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Everything I've Learned About Devtools Marketing

Developer tools (often shortened “devtools”) are the unsung heroes of software development. Software engineers use them to streamline workflows, automate tedious tasks, and unlock new possibilities, but when it comes to marketing them, the path to success isn’t always straightforward.

Since I started building Draft.dev a few years ago, I have worked with more than 100 developer tools companies and seen them try various marketing tactics, and come to appreciate the unique challenges and complexities of this field.

So in this post, I want to share my learnings from the past 5-6 years to empower your devtools marketing journey, whether you’re starting fresh or fine-tuning your strategy.


Lesson 1: What is a Devtool?

Many outside the industry might not realize that developers rely on a vast arsenal of tools, often called “devtools,” to get their job done. A devtool (short for developer tool) is a software application specifically designed to aid in the development process.

These tools go beyond the typical software most people are familiar with. Imagine the testing tools, automation software, and infrastructure tools that companies like Microsoft, AWS, and Azure provide. These are all examples of devtools.

However, the sheer diversity of devtools presents a unique marketing challenge. Many valuable tools operate “behind the scenes,” so to speak, remaining invisible to typical marketing folks. This presents the first challenge in devtools marketing: you must understand what your tool does for developers.

My advice for anyone starting in the field is:

  1. Learn the tool’s function. Know its strengths and how it improves development workflows.
  2. Translate technical to non-technical. Learn how to explain the tool on a high level. 
  3. Get familiar with the language and the knowledge base the developers use in your company.

Lesson 2: One Devtools Marketing Strategy Doesn’t Fit All

The devtools market is a thriving ecosystem bursting with diversity. This variety is exciting, but it also presents a unique challenge for marketers: there’s no single magic formula that works for everyone. So, how do you find your devtools marketing strategy in a market overflowing with diversity?

Understand Your Strengths:

Having collaborated with over 100 devtools companies, I’ve learned that successful marketing strategies are custom-built, not one-size-fits-all.

Large enterprises with big budgets can afford complex, resource-intensive campaigns. But replicating that approach for a smaller startup? Recipe for disaster.

Instead, embrace your nimbleness. As a startup, you have the freedom to experiment and test freely, unburdened by bureaucratic hurdles. Leverage this agility to discover unique value propositions and perspectives that larger companies cannot replicate.

Specify Your Target Audience:

The devtools market encompasses a vast spectrum, from hosting providers like DigitalOcean to IDE developers like JetBrains. Each segment caters to a distinct developer profile and sales cycle. Are you targeting CTOs, entry-level developers, or somewhere in between? Understanding your target audience is vital in shaping your marketing strategy.

Consider Your Devtool’s Adoption Model:

Finally, consider the adoption model of your tool. Is it a top-down solution requiring team-wide implementation and CTO approval, or is it a bottom-up tool where individual developers can sign up and start using it immediately?

Top-down solutions involve longer sales cycles and potentially higher investments, while bottom-up tools offer faster adoption but potentially lower initial revenue streams. Aligning your marketing strategy with your product’s adoption model is crucial for maximizing its effectiveness.

By acknowledging the inherent diversity of the devtools market and tailoring your approach to your unique strengths and product characteristics, you can pave the path to a successful marketing strategy.

Lesson 3: Building Trust Is The Only Way

Let’s face it, developers are a savvy bunch. They have got ad blockers on lockdown and cold emails find their way straight to the trash bin. So, how do you reach these valuable users in the devtools space? The answer is simple, yet often overlooked: build trust.

First of all, content is king. Developers are bombarded with information on a daily basis. They don’t have time for fluff. That’s why content marketing is your secret weapon. Whether it’s technical blog posts, video tutorials, developer-specific events, community-building or even contributing to open-source projects, the goal is the same: connect with developers on their terms, in a way that is friendly and helpful for them. 

Secondly, concentrate on the users, not your product. By creating valuable, informative content that troubleshoots real-world developer challenges, you’re not just pushing a product, you’re offering genuine help. This user-centric approach sets you apart from companies focused solely on features and flashy marketing campaigns. It shows developers that you understand their needs and are committed to being a valuable resource, not just another vendor.

Lastly, consider open-sourcing your tool or parts of it. This allows developers to see your work firsthand and fosters a sense of trust and collaboration. Building a strong reputation, having a great team, and actively participating in developer relations (DevRel) activities all contribute to this trust-building equation.

Remember, content isn’t just a marketing tactic, it’s the foundation of building lasting relationships with developers. When you prioritize trust and focus on user needs, you’re laying the groundwork for long-term success in devtools marketing.

Twitter is full of folks bragging about their latest “growth hack” to skyrocket their SaaS startup or grab a thousand users overnight. While these might occasionally bear fruit, the truth is that consistent, long-term strategies are the true foundation of devtools marketing success. Think of it this way: would you rather chase the latest hot stock hoping to get lucky, or invest in a diversified, well-established index fund like the S&P 500? The S&P might not make headlines with overnight gains, but its consistent, long-term growth is what truly builds wealth.

So how do we create good content consistently and repeatedly? 

