Anatomy of Awareness - DevRel Edition
Written by: Cody
0 reactions 2023-03-06
You really can’t talk about Developer Relations without talking about the concept of “Awareness”. Most individuals within the Developer Relations space spend a fair amount of their time trying to increase overall visibility or engagement of a product through activities like content creation, community engagement, or any of a multitude of different activities that fall under the general awareness-generation bucket (more on those later).
So right out of the gate, what is “Awareness”?
To me, the simplest definition of “Awareness” is activities that make a product more discoverable in a given space, accelerate the speed of use case identification, and increase the engagement or adoption of it (when applicable).
For the uninitiated (I love using that phrase), what does this translate to in practical tasks? Let’s unpack it a bit.
The idea of “Awareness” commonly has 2 aspects, Brand Awareness, and Solution Awareness (it can be called a lot of things, but work with me here).
Brand Awareness - This is the recognizability of your product overall. It’s often a product of your brand design team and the way they approach the look and feel of your overall content. These are the ad’s, the billboards, and the way your product is seen outside of the the core-solution space. This is also things like your booth presence at a conference, the places your branding appears, etc…
Solution Awareness - This is the one we engage with the most within Developer Relations. This is the way our product is discovered as being a solution for the space we operate in, the discovery of its capabilities, the use cases it can solve, understandings of the near-adjacent topics that die in (i.e. Software Pipelining as it relates to Feature Flags for my space). Things like trial engagement, or free tier sign-ups for products that have it. It’s the ways people discover how you fit into their picture, and the things they consume to get them there.
- Conference/Meetup Speaking - One of the main components of awareness generation is the presence at conference and meetup events. Compelling conversations can often draw a crowd, and often give a low-bar approach to having people discover/interact with you.
- Hackathons - Late add on this one (oops!) but Hackathons are another great awareness driver. Giving your users some creative freedom to explore your product through a lens that matches their own personal use case. In recent years, in-person hackathons have been more challenging to put together - so consider virtual as an option.
- Webinar / Digital Events - Webinars and Digital Events end up being a lot more connected to your overall revenue process; but can still be ran as awareness events when done right.
- Ungated Blog/Written Content - Content that helps teams understand what your solution is and what it’s used for. This might be technical or more thought leadership in nature. The value of written content is it’s discoverability. Authentic, SEO optimized content is one of the low-key greatest drivers of awareness. Ungated means that users can consume it without submitting contact information.
- Video Content - Video is taking over the content world. I talk about this a bit in my Next Age of DevRel blog post, but with YouTube becoming one of the dominant ways teams search for information - awareness investment in this space is huge.
- Live Stream - This one is a bit controversial - because it often takes significant engagement/activities to drive a livestream to be successful. That being said - the light lift approach to “learn together and interact” creates a great path for people to explore your brand. The time commitment/consistency commitment is a challenge.
- Sandbox/Explorative Content - This is content that lets users get hands on with your product and explore its functionality. Think of things like Replit, StackBlitz, etc…
- Workshops - Hands on activities where you can control the experience of the attendees and guide them through a set of tasks.
- Community Engagement Efforts - This ones is another controversial take, but community can absolutely help drive awareness, depending on how you position the engagement. For example, if you’re hosting an event - leveraging your community as a way to create long engagement after the event is a great way to continue building awareness with attendees.
There is, at times, a healthy friction between awareness focused activities and revenue/lead generation focused activities. Figuring out the right balance is something that many organizations struggle with. Poor versions of this balance either create too aggressive of a sales connection to your overall brand awareness, and too little makes it challenging to get buy-in from the rest of your organization on the activities you’re doing. Trust me, it’s a lot easier when marketing wants to include you in their efforts, or when your revenue organization feels like you’re a good partner to have.
Awareness gets a bad rap because of the perception that it’s disconnected from revenue or lead generating activities. This is tragically incorrect. In fact, when done authentically, it can be one of the fastest accelerators of revenue in your organization.
Authentically approached awareness (whew, that wasn’t on purpose but I’m leaving it there) has the ability to:
- Create better long-term engagement with your product
- Produce higher quality leads that move through the marketing/sales funnel quicker.
- Identify use case match to your product quicker, and disqualify people who don’t
- Reduce time to “next use case” (i.e. the discovery that users can do more than they originally thought)
- Provide your sales teams with ways to quickly answer challenge / proof of value conversations
- Build and scale the ability of your teams to speak authentically about the capabilities of your product/solution space
The focus shouldn’t be on disconnecting “awareness” activities from “lead” or “revenue” activities. The focus should be on creating authentic experiences that engage practitioners make them want to continue engagement.
So how can we land the balance? Well, the answers complicated, and it varies organization to organization, especially when considering who are your target audience is. Before we dive into that - it’s a good moment to take a look at how the early stages of lead generation activity work.
We’ve all received sales calls from software companies I’m sure. There’s a lot of way’s that can happen, but for the purposes of this blog we’re going to focus on the marketing lead process. Theres a great blog from RevOps Co-Op that covers a lot of these terms/stages in detail. These might shift based on organization or what stages they optimize around. Some might be omitted entirely. This diagram should work at a high level. Let’s dig in a bit deeper.
