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Why Marketing to Web3 Developers is Uniquely Difficult (But Attainable)

As someone who has spent over 7 years working in crypto, as a marketer or non-technical person, with more than 80% of my efforts focused on attracting developers, I've cultivated strong empathy for technical audiences. 

There are playbooks around and set processes some follow, but we must remember that web3 is still super dynamic. The projects consistently evolve. With that, marketing to devs becomes uniquely challenging. Unlike mainstream (or end) users susceptible to hype, devs prioritize functionality over flashy promises. Devs often possess deep technical expertise, making it even more complex to do any marketing. 

The open nature of web3 means there is no unified tech stack. As this developer overview map (from Maria Shen x Electric Capital's 2023 Developer Report) shows, most devs piece together components multi-chain, i.e, across protocols, languages, libraries, and toolsets:

Web3 devs use diverse technical tool sets in the multi-chain environment, but their focus areas vary, whether building for DeFi, NFTs, LSTs, GameFi, Onchain Social, Storage, or more verticals. 

Below, I explore key reasons marketing web3 dev infrastructure is tremendously tricky, but can work in your favor if you do things right.

1. All problems are messaging problems (and the quick pace in crypto just makes it more difficult)

I firmly believe what Shreyas says about messaging that all problems are messaging problems. This particularly rings true in dev marketing, where communicating complex technical concepts and selling the value prop often prove difficult—failing to grasp devs' specialized needs through messaging risks any initial traction. 

Conversely, new frameworks, governance proposals, paradigms, and tools constantly emerge in web3, invariably leading to outdated marketing campaigns. The sheer volume of new languages, APIs, SDKs, RPCs, and infrastructure to track makes positioning difficult.

2. Developers Care About Building, Not Hype

Web3 devs don't care about the new integration/feature you just launched!

They care about building apps, not empty marketing promises. They make calculated, practical choices based on resources -- documentation, capabilities, and proven utility. 

Generic messaging and hype fall entirely flat with this audience.

You might get some initial traction from hackathon bounties or prizes, but it immediately fizzles out once the incentives dry out.

3. Highly Technical Target Audience Requires Specialization

Open-source generally means the devs are pretty hands-on and hardcore -- they appreciate high technical standards.  Communicating complex cryptographic concepts effectively is table stakes.

Grasping developers' attention requires demonstrating deep specialization in certain concepts.

It could be from zk-proofs to L2 scaling, account abstraction, consensus protocols, and mechanism design. 

Marketing must match devs' rigorous technical standards OR at least sit with a few of them (whom you can access) to break down the concepts in your own way.

4. Developers Value Anonymity   

Anonymity is sacred for many web3 devs.

As a result, typical marketing levers like advertising, promotional campaigns have limited applicability.

You could still target specific communities where they exist, but inorganic outreach is nearly impossible. 

5. High Attrition During Onboarding  

The game is about being relentlessly resourceful! (h/t: OG PG!)

More so in the case of web3 devs.

The resourcefulness needs to be aligned with developer goals. A long learning curve can cause devs to drop off during onboarding itself. I have seen this time and time again.

  • Do devs have tools?

  • Can they share feedback? 🔄

  • Do they have access to all the libraries? 📚

  • Do they have suitable templates to kickstart?

  • Do they have access to the proper documentation? 📜

  • Do they have the basic infrastructure to reach MVP quickly?

Answer these questions honestly, and you will be golden!

6. Developer Funnel Optimization

Building an efficient developer acquisition funnel is paramount. This starts with understanding the devs' needs and pain. Addressing these concerns through funnel messaging boosts conversion rates.

Dave McClure of 500 Startups came up with Pirate Metrics 17 years ago. I still use it, adding modifiers wherever I can.

Here's what I came up for web3 developer acquisition:

In the acquisition stage, devs are attracted through initial touchpoints through either video content, blog posts, an X thread, or a Reddit AMA, drawing them to the website/ engaging them in dev-centric events like hackathons. Community onboarding further involves newcomers joining Discord servers or Gitter Communities, Telegram channels, attending workshops or webinars and interactive tutorials.

The activation phase hinges on providing robust Q&A and development support through dedicated channels like Discord, Governance Forums, or Slack, alongside simplifying access to APIs and SDKs via direct application interfaces and developer portals. 

