This article is adapted from Martin’s opening keynote at the Product Marketing Summit in 2019. At the time, he was the Global Marketing Lead for Flutter at Google. Since then, his meteoric rise has continued, and today he’s CEO and Co-founder of Clipjoy.
At Google, we define marketing as "know the user, know the magic, connect the two." Essentially, know the user, know the product, and connect them.
It's crucial in marketing to know our products and drive them forward because while many products are great, that’s not always enough. I thought Vine was great, but that’s gone. I was a huge Google Inbox user, and that's gone too.
Blockbuster used to be the best, but where is it now? It's on us as marketers to make sure we're not just building great products but also tailoring them to the right users so we can avoid going the same way.
In this article, I’ll briefly discuss our product, Flutter – not as a sales pitch, just to give you some context – then I’ll then talk about our users.
However, what I want to focus on most is the connection between the two – that’s the interesting part. All of the concepts I share can be applied beyond just Flutter, Google, and the developer market.
Know the product
Let's start with some facts: we spend 15% of our time every day on our phones, which amounts to over 10 years of our lives. Not only that but we check our phones 50 times a day. Imagine if we added in the time spent on our tablets and laptops as well.
This brings us to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which as you may know is a pyramid of human needs with things like food, water, and shelter at the bottom and self-actualization at the top. There’s recently been a shift in this hierarchy to reflect the new reality we live in.
Today, it looks a little bit more like this:
Clearly, we use our phones and other devices a lot, but building for these devices is a big challenge.
Let’s look at the example of Slack, which you might well be using as a member of the Product Marketing Alliance community. The Slack app is available on iOS, Android, and desktop.
To provide that experience, Slack has to either build it separately for each device or use a cross-platform tool. Using a cross-platform tool can mean compromising on quality; however, building for all devices separately takes more time and resources. That’s not a great choice.
That's where Flutter comes in. Flutter is Google's tool for building beautiful UIs across multiple platforms using one native codebase. It allows you to build once and deploy everywhere, maintaining the same level of quality you would get if you built natively on each platform. Now that you know the product, let's move on to the users.
Know the users
Flutter's users are developers. When we think of developers, we often imagine someone sitting in their basement hacking government code. However, developers are people just like you and me. They have their needs and they want to build great products and use the best tools at their disposal.
Unfortunately, developers are a challenging audience to market to because their switching costs are huge. They're very tied to the tools they use, both habitually and emotionally.
Convincing them to switch or try a new tool can be like asking a guitarist who's played the same Fender for 10 years to use a different guitar for their next concert. Even if the new guitar has a better sound, switching over feels like it carries a huge cost to that person.
This means that when we’re marketing to a developer audience, we often need to be unconventional, set aside everything we know about marketing, and use different strategies to reach them.
When I joined the team two years ago, Flutter was not well-known, even within Google. However, in the last few years, it has grown a lot. LinkedIn now lists it as the number one tool to learn among software engineers, and many more brands are using it now than just Hamilton, which was the first app to use Flutter.
As a side note, I had to base our entire marketing strategy on that one Broadway musical. The upside is I got to see the show, which was awesome.
Connect the two: How to drive global awareness of your developer product
Now that we know the product and the users, how do we connect them? Connecting them is like drawing an owl; it's just two simple steps. Step one, draw some circles. Step two, draw the rest of the owl.
Clearly, what matters is in the details in between. In going from circles to the owl, we faced the question of how to take this product that was used by one brand, Hamilton, and expand it to be used globally among many developers.
In the rest of this article, I’ll share the answer to this question: How to increase global awareness and usage of Flutter at lightning speed? You can replace “Flutter” with the name of a product or campaign you’re working on if you want to relate to this question even better.
Now for the five specific ways we went from the circles to the owl and increased awareness of Flutter among developers worldwide.
Tip one: Focus on the non-sexy
As marketers, we often want to create detailed, elaborate go-to-market plans with multiple product plans. This is great, but it's also crucial to lay the groundwork first and get the less-sexy fundamentals right.
When I joined the team, Flutter was already an advanced technology used internally by Google.
However, some fundamentals were missing – namely, there was no clear descriptor of what Flutter is, so I made a simple animation video aimed at developers.
The video was under two minutes, and it was very scrappy. I did the voiceover myself, even though I am not by any means a voice actor. It gets right to the point because developers do not appreciate fluff.
The video ended up performing very well, receiving 1.6 million views and becoming the most-viewed video on the Google Developers channel that year. Developers around the world felt like we were talking to them.
The cool part is that not only did the video broaden awareness, but assets from the video were used everywhere. It was like we gave away a free brand book to our global community. I started seeing our visuals appear at meetups and on different websites, so the brand was a lot more in sync after this video. That was an interesting result that I hadn’t even considered when we launched this video.
The insight here can be applied beyond animated videos. We live in the world of our products, so we often assume that everyone knows all about them – that’s certainly what I assumed about Flutter. I was afraid I was repeating what people already knew by making this video, but that wasn’t the case at all – a lot of people were introduced to Flutter thanks to this scrappy little project.