- Lead Activity - This could be a number of different things, maybe it’s a webinar, or a table/booth at a conference you attend. It’s a place where you submit your name and contact information to. You are officially a Marketing Acquired Lead (MAL), but you haven’t done anything at this point.
- Participation/Activation - You attend a webinar, you do a demo session, you sign up for the white paper and explore it. Marketing considers you “qualified” at this point as a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).
- Hand-off to SDR/BDR (Sales/Business Development Rep) + Booking of Discovery Meeting - In these 2 stages you’re having that first conversation about the product. They are figuring out if you’re more than just someone who wanted the white-paper in passing, or the raffle ticket. You’re hearing about the high level solution and seeing if there’s a use case match. If yes, the SDR/BDR books a meeting with sales. This is a Sales Accepted Lead (SAL).
- Sales Discovery Call - First chat with the sales team for your account (different segments apply here). If the use case match continues, and there appears to be a problem that can be solved, Sales considers you a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) and you cruise onward into the revenue process.
- Forecasted Deal/Opportunity - Assuming everything goes well, and they wow you with their wares, you become a Sales Accepted Opportunity (SAO) and the revenue engine takes over.
And that how is how your simple conversation about getting a pair of conference swag socks turns into a potential deal. So where can Developer Relations fit into this process?
The spicy truth is that everyone who interacts with your platform is a lead. The mistake many organizations make is treating all of those leads the same. The same way that all users who interact with your platform are a lead - nearly all of the DevRel tasks can directly improve revenue efforts. As discussed earlier, when a product is well understood by users who discover it (often through content), sales teams need to expend less effort on the education portions of their own activity cycle. Educated customers are more focused on having their use cases satisfied than having to figure out where the product fits in.
Skilled DevRel members will look at the activities that they are participating in, and help craft “what comes next” for the people who attend it. This doesn’t apply to every activity you do - but when we look at the same diagram above, overlayed with some of our common awareness activities, we can start seeing where the connective tissue exist.
Let’s use an example from earlier - Conference speaking engagements. Most DevRel folks I know get pinged immediately after they speak by attendees who want the deck content, or want the demo content to explore on their own. A good experience would be a QR code that exists within your slide deck that drops the users to a form, which when they fill out, drops an email to your DevRel@company.com email address requesting the materials - where you can respond and engage, and if they want to learn more, easily hand-off to your own internal teams. A scalable version of this would be to enable your SDR/BDR team to respond to those, providing your content back to the requestor and engaging in discussion around the topic. Creating conversation points for your team ahead of times allows them to have a meaningful conversation around the presentation, and ultimately if they want to learn more, gives them a friction free path to further engagement. You can even tag your QR code with a UTM tag that reflects an identifier unique to you, that you can use to measure the incoming engagement - giving you a good way to tangibly measure the impact of your talk.
Conversely, A bad version of this process would be one that when the user fills out the from and is immediately dropped into the sales funnel process, without and context or discussion prep. Your team is unprepared for the conversation, and the user ends up just feeling sold to.
This shift represents a small set of actions that can create better engagement for the user, helps you measure your own impact, as well as helps grow the skills of your SDR/BDR team for conversations with your audience.
- Trial / Free Tier Sign-Ups - How can you use UTM codes alongside the sign-up URLs to track which of these leads comes from your DevRel activities, and how can you enable your SDR/BDR/Sales teams to make the most of that interaction? Are you providing them with assets they can share to ensure the user has a high-success interaction with the user?
- Content Gates - Think about what content makes sense to be gated vs not, and how you’re incentivizing people to access that gate. Gated content should often be the more formalized deeper dive content (i.e. whitepaper level).
- Community - How are you measuring and creating meaningful engagement with the most engaged members of your community? For example, if you have a member who shares your content on LinkedIn, comments on your YouTube videos, and participates in Discord, are you creating a path for further interaction? Note that i don’t mean dropping them into your standard lead sequence - but there are also paths to create better engagement with those individuals who have clearly shown a high level interest. How are you treating this different from someone who simply joins your Discord and hangs out? Hint: You should be handling these different. Please don’t do outreach on every member who joins your community.
At the end of the day, my approach to DevRel is treating it as a core part of the overall “business” - and so I take an approach that protects my users from unnecessary friction, but also recognizes that they are a part of our user communities because of a service we offer or a skillset we have. Instead of staying away from any sort of revenue attachment, I bias towards trying to create more authentic experiences that make users want to engage further. This is only one approach, and I’m sure others have very different approaches.
Ultimately, we all need to know our customers, and know the best ways to create that engagement with them. My ways might not work for you, and thats ok! It’s one of the things that makes our space so exciting, is learning the different approaches and strategies to making successful products.
My closing advice is this - balance carefully the needs of your users with the needs of your business. Relationships are 2-way, and if you’re balancing authentic practitioner activities with thoughtful handoffs to your sales teams, you’ll go far. Be the DevRel who understands how lead sequences works, provides content to BDR/SDR teams to have compelling conversations, creates content that supports your SE/AE revenue teams efforts, AND push for creating authentic experiences for your users. You’ll go far.