To ensure retention, ongoing engagement is critical through technical community calls, newsletters, community events, and personalized outreach, especially for developers actively using the API/SDKs and building MVPs. This stage is critical for monitoring onchain developer usage patterns and supporting active developers.

The referral stage leverages a structured referral program, offering incentives for developers to bring in their peers, and focuses on maximizing Average Revenue Per Developer, modified from ARPU, through onchain pricing models or network fees if it is a protocol for certain premium features, ensuring a sustainable revenue model for the protocol and a thriving developer community.

In 2018, when I joined Near Protocol, I was involved in the genesis of the Whiteboard Series with Near, alongside Alex, Illia, and Sasha.

WBS is a series of technical deep dive sessions with top L1s and L2s in the ecosystem. When we started this, we aimed to bring all the L1s together, as there wasn't substantial technical content on the core infrastructure design of these protocols. That was the opportunity. I was responsible for everything behind the scenes, marketing and distribution. We did whiteboard sessions predominantly in Near's SOMA office in SF, and some of them were also shot at premier events like ETH Denver 2019 and Consensus 2019.

I was there at Near until Episode 25. They have continued pushing these. (currently at #52) 

Though the views won't tell you the story, it is the perfect example of -- being the top acquisition channel for a highly technical developer audience.

Today, the Whiteboard Series with Near has become industry defining content, with people mentioning it in conversations to date.

7. Grassroots Community Building   

Community is the ultimate moat in web3.

Successful projects selflessly build environments for builders to collaborate. Developer retention improves significantly with communal support during testing/troubleshooting. 

This begins with having the right ‘Dev Community GTM’ in place. 

Here is how you can go about it:

Building a high-impact developer community via:

  1. Running/ sponsoring Hackathons at key dev events

    ETHGlobal, ETHDenver, SFDeveloperWeek, and others.

  2. Focusing on dev-dense cities/countries 

    Top-tier dev cities worldwide: Bangalore, Beijing, Singapore, Kyiv, Lisbon, Tokyo, Guangzhou, Hyderabad, Berlin, Tel Aviv, SF, Denver, NYC, Austin, LA, Seattle, and Toronto.

  3. Ramp up ( partner) with dev-focused bootcamps

    There are many. Encode Club, Alchemy University, ConsenSys Academy, and others.

I also highly recommend reading Nader's post on building high impact developer communities, which covers everything from 0 to 1 to 10 for developer community building.

8. Establishing Deep KOL (Tech/DevRel) Relationships

Key Opinion Leaders provide invaluable perspectives into the Developer Experience challenges facing projects. KOL partnerships lend credibility and reduce friction during critical onboarding phases.

There are a bunch of outstanding DevRel engineers on X. For instance, I found this list curated by Angel Jones, which could be a starting point for projects to reach out to DevRels with specific needs.  The critical point to remember here is to be genuine and think about adding value to their community and then aligning your goals with their objectives.

9. Meeting Developers Where They Are

Being active on dev-centric platforms helps.

A specific tactic here is seeding answers ( potentially questions) on platforms like StackOverflow, Reddit, and Quora. Some of them are also onchain, on Farcaster. First, I'd list all the communities/channels and specific questions asked and then strategize how to be a part of the conversation.

You can explore more creative ways to engage based on what's current to you -- say you're launching an NFT feature, a DEX upgrade, or an onchain leaderboard.

Establishing a presence on these platforms requires you to deploy different content strategies against what you would do on general and established social channels. What works as mostly broadcasts on Twitter and Discord might not work in specific high-networked communities.

It is an iterative process, and navigation depends on consistency. 

10. Finally, TRUST!

Outreach of any kind is a hard no for developers, but it all comes down to one word: TRUST!

Once you win their trust or have a hold on them, I would find ways to get their attention to create a soft feedback loop.

Once they are in your closed group, inviting them to write guest posts, podcast interviews, and AMAs becomes super easy. The more developers are exposed, the more trust they instill in you.

In conclusion, web3 developer marketing requires deep empathy, technical understanding, and tailored messaging catering to developers' values.

Projects willing to invest and conquer these challenges gain access to the world’s most talented builders.

I'm still learning, but I am also curious to hear what other obstacles you think make marketing to web3 developers uniquely tricky and how you've tried overcoming them.

Feel free to reach out to me on X. (DMs are always open)

In my day-to-day, I work at Powerloom, a composable data network, where part of my job is also helping grow the developer community alongside the DevRel and Engineering team—more on this in my next post. 🙂

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