Tech-savvy businesses have known for years that they must market to those who influence a brand’s customer experience the most — application developers.

Global and U.S. custom application development (CAD) services spending reached an estimated $39.2 billion in 2013, and global demand for CAD services will grow at 4.6 percent in 2014, according to IDC. Increasing mobile application and cloud services, as well as new development opportunities created by the Internet of things (IoT), are key drivers.

Three rules for most effective marketing to developers follow.

Developers are different, really

developer-programmerThe jargon of the development processes presents a barrier to nontechnical marketers, but that isn’t the biggest challenge. Developers simply behave unlike other customer types. They are:

  • Technology enthusiasts, always learning, exploring, and creating. They take their craft home to practice and improve.
  • Generous but tough to satisfy. Developers can become your strongest advocate or loudest critic.
  • Not budget owners, but they influence commercial decisions and adoption.
  • They may be students, self-employed contractors, or full-time employees. They work in small startups and large corporations. They may develop games, software, and remote sensing devices or wearable apps. They may work alone or with teams of thousands.

In the forthcoming Fintech Developer Relations Survey, we identified 22 different types of developer resources or features included in developer programs. The resources most highly valued by developers originated from product teams, including documentation, critical updates, SDK, sandbox, and test tools. The least valued — loyalty programs, vendor news, and product brochures — typically originate from marketing.

Traditional marketers should involve themselves in developer relations, but their outputs should not be traditional.

There is fierce competition for developer mindshare, so proceed accordingly

Developers are the gatekeepers to new channels with the potential to scale businesses massively, and the crowds have gathered. In addition to the inevitable technology and startup players, developer ranks are now swelled by organizations in retail, banking, government, automotive, energy, and health care.

This new group recognizes the potential for developers to reinvent their offerings by consuming APIs or integrating web services into new generations of mobile apps, business applications, and consumer services.

Apart from understanding the language and needs of a new technical audience, established companies must learn new approaches. Although startups are more naturally attuned to developers, they may not be prepared for their enterprise-class expectations in terms of ease of use, documentation, service levels, and reliability.

Learn from technology firms that have been connecting with developers for decades. Don’t assume you know better. First copy, learning while you do so, and then improve.

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Listen and learn to avoid predictable mistakes

  • Make everything as public as possible. Resource access downloads and training should be one click away.
  • Optimize for search. Developers use search to answer questions. If Google can’t index it, they won’t find it.
  • Don’t ask for money. Not upfront. Let them try before they buy, and keep licensing models straightforward.
  • Keep things simple. Improving productivity, simplification, and time savings are primary motivations for developers.
  • Use social strategically. Developers use social media, but in atypical ways — to answer questions and to build a reputation. Few developers make use of social to draw attention to them or to make friends.
  • Don’t solicit inclusion. At the outset, don’t try to convince developers to join your new community or visit your new developer site.
  • Don’t hold back. Success is about getting code to developers quickly and easily, with the tools and test environment necessary to become productive.

A few smart choices can help any business get developer marketing right, and those developers may become your most committed customers and most vocal advocates.

steveellisSteve Ellis is the Founder and CEO of global marketing agency Metia and has been a key player in helping to grow marketing technology businesses for 30 years. Steve’s innovative approach to applying technology thinking to marketing problems has fueled Metia’s global thought leadership in developer relations, financial technology, and the public sector. He can be found on Twitter @steveellis or via his blog.