How to Reach Developers with Sponsored Content

Portrait of Melina Panitsidis
by Melina Panitsidis
Jul 23, 2020

Developers are a notoriously hard audience to crack when it comes to marketing.

They're natural skeptics and don't like loud, intrusive ads following them around on the internet. That's why reaching developers through traditional marketing tactics just won't cut it.

So say goodbye to heavy data-layered targeting campaigns, because reaching ad-averse developers requires a different, more practical strategy— like sponsored content.

Sponsored content is a simple strategy that packs a big punch— especially if your target audience falls in the developer community. A sponsored content campaign allows marketers to build trust, create real connections, and provide value to developers on their terms.

Ready to crack that developer's code?

First, what is sponsored content?

In short, sponsored content is where a company pays to place a piece of content on the site of a trusted publisher.  

It’s a simple yet highly effective strategy for marketers. Why? It offers marketers an opportunity to expand reach to a targeted audience and gives readers valuable information that ultimately leads to increased brand awareness, trust, and credibility. And since sponsored content fits naturally onto a publisher’s website, consumers aren’t left with the impression that they’ve seen an ad.

Here’s what a sponsored post on the popular web & development community site, CSS-Tricks looks like:

CSS-tricks_sponsored content

What makes sponsored content different from other advertising forms?

It acts as a chameleon

For one thing, it doesn’t feel like advertising. Like native advertising, sponsored content blends into its surroundings. And in a world where brands try every trick in the book to stand out, it might seem counterintuitive to try blending in, but research shows that 25% more consumers look at sponsored articles over display ads. 

Sponsored content aligns with a publisher’s website and is relevant to their audience— otherwise it wouldn’t be there. Sponsored content’s only differentiating factor from other content on a website is the “sponsored” tag that accompanies it.

Overall, sponsored content is more of a suggestion rather than a true advertisement.

It informs

Other forms of advertising are used for one purpose— to promote something. Whether it's a new product, a discount offer, or an online event, most advertising is based on promotion.

Sponsored content serves as more than just a promotional play. It serves to inform. Sponsored content leaves readers with valuable information that doesn’t always have to do with the brand’s products or services. For developer communities, a sponsored post can be as simple as a coding tricks guide.

With sponsored content, readers walk away with useful information and a newly raised awareness of a brand.

Okay, so we've established the basics of sponsored content and what makes it unique, but how does it tie in with reaching developers? Keep reading.

Why does sponsored content work for developers?

It’s more than just an ad

If your target audience is developers, you already know they don’t like advertising. In fact, they’re skeptical when they do happen to come across an ad. Developers are the type to do their own research before making a purchase or commitment. In other words, they won’t take an ad at face value. They prefer to draw their own conclusion from trusted sources instead of just taking your word for it in your latest display campaign.

That’s what makes sponsored content a unique strategy for targeting developers. Sponsored content gives marketers a chance to offer the same information developers seek out (on tried and true websites) while simultaneously building brand awareness and trust.

Take it from Hover in the example below. The domain name registrar sponsored a piece of content on SpeckyBoy to reach developers. SpeckyBoy, an online magazine for developers and designers, offers tutorials and resources to developers worldwide— making it the perfect place for Hover to reach developer communities and generate some positive buzz. Did we mention they get over a million monthly page views?

Hover-Speckyboy_sponsored content

A single piece of sponsored content for Hover on SpeckyBoy resulted in: expanded and highly targeted (without being creepy) reach, increased brand awareness, and trust of their offering.

Sponsored content avoids ad blockers

Ad blockers are a huge hit in the development community. By the numbers, over 72% of developers use an ad blocker, and 62% of developers actually cited bad marketing as the primary reason for implementing an ad blocker in the first place. The truth really hurts sometimes. Consider this a wake-up call for marketers using bland marketing tactics through advertising channels that can easily be intercepted by an ad blocker.

Now for some good news— with a sponsored content campaign, you won’t need to worry about ad blockers. Sponsored content’s format falls outside of the realm in which ad blockers function because they are not traditional ads. So if you’re targeting developers, sponsored content is a must to your overall strategy.

