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How Developer Marketing Parallels Consumer Marketing

On the surface, B2B and B2C marketing may seem to be worlds apart. As open-source and developer-led companies become increasingly visible, important, and massive, we should draw the parallel between developer marketing and consumer marketing. They are much closer than it might seem.

First, developer marketing is influencer and brand-driven. In the consumer World, consumer companies use luminaries to support a product. Michael Jordan and Air Jordans. Oprah Winfrey and Weight Watchers. Matthew McConaughey and the Lincoln ads that SNL spoofed.

Famous developers using a product, writing about it confer a parallel social proof. Many developer-focused companies invite luminaries to invest in seed rounds. Another way to bestow cachet to an open-source project is to publish it while employed at an engineering powerhouse like Google, Facebook, Uber. Or from a top lab like Stanford’s DAWN or Berkeley’s RISE.

Open source projects have memorable names: Python, Cockroach, Vagrant, Kafka, Kurbernetes, Hadoop, Arrow. They are memorable for a reason, so you hear about the project and remember it. Many of them choose animals as mnemonic mascots, helping recall. Narwhals, penguins, snakes, ants, elephants, ducks, lizards, camels. It’s a zoo - all in the name of creating a brand that sticks.

Second, community engagement is essential in both consumer and developer marketing. There are a torrent of consumer examples. Perhaps the most recent one is Ocean Spray embracing a Fleetwood Mac lipsynching longboarder on TikTok.

Developers gather in communities: Github, Slack, mailing lists, forums like StackOverflow, podcasts, and meetups. Managing those communities and cultivating them is an essential discipline in marketing to developers. Devrel or developer relations is often the first marketing hire for open-source or developer-focused companies to foster these interactions.

Community alienation occurs in B2D companies just as frequently as B2C companies. Injecting telemetry into open source projects, forking key projects because of disagreements in philosophy, or improper management can be devastating.

Third, in both domains, funnel optimization is critical. The small revenue per individual user for most consumer companies doesn’t permit marketers to deploy campaigns with long paybacks. The same is true for open-source or bottoms-up software. Greasing the axles for developers means great documentation, a vibrant community of people to answer questions and help with issues, and fast response times to queries.

Fourth, broad distribution presages revenue. A social network doesn’t think of monetizing before it reaches a certain level of scale. At massive popularity, revenue growth is a foregone conclusion. Same for B2D. Many startups prioritize huge developer distribution, betting revenue follows.

B2D and B2C marketing share many similarities. Classic B2B companies often struggle to understand, adopt, and leverage B2D marketing because it’s a cultural shift that is bigger than it might seem. The typical disciplines of analyst relations, field marketing support, product marketing are still important in B2D. But they need to be complemented with consumer marketing techniques to be successful.