Marketing Tactics for Software Developers

Developers understand that marketing is beneficial, but can be put off by marketing tactics that seem more focused on making a sale than with sharing something they need or value. But self-promotion doesn’t have to be self-centered, and marketing content can, and should, be relevant to what software developers have created.

Learn how developers successfully use marketing to spread the word about their projects, blogs, and more, often without trying to sell anything.


Stephanie Morillo: [0:00] Hello, viewers. My name is Stephanie Morillo, and today, I'm going to take you on a grand tour of marketing tactics for software developers.

[0:09] Marketing is increasingly becoming a hot topic among developers who are interested in everything from building their reputations, building a personal brand, to developers who are venturing off and starting product and service-based businesses. This talk has a little bit of something for just about everyone, no matter where you're at in your marketing journey.

[0:33] In this particular video, you're going to learn three specific things. We're going to start off with talking about bad marketing examples. A lot of marketing tends to get a bad rap because of the way marketing is used in ways that make people feel not so great.

[0:51] On the other side, in the second section, I will offer a definition or definitions of marketing that will help you understand exactly what the purpose of the discipline is and who it exists to serve.

[1:04] Then, finally, we will end the video with five actionable tips that you can take away after this talk and start applying immediately so that you can start doing marketing on your own. It's no secret developers have very, very strong feelings about marketing. In fact, the word marketing tends to evoke a lot of visceral reactions from people.

[1:26] A few months ago, I decided to test this out and innocuously asked Twitter, "Hey, developers, what comes to mind? What are the first things that come to mind when you hear the word marketing?" These were some of the responses. Some person said, "First thoughts are clueless and evil," then reluctantly, "useful, helpful and necessary."

[1:47] Then someone else said that they don't like what the word marketing means and what it evokes, so they try to use other words like outreach and capacity building, community, communications or publicity. Someone else said, "If you use it wrong, it's hacks and tricks to get low-value users and create the illusion of success."

[2:07] Why is it that developers tend to have this very, very strong reaction toward marketing? There are a few reasons for this. Developers dislike bad marketing practices. Developers are very, very savvy users. They're very astute users overall. They can sense when somebody is trying to pull a fast one on them or try to get them to do something that they don't want to do.

[2:34] Developers tend to look for product. They tend to look for solutions. They want to cut past a lot of the fluff that exists in a lot of marketing language, unfortunately, today. That goes for both B2C products and B2B products.

[2:51] Here are some of the elements that I consider to be part of what I'm calling bad marketing. The first one of which is manipulation. Marketing does rely on a lot of user psychology to help inform its tactics, strategies, and its ability to build relationships with a community and help people know that this is the solution or this is the thing that you're looking for.

[3:17] However, if used in manipulative ways, it can persuade people to take action that they probably wouldn't have otherwise. Here are some examples of that. Guilt trips.

[3:31] For example, have you tried to unsubscribe from an email newsletter and the email newsletter says, "Hey, you really want to break up with me before you decide to unsubscribe?" That's an example of a guilt trip. It's a manipulative tactic used to compel you to stay even though you really intended to unsubscribe.

[3:50] Then you have things that are patently false information, false numbers, fake data, things like that. Then we also have fake urgency. For example, you might go on to an e-commerce website that is purporting to have a sale that is one day only.

[4:09] When you click on a product, it might have a countdown clock. It might even say 18 people have this in their cart, or there's only three or four left. Then if you come back a few days later, you see the same exact sale being promoted with the same countdown clock, with the same number of people who have this item in their cart.

[4:28] That creates a fake sense of urgency to make you take action that you otherwise wouldn't have, but it's not actually based on any real data. A lot of those numbers can be fudged and messed around with.

[4:40] The second element of bad marketing is irrelevance.

[4:44] How much do you hate it when somebody tells you about this awesome product or service and you go to the website for more information, all you read on the screen is a bunch of different words that use a lot of buzzwords and a lot of jargon, but they don't actually tell you what the product is, what it does, how it'll help you solve your problem?

[5:03] A lot of that is because the folks behind the messaging may not fully understand who the target audience is. They may not actually understand what the product is at all. They may not understand what the use cases are for the product.

[5:16] Therefore, they can't actually describe to you, the end user, exactly why this is something that you would like. There are a lot of gaps that need to be filled that aren't necessarily filled.

