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Engaging with the developer community for successful marketing communications

Marketing communications is in arguably its most exciting phase. If you can think of an idea, more often than not some iteration of it is possible to bring to market.

In some cases, however, the typical agency is unable to supply the necessary skills to do this, particularly in terms of esoteric development skills:  When this happens some agencies can rely on offering the same old solutions. The smart firm goes out and engages with the developer community. 

1.            Strategic or ad hoc

Reaching out to the developer community will either be a strategic choice where your company has decided to invest in new third party relationships, or an ad hoc situation in which a brief or a particular client problem requires thinking and knowledge outside of your skillset.  In the second case, a fruitful experience may well lead to a decision to take a more strategic approach in future.

How you attack the project, however, will depend on where you are along that journey, and each agency or company will have their own resources, requirements and resonance. 

2. Seek and you may find

Hackers like to hack. You may find the answer to your requirements is already out there fully formed.  Alternatively, the right tech is there but the owner of the IP hasn’t foreseen the potential applications of their work and which could be adapted for your purposes.  So the first thing to do is have a good look around – don’t just use your normal search engines; duckduckgo and ixquick have relatively big followings in the developer community because they don’t keep information in the same way as the bigger brands.  This also means you’re more likely to get “fresh” results as your preferences won’t influence what you are served.  Set aside time to do this and try to have conversations with every developer you come across; this is a close knit group and even if they can’t help, they may know someone who can.   By working in this way we secured collaboration with a bedroom developer in San Diego for a pitch last year – believe it or not he had spent days working out how to determine the coarseness of hair from mobile camera pictures and was just happy that his mucking around was going to be put to use.

3.            Start the relationship right

Any engagement with IT professionals carries risk, and perhaps more so if you’re interacting with a guy operating in a bedroom in Preston.  But the best way to mitigate it is to be very clear in your brief to the developer, and to have clear ideas on remuneration whether that is in kind or in cash.  When you engage you should put together a contract of what will and will not be delivered – a Project Overview with a timescale and remuneration agreed.  We have templates that we use, but we are constantly adapting them – this is after all, a learning curve for everyone.

4.            Manage the relationship right

There are obviously also aspects of employment law to consider; make sure they are registered as a business for example.  Also, remember you’re highly likely to be dealing with an individual; and therefore your company’s normal payment procedures might not be tolerable to them, and they will be connected enough to kick up a massive fuss if they’re not happy.  Our experience shows that using a professional and flexible project manager is very helpful; many developers don’t keep office hours.  Finally, try to ensure you have an exit strategy that retains lines of communication with the developer and will help you develop a coherent strategic approach in future.

Kamil Yadallee is Head of Emerging Platforms at MEC