Improve email communication with developer audiences

Emerald A line drawing by Pablo Picasso | What’s with the random art?

A few weeks ago, Evans Data released a new report that found “I’ll targeted messaging as biggest ‘Pet-Peeve’ in developer marketing.” (read the full release). That shouldn’t come as a big surprise, seeing as most of the marketing email communication sent from vendors isn’t done in a highly-intelligent or intentional way. Some of this can fall on the shoulders of marketers who aren’t technical enough to understand what will be of interest to a developer and some of it might even be the handy work of marketers who are just being lazy. Though this might be true, I don’t think we can blame all of it on miss-guided developer marketing teams. Instead, I think that there is a second culprit, and it goes by the name of ‘automation’.

For years, marketing teams have invested massive amounts into building automated marketing systems that can do the work of entire teams without ever skipping a beat or missing a follow up. Now that we’ve done it, we’re realizing that our marketing utopia is not quite what we wanted. In fact, it’s not what anyone wanted.

Marketing automation started off with good intentions. The goal was to provide a great customer experience, and in many ways, it has accomplished that. Try to imagine a world without shipping confirmations, password reset emails, RSS feeds, or guided on boarding emails. That convenience has come at a price. The price is our relationship with customers, for anyone reading this blog, that’s a relationship with your developer audience.

What’s the solution?

Here’s where it becomes quite difficult. We live in a world where scalability is essential, everything we do in the business world is focused on scalability. But, like I once said on Twitter “The issue with building for scalability is that when you get in trouble, you’re in trouble at scale …”

To be clear, I’m not advocating against the pursuit of scalability or automation. I believe that they have their place in business, and that their place is not to replace a real relationship with your database. Systems act upon the data they are provided; they don’t question the validity of that data or the external environment in which it’s being used. They don’t understand the nuances of human behavior, they simply execute commands when a specific criterion has been met.

I believe that the line between what should and what shouldn’t be automated exists, but it’s not black and white. I think that a lot of our email communication issues can be solved through accurately segmenting databases by region, interest, and relationship type. Then it’s the responsibility of marketers to validate and maintain a high-level of data hygiene in their database. Its’s also their responsibility to exercise self-control when it comes to emailing their database.

Email communication should be evaluated on a per-email basis. When emailing developers who are highly engaged with your community, be more personal. When emailing developers who you just met at a conference, be professional, direct, and don’t pretend that they remember you or come up with a generic sales follow up message. Put a face to your email communication and allow developers to reply back (aka don’t use a no-reply@ email). When emailing globally, be conscious of regional sayings that might not translate to other cultures. Don’t use personal information like a first name, company name, or usage data that you wouldn’t feel comfortable using if you were meeting the person for the first time in real life. Just think of how weird it would be for someone to walk up to you on the street and say “Hi, name. I noticed that you and your team has been reading our blogs on how to migrate x … based on your usage, I thought you might want to attend our upcoming tech talk.” When we read over the list above, most of us would cringe at it, yet it’s exactly what we do in developer marketing all the time and it has to stop.

This post turned into more of a rant than I had intended, for that, I apologize. I hope that it inspires you to level-up your email communication standards and put the relationship with your developer community above your marketing performance metrics. It’s important to remember that a little bit of intentionality goes a really long way in marketing - jw