[5:27] You might even see one website that has the same exact language as another website, as another competitor and people just copy and paste each other's messaging again without getting back to the crux of the problem.

[5:40] Thirdly, bad marketing is not trustworthy. It asks you for things before it has delivered one single thing. An example of this is, maybe you land on someone's blog post and then five seconds, no more than five to ten seconds later, you get a huge pop up that asks you for your email address and to subscribe to their newsletter.

[6:01] For a lot of folks, that tends to be mostly a mild annoyance. What that does is that it doesn't build trust. You haven't actually had the sufficient time to look at the content, to peruse the site, to check out another post, to maybe review some of the products to see whether or not this is actually something you might want to do later.

[6:19] Another example of this is, maybe you're interested in learning more about how a product works with specific use cases and a website for that product is promoting a white paper, but in order for you to download the white paper that will describe how this product works for this use case, you have to give them your email address.

[6:41] Well, why would you do that when they have not done the job of giving you all of the information you need in order to take the next step? That's what I mean by not trustworthy.

[6:51] Lastly, bad marketing is not strategic at all. It sees what everyone else is doing and it tries to replicate it to the tea by throwing everything on the wall to see what sticks. This is what is meant by attracting low-value users.

[7:09] You're just trying to do as much of a gimmick as possible, every single gimmick in the book to see if it'll help you acquire users or acquire new customers, but you're not actually creating anything that has any value long term. That's what's meant by bad marketing not being strategic.

[7:28] The biggest sin that bad marketing commits is that it does not answer the one fundamental question that all marketing is supposed to answer. The question that marketing is supposed to answer is, why should anyone care about this?

[7:44] Marketing is not supposed to be me, me, me, me, me. Look at me. I'm awesome. Even though that is how we tend to associate marketing. Marketing is supposed to go, tell me more. I'm listening to your problems. I'm trying to understand who you are.

[7:59] Hey, now that you've mentioned it, here's actually something based on everything you've told me that I think will help you. This is how and this is why and this is what you need to do.

[8:10] Bad marketing centers itself. It centers the business or the person or the product. It does not center the audience. That's ultimately what people want. They want to know what's in it for me and why should I care. Your job as a marketer is to answer that question without making it all about yourself.

[8:34] What is marketing really all about? I'm going to offer two definitions that I happen to be a fan of. The first definition comes from Alex Hillman who is the author of "The Tiny MBA." He defines marketing as a wide range of activities that help people believe that you understand them.

[8:53] Again, marketing is a wide range of activities that help people believe you understand them. I like to sensitize that just a bit further. The second definition is one that I'm offering.

[9:08] The way I define marketing is that it's all about getting the right message out to the right person at the right time so when they see it, they go, "Yes. This is exactly what I need and exactly what I want." Marketing ultimately is all about understanding what you have to offer, what other people need and how to connect the two.

[9:32] This means that if you are, for example, if you are a React developer let's say. I always use React as one of my main examples and you want to promote like something that you're working on, a project for React developers, you know which channels to go to.

[9:49] You know which Subreddits to check out. You know which conferences to go to. You of course know who in the Reddit, sorry, in the React Twitter community you need to reach out to. You're not going to go to the place where angular developers hang out.

[10:05] You're not going to go to the place where UX designers hang out and promote your React product.

[10:10] No, you're going to go exactly to where that audience is. You're going to use your understanding of that audience and your understanding of your product to help inform exactly how you're going to position it in a way that lets them say, "You know what, actually, I really needed that." This is what it looks like in practice.

[10:28] The right message, the right person, and the right time. Last year I released my first eBook "The Developer's Guide to Content Creation." Leading up to that eBook launch, I spent considerable time, and I mean considerable time, tweeting and sharing information not just about the book, but also about who my target audience was.

[10:47] I wanted someone to read those tweets and say, "Yes, I need this. This is the book for me." That also means recognizing that everything you create is not for everyone. Everyone is not your audience.

[11:01] Last year when I published that book, Michael Barr who is the developer at AWS, bought my book, read my book and he tweeted this, he said, "I'm somewhat scared by how well her target audience fits me," which is exactly what the reaction I wanted people to have.