Where does sponsored content fit into the funnel when targeting developers?

Sponsored content is ideal for top-of-funnel campaigns. However, it’s diverse enough to be suited for lower-funnel campaigns as well. It all depends on your campaign goals.

Marketing Funnel Image

Top-of-funnel campaigns

As we’ve mentioned before, sponsored content is an excellent format to drive awareness and build trust— which is why it’s a perfect match for top-of-funnel campaigns. It’s an opportunity to promote your brand and share what you can contribute to the developer ecosystem.

Not to mention, the developer community is massive. Using sponsored content at this stage allows marketers to cast a wide net across niche developer communities and fill their funnel with a diverse but targeted audience. This makes targeting specific niches within the development community easier as they work their way through the funnel. 

Lower-funnel campaigns

Lower-funnel sponsored content campaigns allow marketers to target developers with specific problems. For example, a frontend developer faces different challenges than a backend developer. Using this knowledge will help you offer a tailored solution that developers will appreciate. Whatever your targeting technique, make sure your offer speaks to a specific challenge your developer audience is facing.

How to create sponsored content for developers

Here’s the hard part: creating sponsored content that actually speaks to developers. Keep these tips in mind when creating your next sponsored content campaign for developers.

Don’t BS developers

Just don’t. By now, you've probably picked up on a theme— developers don't like fluffy, 'feel-good' advertising.

Instead of building attention-grabbing ads, you need to demonstrate how your product or service will solve a need that they have.

This also means being very careful about any claims you make. Because if there’s one audience that is going to research, test, and dissect a claim about a product—it’s developers. False claims can be detrimental to your brand, so make sure you can back it up accordingly. On the flip side, following through on your offer will score you major points within the development community.

So, how can marketers show off their brand and what it can do for developers? By serving up actionable advice on how your product fits into their everyday life as a developer. This will look different for everyone depending on the brand, product, and overall campaign goals, but according to a study from Bugherd, these are some things that would convince a developer to try a new product:

        • Free trial
        • Video/animation of the product in action
        • How it stacks up against the competition
        • Relevant case studies
        • Large social media following

Developer audience stats

Case in point— this was an actual response from a developer in this study when asked about effective marketing materials and website info: “A clean, no BS, straight-to-the-point website explaining everything in deeper pages but light enough on the appearance.”

High-quality content over anything else

Developers consume content that will educate, inform, and problem-solve, so the content you produce and share with this community should hold a lot of value. If developers can’t find the benefit in a piece of content, they’re not going to bother reading it.

Creating high-quality and easy-to-consume content is key to a successful sponsored content campaign. There are many content types out there. What resonates with one audience, doesn't carry much weight with another. Guides, best practices, and project walkthroughs are a few content types popular among developers because they can learn and draw value from them.

Sentry’s sponsored content campaign is a perfect example of this. Instead of talking about their brand, Sentry used a sponsored post on SitePoint to share a guide on debugging Python errors.

Sentry-Sitepoint_sponsored content

Sentry’s guide offered significant value to developers while also raising brand awareness. We call that a win-win.

Scope out trustworthy publishers

Your sponsored post should be in partnership with a publisher that developers know, love, and trust— otherwise, your campaign won’t be very successful. By working with popular publishers in developer communities, your brand is granted exclusive access to an engaged audience. Marketers also get the added benefit of extended trust from these publishers, which is important in the development community.

Finding developer-focused publishers is easy, once you know where to look. Your audience might be fans of CSS-Tricks, where they get all the latest on frontend development. They may rely on Smashing Magazine’s practical articles surrounding web development, or perhaps they just really look forward to tutorials from Codrops.

Bottom line, getting to know your developer audience’s go-to sources across the web will help you narrow down the best publishers for your campaign. 

Wrapping Up

When it comes to advertising, developers are especially unique. You need to earn their trust before they consider engaging with your brand. That’s what makes sponsored content an effective strategy. It’s a non-intrusive way to offer value while also allowing them to do their own research before making any drastic commitments.

Taking the time to create a well-executed sponsored content campaign will have developers buzzing about your brand within their communities in no time.