2013-11-18

A Brief Guide To Marketing Your Dev Shop

Getting contract development work requires a lot more than AdWords and nice references. Here’s how one Texas dev shop used content marketing to drive attention to the great work they were already doing.



Let’s be honest: Many folks in tech take a dim view of marketing. Very early in my tenure with Mutual Mobile, an Austin-based app developer, I was told no one in marketing could produce anything as compelling as the engineering team.

To a degree, that opinion was right, but only if you’re talking about typical marketing--chest-beating blog posts, superficial banner ads, and other forms of hyperbole. But that that sort of marketing didn’t interest me either.

I'd been reading about native advertising, specifically content marketing, and wanted to explore this subtler approach and find out what it could do for us. Instead of shilling Mutual Mobile’s services, I thought we could educate, inform, and better connect with our audience, and that’s exactly what our team did over the next year. Here are six key lessons we learned along the way:

Lesson #1: Think Big, Start Small

Before I joined Mutual Mobile, the company had produced a copy-heavy, super-dry white paper. You know the one, the “Definitive Guide” every tech company produces--good bedtime reading for nights when you have insomnia.

No way was I going to condemn us to weekly blog posts like “Nine ways mobile can transform your sales processes!” We needed better ideas, so I looked around. I saw what our competitors were doing, what the tech giants were up to, and identified a few stand-out strategies in our very crowded tech marketing world. But before I could explore these, I first had to come up with materials that would drive some immediate sales leads.

When you’re given lemons, make lemonade. I started with that massively dry definitive guide, and devised a plan to convert it into 10 emails, six blog posts, a handful of Slideshares, and several “mini” infographics. In short order, the team had created over 20 pieces of tactical content, everything we needed for the short-term. Meanwhile, I could now focus on what I really wanted to do: comprehensive thought leadership programs.

Lesson #2: When Everyone Zigs, You Zag

Fortunately for me, none of our competitors was doing any remarkably successful marketing. Most obviously, there was a huge opportunity to stand out in our field with the addition of some video marketing.

My team's first experimentation with video was an employee-hosted series featuring the mobile news of the week, which we called Mobile Minute. Mutual Mobile is relatively unknown outside of the Austin startup scene, so we knew it would be a hard sell. That’s why we shot a pilot first and doggedly shopped it around. After getting rejected by several tech editors, I heard back from the managing editor at ReadWrite. He liked the idea and offered to run it every week.

Just before launch, ReadWrite’s corporate parent vetoed it because they couldn’t monetize it. But we were able to find a home on the more B2B-focused MarketingProfs, where we’ve had modest success. 68% of the traffic MarketingProfs sends to Mutual Mobile’s site are new visitors, and the bounce rate is a low 35% (those who spend five minutes on at least four pages).

Lesson #3: Scare Yourself, a Little

With a successful weekly video under our belt, I felt confident enough to explore daily content. I’d read about brand journalism efforts at companies like Intel, GE, and IBM. This inspired me to launch our second major thought leadership program: The Push, a blog dedicated to the trends, platforms, and strategies shaping mobile.

On the strength of their success with IBM’s Midsize Insider, I contracted content creator Skyword to provide 20-plus articles a month (allowing us to publish every business day). Heading down the brand journalism path was a significant financial investment for Mutual Mobile and not without risk. After all, we’d never done anything like it. What if no one read the posts? Even worse, what if no one liked them? Despite the loss of sleep this anxiety caused me, it felt like the right thing to do.

It turns out all the worry was for nothing. By spending several hundred dollars a month on retargeting and social media ads, we were able to drive over 40,000 pageviews in the first 90 days. Once we tapped fellow Austin startup OneSpot to boost our retargeting efforts, that number swelled even more. Among our readers: directors and VPs at Dell, Netflix, Cisco, Kimberly-Clark, and Prudential.

Lesson #4: Keep the Momentum Going

After six months of regularly producing Mobile Minute, and a few months of publishing articles to The Push, I decided to up the ante by adding another video program. Having missed out on securing a premium partner for Mobile Minute, I set my sights on Ask A Developer, a twice-weekly video series where our iOS and Android teams answer questions from real people.

Once again, we shot a pilot and this time handed it off to INK, our just-hired PR agency. In a matter of days, they had me on the phone with an editor at Mashable. Intrigued by the concept, he promised to send it through, but cautioned us not to get our hopes up. The next day, however, we were asked to take a call with Mashable’s content director. From there, things went pretty fast and my team soon found themselves cranking out videos that were getting thousands of views and tons of shares.

Lesson #5: Don’t Pause for Self-doubt

Fair warning: Until things take off, and even after, your initiatives might be called into question. You may be asked to scrap something entirely or to change directions. In these cases, politely resist and let the data make your case for you.

I recommend using a hosting service like Wistia, which tracks viewers and links across social media, so that you know who’s viewing your content and where they’re coming from. And you should always keep tabs on your traffic stats with Google Analytics. I was faced with doubting executives several times, and in each instance successfully headed off interference by presenting a progress report backed up by hard data.

Sometimes, you need to show third-party approval to justify the legitimacy of your efforts. Mutual Mobile’s marketing team surveyed readers of The Push and sought feedback from Forrester analysts on Mobile Minute episodes. In addition, we started to submit our productions to various award shows judged by peers so that we could generate some unbiased feedback.

Lesson #6: Do the Unexpected (for Better-Than-Expected Results)

Thankfully, Mutual Mobile began to see wins once our content marketing programs hit the six-month mark. Just last month, one of the market developers cold-called an EVP in insurance who recognized us as "the Mobile Minute guys." And two weeks ago a global electronics manufacturer contacted us after reading The Push. This is in addition to the hundreds of leads our new content marketing programs have spurred.

Obviously, getting Mutual Mobile's programs to where they are today wasn't without its trials. Winning approval for untested efforts was tricky, and asking leadership to be patient was even harder. There were many times when it would have been tempting to take the easy way out, but I chose not to. Of course, the advantage of doing things differently was that we stood out and were able to showcase our expertise in ways competitors haven't. If that's not worth taking some risk for, I don't know what is.

Chris Boyles (@chrsboyls) is the former Content Director at Mutual Mobile. He recently left to join Chaotic Moon, a software development firm in Austin, TX.

[Image: Flickr user Spinster Cardigan]