doesn’t exist—is to to be real, to be straightforward, to be knowledgeable. And you know, I think that we have all of that and more on the team, and so how can we turn this into a tool instead of just a thing that exists? (Faith: Mm-hmm. Right.) Like, how can we turn our team into the tool that does the work for us? I guess that’s what a job is. I don’t—you would know better than me, having a ‘What is a Job’ podcast, <laugh>. 

Faith:

Yeah. We still haven’t found an answer. So if you are—if you’re cross-listening to all my podcasts, you will know that.

Abbey (23:01):

But to really take like the expertise and the personal touch that we have within the company and kind of making that writ large for everything, everything on the team, you know, all of these different aspects we wanna go through. I think it would be cool to start like, you know, like a mentoring program, but that only addresses half of our audience. And even that half of the audience is only people who are gonna be senior level and up. So where do you source people who need mentors? You know, it’s ideas like that. And like, it’s cool that we have the freedom to have ideas like that and see where they take us. 

Faith:

Yeah. A hundred percent. And we also have, you know, a benefit that a lot of developer marketers don’t have, which is a huge community of invested folks who are excited about what we’re doing and always willing to give us feedback. It’s not always easy to hear <laugh>, but like it’s, I mean, I think that’s a huge superpower that I don’t think either of us take for granted. And so I think if we were to, if we were to summarize what we’ve learned through marketing to developers for however many years, for folks who might be new to it or looking for new ideas, I think that would be number one on my list is either build or join a community to genuinely learn from developers, not to market to them, right? (Abbey: Yeah.) But to really understand what they want, what they think about the space that you’re working in, their pain points, all that. 

Abbey:

Because it’s such a wide field that like—there’s no one right answer in terms of like what will always work. Just like there’s no—there are like hundreds of thousands of software developers in the world. There’s no simple solution. So it’s kind of like, how many languages can you learn? How many other things can you learn about developers that have nothing to do with like, the nitty gritty of what they do every day?

Faith (25:01):

Mm-hmm. Yeah. A hundred percent. 

Abbey:

You really—you have to get in there, you have to join communities, you have to build that community, if you wanna understand what it is that they’re looking for and how to speak to them, right? 

Faith:

Yeah, exactly. And another thing that both of us did was read the book called ‘Developer Marketing Does Not Exist,’ which you can find the show notes—highly recommend, especially if you’re new to the field. It sounds obvious, but there’s some really tactical advice in there that I think you and I both use in our day to day. 

Abbey:

Yeah. I think I read that actually like, before my final interview. (Faith: Oh, really?) You mentioned it when we interviewed and it was like, (Faith: Oh my gosh!) I’m gonna read that book this weekend, so I get this job, <laugh>. It worked!

Faith (25:52):

Yeah. Obviously. Yeah. Read the book, and you’ll get hired someplace, and also you’ll be really good at your job. 

Abbey:

Yeah. And I mean, there are communities out there and resources for it. Chris and I just did some sessions last week at a developer marketing conference where it kind of—you know, they cover all of the issues that are—that make it hard to target. Some of the things seem really obvious, and some of ’em aren’t. Chris was like, ‘What is the deal with developers loving free T-shirts?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, man.’ It’s a thing, though. (Faith: It’s a thing. Stickers and t-shirts.) and stickers, and look how excited, you know, like you sent those stickers to Darko and all of a sudden five other people were like, I want those. 

Faith (26:50):

50. I’m writing 50 handwritten cards with stickers to people this week. (Abbey: I love it.) Yeah, but that’s the kinda shit—one is get to know your community, join a community, start a community, whatever, but do so to learn. Two is read the book that we both love: ‘Developer Marketing Does Not Exist’. And I think the third thing, at least for me that’s been really helpful, is to have somebody who I have good rapport with—which is you, who’s able to give me advice around authentic—not advice, but feedback around authenticity, right? So if I write something, whether it’s an ad or the Wayfarer or a note in our community, there’s folks here that I can trust to give me feedback around like, ‘Hey, that sounded like way too marketing-y, can we scale that back? Like 90%?’ So like an accountabilibuddy for authenticity is huge. 

Abbey

Yes. Yes. Absolutely. I don’t think I have anything to add to that, so.

Faith (27:52):

Oh, great. Well, I’m just summarizing all the lovely things that you shared, so—

Abbey:

 Great, great, great. See, this is why we work great together. 

Faith:

It is. All right, well, if you are listening, you’ve got questions for either Abbey or I, you can find us both on the dumpster fire that is Twitter usually.  (Abbey: Yesssah.) We’re there personally, but we’re also often behind a keyboard for the Gun.io account. So just shoot us a DM. We’re happy to chat. And Abbey, I’m sure I’ll drag you back on the podcasts very soon.

Abbey:

Well, I’m the one who plans all of this, so maybe I’ll just drag myself back. 

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