One thing you shouldn’t do is overburning yourself by investing in only one channel. Spreading yourself too thin can lead to burnout and hinder results. Instead, choose a few channels that align with your audience and resources, and consistently deliver valuable content and engagement through those channels.

However, achieving this consistency can be especially challenging for early-stage startups with venture capital. The pressure to deliver quick results is real, leading to a search for silver bullets and shortcuts.

So, for early-stage startups with limited timeframes, the best strategy is leveraging personal relationships and founder credibility. Founders can be powerful advocates, actively engaging with the community through events, podcasts, webinars, and social media. Involving the founders in early-stage marketing demonstrates commitment and fosters trust with potential users.

For companies with a long-term horizon, the focus should shift towards building valuable, enduring assets that build value over time. This includes content, sample projects, open-source contributions, and exceptional documentation. All those are forms of developer marketing that can help build up this annuity they can be interlinked together and repurposed. A well-written blog post can be transformed into a video and then adapted into a compelling conference talk. This approach allows you to leverage a single piece of content across multiple channels, maximizing its reach and impact.

Lesson 5: Marketing Is The Last To Get Credit And The First To Get Blamed

In the devtools space, success often shines on the latest technological advancements. While these are crucial, another important factor often gets overlooked: the significant contributions of marketing.

Marketing plays a vital role in building brand awareness, generating leads, and nurturing developer communities. It’s the engine that drives adoption and propels a devtool from launch to widespread success. However, marketing often operates in a thankless environment.

One significant challenge for marketing teams is often inheriting a raw product lacking features and documentation

This creates two main difficulties:

  • Blurry Target Audience: With an incomplete product, understanding who the tool benefits becomes a significant challenge.
  • Content Creation Struggles: Crafting meaningful content becomes an uphill battle when the team doesn’t grasp the product’s nuances and how it addresses developer challenges.

The result? Content that generates traffic without driving conversions, potentially leading to unfair blame directed toward the marketing team.

When things go well, other departments may take credit for the success, while marketing becomes the first target if things fall short. This phenomenon isn’t unique to early-stage startups. Even Series B companies can resort to drastic measures, with entire marketing departments facing the brunt of the blame when things go south.

This “blame game” has led to a growing pool of talented devtools marketing professionals seeking new opportunities compared to just a couple of years ago. If you’re looking for new opportunities in the devtools marketing space or a company seeking to fill a role, visit DevRel Careers to find or post jobs.

Lesson 6: The Most Common Devtools Marketing Tactics

Now that we’ve tackled the complexities and realities of devtools marketing, and hopefully learned a thing or two about building trust and being consistent, let’s explore the essential tactics that form the foundation of success. These strategies, while seemingly universal, require careful tailoring to resonate with your specific audience and product.

Events: Connecting Face-to-Face

Live events might have faced a temporary setback, but their importance in devtools marketing hasn’t wavered. Being a part of these events is crucial for building relationships and establishing your brand. Conferences like Kubecon and AWS re:Invent offer prime opportunities to connect with your target audience and showcase your product. Use events to engage in thought-provoking sessions, facilitate workshops, and actively foster connections with attendees.

Building Trust Through Valuable Content

Content marketing is the cornerstone of devtools marketing and for good reason. By providing valuable knowledge and solutions to existing developer problems, you establish yourself as a trusted resource. Content can take two key forms:

a) Written Content:

Blog posts, tutorials, case studies, or even comprehensive documentation are powerful tools for building trust. Remember, the goal here is not just to sell your product, but to educate, inform, and solve problems for developers over time. An agency like Draft.dev can be particularly helpful in getting your written content out there.

b) Video Content:

Video content offers an engaging and accessible format for reaching a wider developer audience. Video is increasingly popular with younger generations and companies can utilize diverse video formats like product demos, explainer animations, or even interview-style content to cater to different learning styles and preferences.

Community-driven Marketing:

Community-driven marketing is a powerful, yet long-term play. The goal is to foster an organic, developer-led community around your product. This can involve building forums, online communities, or even internal user groups. Building a thriving community takes time and dedication, but the rewards are significant: increased user engagement, valuable product feedback, and an amplified brand voice through organic word-of-mouth.

Social Media:

Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are popular among developers, but they are wary of intrusive advertising. Instead of solely promoting your product on social media, use these platforms to actively listen to developer conversations, understand their needs and challenges, and engage in meaningful discussions. This authentic approach can help you build brand awareness and foster positive sentiment towards your product.


The world of developer marketing is complex and ever-evolving. While building trust with developers remains the cornerstone of success, the methods for achieving it are constantly evolving. Video content is rapidly gaining popularity, offering an engaging and accessible format to reach developers.

Through a strategic blend of valuable content, genuine community engagement, thoughtful use of social media, and a presence at key industry events, you can position your devtool for enduring success.

Remember, consistency is key. While the lure of quick wins and flashy tactics is strong, it’s the steadfast commitment to providing value to developers that will truly pay off in the long run.

Finally, if you’d like to start investing in authentic devtools marketing content, book a call with us to learn more. We specialize in both technical written content and engaging video tutorials, specifically tailored to reach software developers.

Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.