On tech branding and the myth of the indifferent developer

Who are the most passionate people in your organization?

Look around. Mull it over.

If your first thought is to look to your marketing, communications, and culture teams, you wouldn’t be alone. And why not? These people spend their days thinking about and working to improve your brand, its reputation, its identity. Outside of only perhaps your company’s founders, they’re your brand’s strongest advocates, its most ardent supporters—right?

Here at New Kind, we’re fond of saying the best brands are created from the inside out. Our entire approach to branding revolves around what we call “sharing the journey of creating the future.” It’s the idea that the best, most authentic face you can present to the world comes from inviting the most passionate people in your organization to help you discover your brand identity. Open, inclusive, and collaborative.

Identifying and involving your most passionate people is essential to creating a lasting, powerful, and resonant brand.

As a tech company CMO, HR professional, or brand manager, odds are you’ve got more than a few internal branding and culture initiatives on your plate for this year. And you’ll need a team of people to help you make sure they’re a success.

But before you make a beeline for the people and teams discussed above, there’s another crucial group of employees every tech company should include in its branding efforts:

 

Developers.

 

That’s right. The software engineers who write the code and build the product can make the difference when it comes to creating an authentic brand from the inside out. If this comes as a surprise, rest assured you aren’t alone. Few HR and marketing leaders take advantage of this valuable-yet-untapped resource sitting in their midst each and every day—but the good news is it’s not too late to change your ways.

So let’s push an update to our thinking, shall we?

Here are three good reasons to include your developers in your company’s branding efforts.

The classic developer stereotype is bogus

Pop culture would have us believe developers are an antisocial sort: mere code monkeys with an allergy to human interaction and teamwork, all too happy to be left to their own devices.

It’s a tired cliche that has far outlived its usefulness.

In truth, research shows developers are among the most creative team members a company can employ. Sure, when it’s time to go heads-down and crank out some code, many developers will don headphones for some much-needed focus. But let’s not confuse one’s preferred working style for a disinterest in the company’s mission, vision, and values.

Today’s developers are creative problem solvers. Far from isolated, they collaborate with and depend on communities they trust—think Stack Overflow, GitHub, Slack channels, IRCs—to find bug fixes, improve their codebase, and learn from their peers. By its very nature, the open source way exists and continues to thrive because developers are so great at working alongside their peers. And they’ve paved the way for people in other industries to do the same.

Our open, collaborative approach to branding projects has us working very closely with our clients’ internal teams. And time and time again we see that developers are among the most engaged, energized, and collaborative team members we get to work with.

Few people know your product like its developers do

If you’re going to be able to create a brand that showcases the most authentic version of your company, you need to be confident you actually know what that authenticity looks like. The founders will undoubtedly have their aspirational, here’s how we’re changing the world point of view, but don’t overlook the #realtalk the developers who work on the product every day can bring to the table.

Authenticity starts with representation. These days it’s not uncommon for the dev team to account for upward of 70% of a tech company’s workforce. If you’re building your brand—its story, its messaging, its visual identity—without their input, how can you be sure you’re accurately reflecting the company and product they’re helping create?

Authenticity starts with representation.

Developers often possess a deep understanding of the customer’s needs, their motivations, and the jobs they’re looking to get done. A more functional, technical perspective on the real value your product or company provides to users will help ground what can sometimes become lofty, aspirational, marketing-y conversations.

You’ll help keep more of your best people

Competition for top developer talent is as fierce today as it’s ever been. We see it from Silicon Valley to the East Coast and around the world. With more open positions than engineers to fill them, it’s a buyer’s market.

Not only is it tough to get them in the door, it’s doubly tough to get them to stay. Investing the time and energy required to bring on a new hire only to see them jump ship after a year (or less) is more than an annoyance—it’s a real business issue that can come between your company and its ability to meet its goals.

In the research phase of our Employer Value Proposition projects, we’ve seen how tech companies can no longer compete on pay and perks alone when it comes to retaining their top talent. A competitive salary, three weeks vacation, and a ping pong table in the break room? Any company can provide that. What really keeps developers invested in a company is giving them a story and a mission they can believe in. Inviting your developers to join the process of creating and defining that story will go a long way toward keeping them on your team.

So…how to integrate your dev team with your brand?

Inclusion and involvement come in many forms. Knowing you want to be respectful of people’s time and the job they’re actually hired to do, start with your dev team leadership and managers—they can help you identify which team members would be excited to join your working team.

Internal opinion surveys and facilitated feedback sessions are another great way to solicit developer thoughts and contributions without being disruptive. Be mindful of how you frame the survey, though. The intention is for any involvement to be seen as an exciting opportunity to help shape the company’s story and future—not just another top-down culture initiative that won’t go anywhere or have any real impact. Also keep in mind how you ask your questions. Make sure that the words and question formats you use will resonate with a developer-minded audience.

Another approach? Drop New Kind a line. We specialize in facilitating brand story and identity projects for tech companies with an inclusive-by-design process for tapping the potential of your team’s most passionate people.

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