[11:18] In the book itself, when you open up the first few pages, I very clearly state who my target audience is because again I knew who I had in mind when I wrote the book and I knew who would benefit the most from it. Does it mean that other people can't read it and find something that they will benefit from?

[11:37] Absolutely not, but I know who was the person that was going to get the maximum amount of value from reading this book and it was people like Michael who are now on their way or further along frankly, on their content creation journey as a result.

[11:53] The other good news is that developers in the audience, people that you already follow, they are amazing at marketing. If you break this down, what is it that makes them so awesome at what they do? Number one, a lot of these developers, they know who they are. They know what makes them unique.

[12:10] They are unapologetic about their interests, they allow their quotes to shine so that when you see like a meme by Cassidy Williams who is a developer advocate over at Netlify, you know that it's very much Cassidy style.

[12:29] That's not a style that can easily be replicated by anyone else because it's very much uniquely her. That's true with other forms of marketing. We have developers who are creating newsletters, who are creating podcasts, who use all kinds of things to just show who they are.

[12:47] Not only are they promoting what they're doing and promoting themselves, they are also very much in tune with what their larger community is working on. Cassidy for example is very much in tune with what is going on in the rest of the JavaScript community.

[13:01] She is going to conferences. She's very much giving back. She's taking part in conversations and she's listening just as much as she is sharing.

[13:09] That's really key because part of marketing, as I mentioned earlier is all about stopping to listen and to understand what's going on out there. There are a lot of opportunities for developers to learn how to be good at marketing from other developers.

[13:26] Next, we're going to talk about the elements of what I call good marketing. We talked about bad marketing. We know that there's a lot of manipulative tactics. We know that it might not necessarily be trustworthy. It's not strategic. It's irrelevant.

[13:38] What's the difference between bad and good marketing? Here are some examples. First thing is that good marketing has a value proposition. A value proposition is essentially a statement that says, "This is who I am. This is what I offer. This is what you can expect from me and this is how you will benefit."

[13:57] An example of a value proposition is one that I created that you can see on my social media profiles. My value proposition is, that I help developers become better content creators. Everything that I do reinforces that value proposition.

[14:12] The content that I do reinforces that value proposition. If you go to my blog, if you see a lot of the things that I like to share online, it's all reinforced by that value proposition. As a result, I build trust which is the second element of good marketing.

[14:27] It means that when you come to me in search of specific types of information, I will be a resource to help you get it. I'm consistent. I give a lot upfront. Yes, I do sell an eBook. I have an on-demand course. I sell two eBooks, but I also publish free blog posts which you can access at any time.

[14:48] I have free resource lists that are available on GitHub. I publish a free newsletter. I try to give people free as much information as they need and as they would want. If they become customers, that's really, really awesome.

[15:02] This type of marketing helps me anyway because it helps me build my personal brand and it helps me build a reputation. It positions me as a subject matter expert of content which is my area of expertise. Then, finally, building trust has to do with having like a bidirectional conversation with people.

[15:23] You seek feedback. You sit and you listen when people share their thoughts, things that you can do differently. You try to adjust accordingly because ultimately you want to be positioned as someone who is helpful, as someone who provides useful information to help people accomplish something.

[15:40] It's people focused as a result. Marketing is not all about just me. Think about it like a photo shoot where you are at the center of attention. It really is about community. It really is about helping others.

[15:55] It's about making things approachable, being accessible and also being authentic, being authentically yourself. In the beginning, we may not know exactly what our unique voice sounds like.

[16:06] It might take time to get there, but we know that people respond well when they know that when they interact with you and what you're doing, that you're an actual person who understands the value that you bring. You understand what your culture add is, what you add on to the conversation.

[16:26] Finally, in contrast with bad marketing, good marketing is relevant.

[16:31] Good marketing never stops learning. Even if you feel like your marketing game is 110 percent, I guarantee you there's always something that you can learn to make it even better than it was before. You are constantly learning about and staying on top of trends that are going on in your community.

[16:49] You are constantly talking to or communing with people in your target audience. You never assume that you know everything that there is to learn because there's always more that comes down the pipeline. Finally, the last section of this presentation we're going to share five different tactics to get better at marketing starting today.

