At WayScript, we spend a lot of time thinking about developers and the challenges they face, which go beyond the technical. We wanted to hear from others who also spend time in the developer space and get their perspectives on building a business with devs as an audience.
This week, we spoke with Tom Berger, who leads marketing at Bolt. Watch the full interview here.
Tom is a senior executive with over 20 years of experience leading digital marketing teams at a variety of organizations, from early stage startups to high growth SaaS companies to Fortune 1000 companies. He has previously served as the VP of Marketing at Digital Ocean, Progress Software, Iron Mountain, and SafeNet, just to name a few. Tom has tremendous insight into developers as an audience and currently leads marketing at Bolt, the world's first checkout experience platform.
Monica from Team WayScript
Welcome, Tom! You’ve been selling to devs for quite some time at this point. How has marketing to developers changed over the past few years? And what’s stayed the same?
Thanks for having me. From my past experience, one thing that holds true is that developers are lifelong learners. They're always educating themselves on the latest technologies, languages, etc. And like other consumers, today, they expect to be able to try things out before they buy. Kick the tires, so to speak, before committing. They like to tinker, they like to play around in dev environments before swiping a credit card or requesting a license.
With that in mind, marketing, as well as selling to developers is more about education, and less about conversions and response advertising or response marketing, etc. Companies that do this focus on things like free educational resources and tutorials. They'll build communities around developers to bring developers together.
Over the past few years, I've seen a number of changes: more communities are sprouting up around specific topics or technologies for developers, whether that's a website or something like Discord. There are also broader communities, such as dev.to, which is one that I frequent, which has over 700,000 members in just a few short years. They bring together developers on a variety of topics. All of these are oriented around the notion of education.
What’s stayed the same is the education and developers helping other developers through posts, sharing learnings creating their own tutorials.
What all this means is user generated content is very visible and is being created in these communities, which ultimately help the marketer drive engagement, have more developers come and ultimately, adoption of new technologies, platforms, languages, etc.
You have experience selling B2B software to both developers as well as non developers. What challenges have you found are unique to developers in particular?
Marketers that have to reach developers are challenged with reaching and engaging an audience that uses ad blockers and doesn't like to be marketed to or sold to, in any way, shape, or form. As a result, a lot of the traditional channels and methods like paid search, display advertising, social or paid social, etc aren't very effective when it comes to marketing to devs.
What's been most successful for me, is creating a very strong inbound, go to market motion, built around this notion of high quality, free educational content: “how do I do X” or “look what I've built with X” type of content. Building that destination, which I talked a little bit about earlier, with solid in depth tutorials as a way to attract developers and introduce them to the software in authentic and genuine ways is always a win-win. And developers will share what they like. So if you're providing them with a great tutorial, or high quality content, it's a high probability they're going to share it with their peers, which is definitely what you want.
On the non developer side, of course traditional channels are more effective. But, with the changes and how cookies are being tracked and managed, plus privacy and changes with what Facebook and Google are doing, marketers are going to face new challenges of how to reach their target audience. First party data is becoming more and more important. For non developers, there's also this notion of “try before you buy”. We all live in this kind of network or Netflix type of world, where trying to software or solution is table stakes. Leveraging free trials, leveraging promotions, to get people to try out your software, and even things like referral programs go a long way with the non dev community as well as the developer community in some respects.
It sounds like it's all about getting somebody to be comfortable with the software, trying it out beforehand. And even just learning about it through an educational piece lets them do that.
Right, right. Yeah, everyone wants to feel, to touch, to experience what that software is going to be. And providing a way to do that is critical.
When you're looking at these challenges — for example, you mentioned, a lot of developers will have AD blocking software, so it's tricky to see exactly what they're doing in their page clicks — how do you approach solving them? Do you run experiments? Do you set up different processes? What is your approach?
Two things. First, that's why building a community and attracting developers to your own domain is really important. At that point you can remarket to them; they are engaged in some way, shape, or form rather than relying on third party data. So first party data is really important in collecting that data in brand appropriate ways.
