5 Things to Remember when Marketing a Product which solely consists of Code
Are you one of the lucky marketers who are tasked with marketing an untouchable product? In terms of SaaS products we all do market non-physical products, but once we arrive at the point, where the actual product can only be “touched” via software applications like Android Studio or XCode, we’re one layer deeper into the technology. We’ve arrived at a fascinating and somehow dark place: SDK marketing.
– Hello, I’m a marketer, I have no idea what a SDK is!
– Ooops sorry, see – see that’s what I mean, way too deep! SDK stands for “Software Development Kit” and what this term describes, is a toolkit software developers can use to build certain applications or enhance their software. Often they save time by substituting researching and programming the code on one’s own.
We will cover both ways to look at it: Marketing to software developers directly, but also marketing to companies who have their developers implement the SDK to solve a problem they’re having. Therefore the explanations in this blog post are geared towards B2B marketing.
Getting Started with SDK Marketing
Trying to market a SDK, we’re tasked with an interesting challenge: Making a product which only consists out of files full of code interesting and wonderful enough for a software developer who actually uses it, tests and integrates it. Unfortunately though, this is not where it ends – more importantly we simultaneously will have to describe the SDK without ever using the word SDK, because we might actually be selling to people who are not developers. Great, right? That why we arrive at: the “Describe a Phrase” fields of the board game Activity.
Throughout my experience working at Anyline though, I have identified a few practices that work quite well. And yes, dealing with those absolutely ignorant, uneducated and visionless (no, really – I swear!) potential customers simply do not want to understand what you are talking about, can be fun too!
Herewith, I will now condense my tediously acquired wisdom of explaining technology to the world into 5 somehow obvious SDK marketing lessons. Ready, set? Off you go, enjoy!
1. Offline Marketing is your friend!
Sorry to break this to you right at the beginning, my dear online marketing ninjas – you can crawl stackoverflow as much as you want, you will only hear how the people you try to market to call your product by actually talking to them in person. I do recommend a healthy mixture out of both – tech folks and business people.
One of the most painful marketing research places are trade fairs and conferences – especially for your business target group. Once identified a conference that might yield potential customers, go ahead and organise a small booth – even a startup table will do! And now… enjoy talking to the interesting and weird people stopping by.
Pitch what you’re doing, experience the excruciating pain marketers feel, when they can’t make themselves understood, and try again from a different angle. SDKs which can be configured by their users (developers) tend to have many explanations, always depending on the industry and on the ideas your counterpart is currently fixed upon.
Listen to your target group’s words, in order to hear how they describe your product once grasping the capabilities and features – even if the haven’t totally grasped the gist of of it, take notes! Write everything down. The simpler the words, the better. This will not only help you in talking to other people in similar target groups, it will also help you in shaping online messages – the written words describing your product!
2. Use Cases
Use Cases. You might have guessed it. You can not describe a toolkit without actually showing a use case for which the toolkit can be used. A SaaS product often solves one problem for one target group. An adaptable SDK unfortunately does solve many problems for many types of people. By giving examples, you can make the capabilities understood and spark creativity in your potential customers.
With people who have no clue what Anyline actually does, I like starting with very easy examples. Even though our SDK is a highly accurate text recognition technology, which can basically scan any kind of number, code or text on a mobile phone, I start with, “It lets you scan passports on your mobile phone”. Definitely not our fanciest use case, but the one people can imagine in an instant and which gives them context for your more complicated use cases further into the conversation.
Try coming up with use cases, and put them into action. Either finish SDK configurations yourself or organise a hackathon to have developers produce lots of showcase apps. This will show off the bandwith of what can be done with your SDK. You will need all the explanations you can get. Fun fact: Visual explanations often don’t need to be fancy, they need to deliver the use case message – even quick and dirty. We’ve made quick iPhone videos of use cases when emailing with journalists or customers and always carry a wild array on demo objects with us on personal meetings. Live demos simply work best.
Also, remember that you market yourself by placing emphasis on the awesome solutions your customers and users have built with your SDK. SDK Marketing is a lot of praising work of others, which then projects back to your product.
3. Touch and feel
My favorite topic is this one. It goes back into online marketing and product marketing. Marketers often run into this barrier if the usual marketing tricks can’t be applied, because the fancy Product Marketer’s believe system is set as follows: If you can’t design the CTA button, have a cute mascot wink at you during the app’s onboarding process or A/B test the color of your web application’s new feature, you’re powerless and useless.
Just recently I had lots of fun, actually writing readme files and making them pretty using ASCII art. Styling readme files can become a very common marketing task – who would have known! Figure out where the most unexpected places within your code and workflow of integrating the SDK are and make them fun. Infuse some of your product’s brand and soul into those seemingly unexciting bits!
I think funny inline comments are a great tool to delight developers while working with your code. I’d also put lots of focus on offering the best documentation available (we are doing this right now!) – it will reward you with very positive customer and user feedback. Simply compare what your competitors offer, there definitely is a great potential to stand out.
Then, if you read through all the blog posts and content about customer lifecycles available, you might have put together a flow chart of emails which should reach your SDK user at the right time already. At this point you are sailing in usual marketing waters again, use all of your power and make the emails engaging, fun and carrying your product’s personality. You could even use a mascot for this. Just saying.
4. Take on the alternatives
The fourth point in my list appeals to figuring out what the alternatives to your SDK are. Are they a completely different approach to the process or feature you’d like to market? Is there a simpler, easier or cheaper alternative? Probably both. Maybe not, if you’re targeting the subgroup’s subgroup of a community of ranchers in Australia, but if you’re looking into scaling a product to worldwide market leadership, there definitely is one.
In this case content marketing definitely is the way to go. For other technical frameworks you might be able to come up with workarounds. Maybe even with side projects that draw attention to you. We’ve done this with an inferior, but well known open source project – we’ve developed a free tool which makes working with this competing framework easier. Funnily enough though, even with the tool it will still not work better than our product, which is why we’re trying to pull all those the potential users to our service. The perfect moment obviously is after they’ve stranded at the tedious process with the open source software and tested out our free tool.
5. Find your perfect partners
Something we should never forget though. SDKs can often be used for similar tasks in completely different kinds of industries. Even though marketers like to think, that target groups can totally be catered to if only we research deeply enough – your task as a SDK marketer is not to come up with full blown solutions for each industry. If you were, your company could also try to become an agency that develops projects for each of them, because there will be no more time to actually work on the core technology of the SDK.
What does this tell us? Industry specialists! Agencies! Consultancies! We’re currently making our first steps towards this marketing and sales channel, and it does look like a promising one. The SDK we’re marketing needs to be built into mobile apps to function perfectly. This makes clear that we will need partners who are fond of the product, enjoy building the toolkit into their projects and take over the marketing and sales efforts for us. You need help in communicating the benefits and USP of your product, especially if you’re not focusing on this specific industry branch.
And then we’re back at praising others’ work – promoting yourself by proudly talking about your awesome partners and customers.
Alright then! This should give a little insight into what I’ve learned about SDK marketing.
QUESTIONS? LET US KNOW!