[17:10] The first one is a part of a formula, an approach to promoting yourself that I like to call, "believing in magic." In other words, how to promote yourself in a non-smarmy or icky way. The first input in the believing in magic promotion formula is knowing that you can promote anything.

[17:32] You do not have to be selling anything. You do not have to be selling a course, you don't have to be selling a product, you don't have to be selling tickets to a conference.

[17:44] A lot of nonprofit organizations for example, they all have marketing teams and marketers, who are responsible for marketing the services that they provide to the public and the public good. That's an example of marketing.

[17:56] You can promote a free event. You can promote an open-source project that you worked on. You can promote a blog post. There's no shortage of anything, that if you have something to share with the world that you think people will benefit from, you can absolutely promote it.

[18:13] Now that you know what the input is, here are the other elements needed in this formula. Secondly, you need to get excited. If you're not excited, it shows in how you promote stuff. You might not promote it as much. You might not sound jazzed in your tweets or in anything else.

[18:32] You might just say a few words and then a link to the thing and then wonder, "Wait, why are people not clicking on it?" Because you're not excited. When you're excited, you want to talk about it, and you want to listen to people who have questions about it.

[18:46] When you're excited, it breeds enthusiasm. You become enthusiastic about what you're creating. Then other people get excited as a result, because excitement is contagious. You want to ensure that you are excited. You have to believe in what it is that you're doing. Believe in it in order to breed that excitement.

[19:05] Number three, we go back to the question that we know that bad marketing never answers "What problem does this solve for others?" In order to answer this, you really have to make people care. For example, if you're promoting a free event, and the free event is going to feature speakers but it's also going to have some other really neat things.

[19:24] Maybe there's going to be free childcare on site. Maybe there is going to be a meet and greet with recruiters. Maybe there is going to be some workshops. You want to make sure that every takeaway, every benefit that someone would have by attending this conference is mentioned in some fashion.

[19:45] You might not be able to get all of that in a tweet or in a brochure or in a flyer, but you're going to have to repeat yourself in many ways, which is the last bullet and I'll talk a little bit about shortly. The point is that you have to make sure that you talk about the things that are going to make people think, "Hmm, there's something in here for me."

[20:02] Make sure that you point out what they will actually learn, what they will take away from whatever it is you're promoting.

[20:10] Next, you want to experiment with new approaches. It does not matter how amazing you are at marketing. This is true of individual developers all the way to multinational corporations. Everyone does not get it right 110 percent of the time. You might find that there was something that you created that did not garner the response that you wanted.

[20:32] That is a part of the marketing game, is getting data, getting insights, trying to understand what may have gone wrong. Then experimenting with new approaches, isolating one new thing to work on next time and seeing if that happens to move a needle a little bit or move it a little bit more.

[20:50] Marketing does not promise overnight success and overnight solutions. You have to be willing to put in the work to learn as much as you can and make the tweaks necessary so that you can start seeing the growth and engagement that you're hoping for.

[21:05] Then finally, because marketing is all about getting the right message to the right person at the right time, you have to repeat yourself and you have to do it often. It doesn't mean spam everyone on your timeline. It does mean resurface things that you've done in the past that are still valuable.

[21:23] Make sure that you have tweets scheduled at different times so that people in different time zones are able to see what it is that you've created, and sharing it in other ways. Maybe you don't just share a link to it. Maybe you create a short snippet or a GIF or an image or something to accompany it to illustrate it in a completely different way.

[21:45] Be sure to repeat yourself often in different ways in order to reach your target audience. Secondly, you want to actively engage, especially in online communities, and you want to learn in public. What does this mean? It means sharing your progress frequently.

[22:01] You can share exactly however much you feel comfortable with. The point here is that there's nothing too big or too small to share. Maybe you're working on something and you developed a new insight, you learned a lesson. Maybe you're iterating on a project and you want to give people a sneak peek on what it is that you're doing.

[22:19] That's a way of helping people get to know you, get to know what it is that you're working on so that in the future, there are no surprises when you drop this super awesome project because people had been excitedly following you all along.

[22:34] That goes to number three. Don't just post and ghost. This is a huge mistake. I see quite a few developers, especially with smaller audiences make, they wonder, "OK, wait, I signed on to Twitter and I shared a bunch of tweets. Then I logged off and I didn't go back on and my audience isn't growing."