For experimentation, I think for all marketers these days, it's important to build a test-and-learn type of culture within your team, where you focus on rapid iterations on messaging, or designs or call to actions. For developers it’s gonna be more about adding and testing native type call-to-actions within a tutorial, versus testing ad creative.
With that said, I like to group things when I'm thinking about testing out an ad campaign or a landing page, or even, a tutorial for developers. I put them into two different buckets: there's the iterative bucket and then there's the innovative bucket.
The iterative bucket are those quick ideas on testing a hypothesis. Change one or two elements to see what the lift is. And then the innovative bucket is really about turning things on their head, challenging the status quo, and approaching things from a completely different perspective. So constantly coming up with what those challenges are, or what those challengers are, I should say, is important.
I do also feel that a lot of marketers sometimes go through a period of over testing, where everything has to be tested so we can show the results of all of our hard work. I come from the camp that everything doesn't need to be tested. Some things are just common sense, right? You can't get into this fear of not testing something and get into this action or testing paralysis that sometimes marketers fall into.
Yeah, I’ve definitely experienced that myself. There are certain things that are just going to be universally true or not. When you're thinking about the iterative versus innovative testing approach, how do you confine the blast radius?
You always want to limit the pool and the audience. You don't want to disrupt things like a good campaign running or marketing program running. You want to expose anothing innovative or experiment to just a smaller percentage of your users. And that's why it's really important to have a high volume of traffic and inbound visitors that you can pull into a test. Basically, restricting the pool or targeting the pool that you're experimenting with is how you handle it.
You mentioned running your marketing team in a test-and-learn way. Are there tools that you use to help facilitate that within the organization itself? Or, or even just broadly? And I'm curious about your tool stack overall.
These days there's a number of tools out there to do these types of tests. I've used platforms like Optimizely, Google Optimize in the past and then also just simply using Google Tag Manager to run tests.
Outside of experimentation, usually the tech stack that I'm working with is some sort of open source, or headless Content Management System, or WCM (web content management). Then, most of the companies I’ve worked for are large enough that we have platforms like Marketo for email, Salesforce for CRM, etc. Then managing data between all these different solutions, using something like Segment, come into play.
It really comes down to what makes the most sense for your business at that time and stage of where you are. Prior to getting to the Marketo or Salesforce and macro stage, maybe it's something more like HubSpot or something similar.
And while there's a litany of tools out there that you're able to plug in and work to your purpose, are there tools you wish you had? Or is there a particular functionality that you wish you could automate?
I don't know about functionality, but one of the things that's always a challenge within marketing is we're collecting data across so many different channels, so many different sites, including our own site. But if you think about social channels and all the data that's collected there—the lead capture data— data is everywhere. Aggregating all of that data into one repository so that you can visualize it and glean those insights to help you make decisions, whether that's on a test or a different program you want to run is really important. I think that's still a big gap for a lot of marketers and a lot of marketing organizations.
If I were to say what are those tools that I'm still looking for early on when I start a new engagement, or start with a new company, it's how do we take all of this great first party data that we're generating and turn it into actionable insights. It's easy enough to create reports on individual platforms but bringing it all together, so you can make sound business decisions based on what your users or visitors are doing across all of these different channels, sometimes escapes us.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s the “last mile” data problem: we've generated all this data but what do we do with it? How do we interpret it? Well, those are all the questions that I have for you, Tom. Any last thoughts on developer marketing or in general?
Just to summarize what I said at the beginning of our chat—and this goes for devs and non devs. We’re in a world now where clickbait type content is not very successful and it's not driving the best traffic that marketers and sales need. I tend to rely and focus on much meatier thought leadership and very valuable content. Whenever possible, offer that up for free without gating it and good things happen. In the developer space, it's good to focus on things like tutorials and those deeper dives into how you use the platform over high level, top funnel, kind of clickbait-y type blog posts. That's where my energies are focused. And that's where I try to focus the team and good things happen from there.