Assessing the Maturity of Your Developer Marketing Program

Have you ever visited a website with a ‘ghost’ developer zone? You know the type I mean? Where the blog posts are over a year old, nobody has posted on the forums in months and there haven’t been any new releases on GitHub for quite some time. I think we’ve all seen these portals, and maybe even worked on one (I know I have!).

Image source: Konrad Forstner on Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

They come about when a company has ambitious plans for engaging with developers, but somehow, things don’t quite come together. Perhaps there wasn’t the appetite to provide the staff to build a convincing developer product and support it? Or maybe the product just wasn’t great, or as good as the competition. There are many reasons why developer marketing goes wrong. This blog post is how to tip the scales in the balance of success, and take your developer program from strength to strength.

A maturity model for developer marketing

You may be familiar with maturity models for assessing the “ability of an organization for continuous improvement in a particular discipline” (Wikipedia). Formal or informal evaluation of particular characteristics, such as processes and structures within a system, against agreed stages or levels are used to determine maturity. A number of models have been developed by practitioners and academics over the past years, if you are interested, there is a thorough academic review here; the capability maturity model and ISO/IEC 15504 (SPICE) are probably the most familiar formal models within the software industry.

In marketing circles, there are various ways to assessing the maturity of your digital marketing, such as Boston Consulting Group’s approach for digital marketing maturity based on organizational structure.

Image source: Boston Consulting Group

However, when it comes to measuring software developer marketing, metrics and maturity models are not yet part of a common toolset. As we’ve previously observed, developer marketing is still a young and fragmented industry, with pockets of best practice locked within the companies that master it. We have recently answered the lack of recorded thought leadership on the subject, by publishing a book about the essentials of developer marketing. But we’ve yet to see a discussion about the way to measure the maturity of your developer marketing efforts.

Why market to developers?

Perhaps the first question should be — why market to software developers? Increasingly, we are seeing developers make technology adoption decisions and take control of the process by which software enters their organisations. In much the same way that IT departments, which were a rarity 20 years ago, have become standard in most companies today, it seems likely that, in the near future, companies will need to become conversant with developer marketing.

Good software developer marketing is rather different from consumer marketing; it consists of technical outreach and education, such as software documentation and example code, tools and downloads, knowledge bases and contact points both online and in real life, through focussed events. A developer marketing program has a number of aspects and channels and the maturity of such a program can be measured, in part, by their uptake. Let’s take a look at some details by working through the phases of developer marketing from the least to the most mature.


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Newbie developer programs are the entry-level for companies wishing to engage with developers. They are limited in scope and provide just a few APIs or SDKs, with limited documentation or hands-on support. The developer liaison team is of a small size (2–3 engineers focused on API product and documentation) and runs on a small budget. A developer portal to attract and encourage registered developers will be on the list of must-haves, and the team will endeavour to engage with potential developers in other online channels, such as StackOverflow and Reddit, but they will have limited visibility and few external advocates.

Developer programs at this stage of maturity should be asking how to build momentum to encourage engagement with their program. They should be looking at building developer interest that can be retained and built into a larger program.

Examples include Memgraph, OutSystems and Zebra Technologies.


Image source: wetwebwork on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Challenger developer programs are Newbies that are taking root and growing. They have matured to the point of offering a range of APIs or SDKs. The portal provides solid levels of documentation plus hands-on support. The audience is typically focussed in one area, and has grown from Newbie levels to about 10,000 developers. Engagement is mostly online through the developer portal and typical third-party channels, but there is some face to face outreach via hackathons and meetups, typically within a single region.

There is a overall developer marketing budget of up to $1M in place, and a team to provide product management and product engineering plus developer outreach and support engineering.

Challenger programs are asking questions about marketing strategy, such as the best activities for RoI, reaching an audience, and best practices for the marketing team to follow to justify their budget.

Examples include Pivotal and Mastercard.


Image source: Camera Eye Photography on Flickr CC BY 2.0

Authority developer programs are well established and offer a portfolio of developer products for their audience. There will be a range of APIs or SDKs available for a disparate developer audience of up to several hundred thousand that is located in multiple global regions.

The total developer marketing program is staffed and funded at a level appropriate to its size, typically up to $5M. There will be a need for a number of product managers and product engineers, plus a separate team for developer relations and developer marketing, plus a level of developer product business development.

Developer marketing will be able to present a range of events, and provide a solid online presence via a mature developer portal that has suitably high levels of documentation and technical support, as well as engagement external via third-party channels. Authority developer programs are sufficiently established to run a number of developer facing events per year across different regions, including hackathons, conferences and sponsored events. They may also provide training and developer certification.

The Authority programs are looking for validation for their marketing spend, and want to develop a strategy to target the right segments, extend their reach and build upon their established audience.

Examples include Mozilla and Unity.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Unicorn developer programs are well-established, providing a number of different APIs and/or SDKS to a range of different developer profiles across a broad audience that numbers in the millions. The program is well staffed and funded with a budget of over $5M, which is used to provide a wide level of engagement online and in person at events, hackathons and training.

The Unicorns need to focus on the competition to stay ahead, and look to build up regional audiences where these do not currently exist.

Examples include Google and Microsoft.

How to evolve your developer marketing program

Having set out the characteristics and levels of maturity for typical developer programs, the natural question is how a program makes transitions between them. It’s dependent on the core platform or product, of course, since regardless of the size and skill of your developer marketing team, it’s not possible for them to deliver unless developers see value in it. And that comes down to your place in the market and how you deliver on your roadmaps and vision.

Investment in the right elements of the developer program is also key; if you do not provide what your audience needs and values, you will not reach it. SlashData’s Developer Program Benchmark reports tracks the leading developer programs through twice-yearly surveys that that assess developer satisfaction across 20+ developer program features and services, including marketing. The reports show the levels of importance that developers place upon each feature, which can be used to guide the focus of marketing spend within a program of any stage of maturity.

Ultimately, building reputation among developers comes down to the quality and nature of the communication you have with them, and in this, your developer marketing and relations team are crucial. As we explain in Selling it Softly, developers possess a healthy level of cynicism towards anything that could be interpreted as marketing. Anyone venturing into developer marketing swiftly becomes aware of the developer’s disdain for the hard sell. Our book sets out some best practice in some of the many aspects of developer marketing, but a central message runs through it: respect the unique character of your audience!

If you’re setting up a developer program as a Newbie, or already up and running and aiming to ‘cross the chasm’ to the next level in the maturity model, we have data to help you focus your efforts and budget in the areas that matter most to your developer audience. Our mission is to help the world understand developers. We help the top 100 technology firms understand the profile of developer communities and measure the ROI of their developer strategies. As an analyst firm, we survey 40,000+ developers annually and analyse that data to help our clients target the right developers, prioritise the right features for their products, and optimise their marketing budget to drive developer engagement and satisfaction. If you’ve any questions about what we do, or want to find out more, please do get in touch!

PS: While you’re here. if you want to find out more about the subject of developer marketing, check out our book, Developer Marketing: The Essential Guide.