[22:52] Well, there are reasons to that. It's because social media requires you to be social. You have to take part in conversation. It's not just you on a microphone accepting your Oscar.

[23:03] You have to talk and then you have to pass the mic on and then you have to have one-on-one conversations with people. How do you do this? You reply to comments that people leave on your posts.

[23:15] Even if people are leaving comments to say thank you, reply and say "You're welcome. I'm so glad you found this useful." Maybe people have questions or comments, be sure to reply to those, too, because people do read the comments. It's one way of positioning yourself as an expert and as someone that's a go-to for whatever it is that you're working on.

[23:34] Then contribute to existing conversations. If someone else started a conversation and they're inviting other people's opinions or resources, try to be helpful in that capacity as well and try to contribute and add on, be a net positive to that conversation. You'll find new people to engage with and you might even find that you end up growing your audience that way.

[23:58] Thirdly, ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are a fantastic way of getting a conversation going, they're a fantastic way of getting ideas for things to work on in the future, and another way of answering questions of actually giving people a net positive.

[24:18] I do this every now and again. Recently, I asked an open-ended question on Twitter about what developers were using to build their personal blogs. That got hundreds of replies.

[24:29] I've asked people how they ended up in their roles. That's another one that got a lot of replies. What are some open-source projects that have awesome documentation that you like and it got a lot of replies and a lot of engagement? I really find that people love to engage in those kinds of conversations.

[24:48] Ask open-ended questions, especially if there's something you want to know about your community. Finally, celebrate yourself but celebrate others too.

[24:56] When you celebrate other people's wins, you congratulate people very sincerely and earnestly about what they're working on, or retweet or share something that someone else has created, it's a way of amplifying their work and it's a way of celebrating them.

[25:11] It is also a very wonderful reminder that there is enough out here for everyone. It's also a way of being inspired. When you see all of these wonderful people who are celebrating their own wins and sharing their wins and you partake in that, you realize, "Wow, if they can do it, I can too. My path might look different, but it just means that I at least have to try."

[25:36] It's wonderful knowing how people get to where they are and being a part of that celebration. Third, you want to become a student of marketing. If you're a student of the game, you're going to be well ahead of the game.

[25:52] Here are some ways to study marketing. First, if you are a content creator or interested in becoming a content creator, I recommend that you read and watch technical content frequently.

[26:03] This means subscribe to newsletters that you would like to subscribe to. Check out certain YouTubers, live streamers, if that's your thing. Then read people's blog posts. You should do this anyway as a technologist to just stay on top of trends and to understand what's going on within your particular space.

[26:23] It also allows you to look at things with a critical eye, which is what I talked about in point number two. Look at how the developers you admire do it. Whenever you're studying technical content or individuals who are doing marketing, you want to write down for yourself what is it that you think they are doing well.

[26:44] If you know that there's this one newsletter you like, try to parse it out. Articulate what it is that you think they're doing well and how do you think that they're able to do it. You might not exactly know the answers, but it'll help you brainstorm.

[26:55] Then finally, identify at least one area of improvement. That goes for even the best blogs or the best newsletters. There's always an area where we can improve. If they did this one thing differently, what do you think it would do or change?

[27:10] Finally, look out for actual marketers. There's a lot of content out there that's written by marketers for marketers, growth marketers, content marketers, paid marketers on things like SEO, email, content, A/B testing. You want to understand what marketers are actually doing and how they do what they do.

[27:32] In fact, if you work at a company that has a marketing team, I recommend grabbing 30 minutes off on someone's calendar. You just want to understand how they do their job. Marketing is actually a lot more data-driven than people realize.

[27:46] That's the reason why I recommend that you go to marketers to understand exactly how they do things. You might learn something that you can directly apply to your own work and it'll help you become better at marketing in the long run.

[28:00] Number four, I'm all about consistency. I feel that optimizing online profile so like your social media bios, is one great way of emphasizing and talking about your value proposition and making sure that people everywhere where you happen to interact online know who you are in the way that you want people to know you.

[28:22] What I recommend is that you create a standardized social media bio. This is assuming of course you use the same name and persona online across different platforms. I happen to be very active on GitHub, on Twitter. I'm also active on DEV Community and Indie Hackers.