The point is, it’s worth revisiting your basic marketing strategies and even redoing something you've seen before, particularly in the developer world. Also, short-form content is key; with platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, people have shorter attention spans, so quick assets can have a huge impact.
Tip two: Curate for the 99%
You’ll probably never meet most of the people you market to, but it's so important to think about how to reach all those who won't be at in-person conferences or events.
Let me share an example of how we curated for the 99%. During the Flutter launch event last December in London, the venue could only accommodate 250 people – less than 0.01% of our target audience.
To reach more people, we decided to scale the event beyond the venue by helping developers set up their own viewing parties worldwide, providing them with materials and resources. As a result, there were 152 viewing parties across 85 different countries. That was really cool because people were not only tuning in but discussing this event among their communities.
We then tailored the event for the online audience rather than just the 250 people in the room. We created a pre-show featuring interviews with members of the Flutter team and developers, which was shown before the event started online. People who were there in person were probably even getting jealous because this pre-show was exclusively for the folks tuning in online.
We also had a post-show – just as the keynote ended, we went live, taking questions from Twitter and engaging with the online audience in real-time. Usually after the keynote, there’s a 90% drop-off, but we retained at least half of our viewers, thanks to that interactive post-show.
The takeaway here is that when you’re organizing a conference, you should consider doing something special for your online attendees, even if it’s just a Q&A. It brought us some pretty significant rewards.
Tip three: Provide the rod, not the fish
We ran a contest at Google called Flutter Create, which challenged developers to build an app in under five kilobytes of code. To put that in perspective, five kilobytes is less than half a second of an mp3 file.
When we launched this contest, I honestly had no idea how it would go, but we ended up receiving over 750 submissions from 60 different countries. The insight I gained was that setting a strict but broad rule allowed for diverse participation. Participants could create any app they wanted, as long as it was under five kilobytes.
Even though they had this incredibly strict limitation, we saw some amazing results and tons of unexpected outcomes from the competition. For example, one person created a piano app and wrote a tutorial so others could learn how to build a similar app. Another participant turned their submission into a full-time job, while another requested a week's vacation just to work on their project.
The grand prize winner, who developed the Compass app, brought much more exposure to Flutter than I could ever have anticipated. He was a self-taught beginner who learned Flutter just three weeks before the contest ended and won the $10,000 grand prize. I got to meet him in China last week, and he was a very humble guy who hadn't even told his wife about his win. I wrote an article about him and Google shared it via Twitter, which got us a lot of press coverage.
It doesn't take much to go viral, and I would highly encourage you to try a simple competition. The prize doesn't have to be $10,000 – even though we could only award five prizes, we gave every participant a certificate that they were proud to share within their community. It's an excellent way to generate excitement and engagement.
It can be so powerful to let developers tell their stories and lead the messaging like this. In a way, if they don't know there's a marketer on the team, I feel like I'm doing a great job, especially since developers can be so challenging to market to.
Tip four: Form win-win partnerships
We recently expanded Flutter beyond mobile; we're working on running it on the web, desktop, and embedded devices. You might think that announcing a new feature like this would be a straightforward case of me getting up on stage to talk about it, but we decided to lead with a partnership instead.
We collaborated with the New York Times, which used this feature beforehand to build their brand new KenKen puzzle app across all platforms: mobile, web, and desktop.
This was great because we had a really big partner who was already using this feature, and that partnership helped validate the feature for many people, especially larger companies.
Tip five: Let them tell your story
Finally, it's essential to let developers tell your story. This is the point I’m most excited about because one of the reasons I love this job is getting to meet developers from around the world, each with their unique experiences.
Developers often feel like we only appreciate their output but we don’t appreciate them all that much. It’s really important to change that. We don't care just about developers' apps; we care about their stories and how they're getting to those apps.
With this in mind, We launched a campaign called "My Flutter Story," encouraging developers worldwide to submit videos about how they work with our product. We combined these submissions to form a video collage, showcasing the diverse range of developers and their stories.
That bird plushie you can see in the video is our mascot, Dash. People love Dash. We even had a claw machine of Dashes at our launch event and it was by far the most popular thing there.
Dash aside, these stories are so powerful to see. I honestly got pretty emotional when I received these submissions because they really humanize the users. As I mentioned earlier, we generally don’t get to see 99% of our users, so it's all the more amazing when we get a glimpse of the people using our product.
Developer stories also help humanize the product and appeal to decision-makers who may not always be developers themselves – they could be the technical team leads or even CEOs. Showcasing these stories and testimonials on our site helps us connect with those buyers and decision-makers.
Let me round this off with a quick reminder of my five tips for marketing to a developer audience:
- Focus on the non-sexy
- Curate for the 99%
- Provide the rod, not the fish
- Form win-win partnerships
- Let them tell your story
I hope these five tips are helpful and that you too can use them to increase global awareness and usage of your developer product at lightning speed.