The term "DevRel" is pretty young, at least to me. I only started to become aware of it maybe halfway through my career when I started attending conferences and being part of the vendor decision-making process. But I believe its practice and culture have been around since software started. It's definitely been a part of my world my entire technology life.
When I was a kid, around 8, my dad became a Microsoft Certified Professional and got access to the MSDN Universal subscription.
This is back when Microsoft would send you a loot box with all the latest software on CD once a quarter. I think it cost between $2000-$3,000 a year, which is WILD back in the 90s. Now it's all digital.
I loved MSDN. I would look through every CD we got and try installing it. I used the Windows licenses to build my own PC. I learned how to configure Windows NT networking with coax cables. It was like Christmas whenever a new shipment would arrive. It wasn't the only reason I got into tech but it certainly was a major reason (the other was my grandpa, a story for another time).
I can say for sure that MSDN was the reason I got into .NET development as a career and why I still use Microsoft products and develop on their platform. The educators in the community turned me onto being a Pluralsight author. What I'm saying is: I wouldn't be writing this today if not for those CDs being shipped to our little house in the suburbs of Minnesota.
The reason I bring all this up isn't just for reminiscing on my technological upbringing, I bring it up because developers are people at the end of the day. And DevRel has the potential to make a real impact. And when you make an impact on someone, you stick.
Brand marketing and building brand affinity are hard to measure – sure. Since it's hard, people turn to things that are easy to measure: page views, conversion, downloads, and CTR. But those are vanity metrics – they don't really tell you: will we be around in 10 years? There's trust and risk involved in brand marketing, and that scares people looking for quick fixes and short-term wins. "Let's make our paid ads drive 20% more PQLs" instead of, "Are we making the impact we started this (developer-first) company to make?"
MSDN was developer experience, developer education, and developer success – for sure. But it was also developer brand marketing. It was DevRel, even if it wasn't called DevRel. And it was highly impactful not just to me personally but to Microsoft's ecosystem.
My guess is that no one at Microsoft can answer the question, "How much did MSDN impact our bottom line?" but they all know it had an impact because it was a defacto part of their developers, developers, developers culture. It probably didn't even cross their mind (or maybe it did, and someone thought better of it) because the answer to "Should we enable developers to build on our platform with a best-in-class tooling experience?" was "Obviously," and the loot box / subscription, docs, samples – all of it – aligned with the culture at Microsoft.
So here is what I think about how brand affinity provides business value:
Raise developers on your brand when they're young, and you have a customer for life. Play the long game. It's more than profit; it's more than "business value"; it's culture. At the end of the day, it's everything.
Have a lovely day,