[28:40] I have a standardized social media bio that I use on all of those. Generally, an avatar that I use on all of those as well. What I like to answer my social media bio is, what do I want people to know about me? The start of my social media bio is "I'm a technical program manager and content strategist with a masters in UX."

[29:01] I find that it's really important. I really want people to understand where I am coming from and, who is this random person on the Internet talking about developer content and why is she the person to talk about it? Well, these are my credentials and this is my background. This is why I am the person talking about it.

[29:16] Then, I follow up with my value proposition which is, "I help developers become better content creators." I want people to know, this is her background and this is why she is going to be the person that is the one offering this value prop. I have that same bio on across all of those sites.

[29:37] Secondly, create a links landing page. This is so, so, so simple and yet such an awesome thing to do. Have you ever seen link tree links in people's bios? It'll be link.tree slash their name and then when you click on it, it's like a bunch of links.

[29:56] If you have a personal website already, you can and I recommend you should just create a landing page on your personal website. You can use whatever slug you want links, social, hello, welcome.

[30:09] It doesn't matter.

[30:10] The point there is, that if you have active profiles across the web where you publish content, where you sell things, where you're doing anything that you want people to know that you're doing, having that on your landing page is the perfect way of making sure that anyone who interacts with you or finds you on social media knows exactly what's important to you.

[30:35] I have approximately five or six links on my page and I use very descriptive text to indicate what that link is so that when people click on it, they know exactly where they're going to go, but it's the same...I have the same link landing page on Twitter, on GitHub, on DEV Community so forth and so on.

[30:56] Finally, data, data, data. As I mentioned earlier, marketing is very data driven. Let's talk a little bit about what data looks like for developers. Look at your data analytics. First things first, if you're on social media, definitely take a look at your social media analytics.

[31:12] You want to see, what were the top-performing tweets? Are there tweets that people retweeted a lot or quote "tweeted" a lot? Maybe you got a ton of comments. Those are really interesting stats to check.

[31:24] Then, of course if you have Web analytics on your blog and so forth, you might want to look at things like page views, but there's more to it than that. For example, I like to look at referral sources when I'm looking at my Web analytics. I want to know where people are finding me from.

[31:40] Interestingly enough, even though I happen to be very, very, very active on Twitter, the vast majority of my audience tends to find me on Google which means that they put in some search terms, my blog posts come up and they find me that way.

[31:55] That's great because I really want my content to be findable and discoverable especially to people who have never interacted with me before. I also like to look at performance overall. I don't necessarily care about the page views of an individual posts, but I do care about it in context.

[32:11] I like to see like what my top 10 blog posts are month over month or even in a quarter and then I like to see if there's anything that I've created that really hasn't had any views or people don't really like it.

[32:23] Then I try to think about what I need to do in order to make that content or what I want to do next with that content. Do I want to re-optimize the post? Do I want to rewrite it to make it a little bit more relevant or is that something that really just doesn't resonate with my audience?

[32:37] The point is that data analytics really helps you look for insights. It's also the basis for experimentation. If you see that you have very low views on a blog post that you really think should rank higher, there might be some kinds of experiments that you can run in order to optimize that content.

[32:55] Maybe you're going to do something with your...Maybe there's something with search engine optimization that you can do in order to get that content to rank hire. Maybe you can run some tests on promoting it in social media in very different ways in order to get more views.

[33:08] The point is that by looking at the data, you can help identify what the problem areas are which will then help you develop a hypothesis and then you can start coming up with ideas for changes that you would want to make.

[33:22] By the way, qualitative feedback is also data. If you get comments on your blog posts or your videos or if people reply to your tweets when you're promoting something, be sure to note the comments, constructive feedback and any suggestions that people leave for you. Add those notes because that is actually really helpful.

[33:45] You're getting to hear from people in their own words, not abstracted data, but you're getting to hear from individuals what it is that they liked about what you wrote, what it is that they liked about what you did, the fact that they liked it at all, the fact that it was useful or maybe they had suggestions for improvements.

[34:02] That helps you then know exactly what you might want to do next. That's all for today's presentation. If you have any questions about anything that I discussed today, feel free to tweet me @radiomorillo. You can find more about my books, my blog and my GitHub resources over at Thank you.