Microsoft and Nokia are undoubtedly still two of the biggest names in the technology space today. Neither are strangers to innovation, with Microsoft having pioneered Windows 95, which became the most widely used operating system in the world; and Nokia once ruling the global handset business, with a market share that was 50% bigger than its nearest rival.

Of late however, neither company has been blessed with the same good fortune it once held. Both have slid down from pioneer status to, some may argue, copycat status. But could Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone arm now herald a new era for both these companies? And how do they ensure they can reclaim their status as the trailblazers in the industry?

The answer as I see it is simple. In order for Microsoft and Nokia to be the big brand names they once were, they need to first and foremost focus on their developers.

There’s no doubt that Microsoft and Nokia work with some of the finest developer talent, but improving the way they engage with them (as well as the extended developer community) is the key to their future prosperity. Successful developer programs have been shown to increase customer loyalty, reduce customer churn and increase revenue growth opportunities. In addition, developers can be important viral marketers for the brand.

So how do Microsoft and Nokia build and manage a joint community of developers that will help them achieve these objectives?

Making the case for developers
The first step is creating a solid developer program that will jointly serve the needs of both companies and their developers. Any program will, by default, prosper if the correct services and systems are applied. These should include acquisition, education, support and distribution.

The main goal of the acquisition phase is to attract and retain registered developers to the program. In turn, those developers need to be educated and supported, which should result in an increase in their productivity. As mentioned already, getting a developer community working effectively results in an increase in ARPU (average revenue per user), increased data usage, and a reduction of the overall subscriber churn as customer satisfaction goes up. By understanding the specific goals and tactics of each of these steps in the developer program life cycle, a company will automatically start to achieve its core business goals.

The acquisition phase of the developer program life cycle is defined by the effort to attract an active and loyal developer audience for a program. Since it is natural for some developers to leave a program over time, acquisition is an ongoing activity throughout the lifespan of any developer program. In Microsoft and Nokia’s case, when launching a possible brand new program, the initial acquisition efforts are crucial in establishing the brand and value proposition correctly in the developer community. Done poorly, these initial acquisition activities can make future efforts much harder because a bad impression has already been made.

To make sure Microsoft and Nokia’s initial acquisition strategy has a reasonable chance of success, they must make a compelling case to developers by clearly defining their organization’s value proposition. Developers are being enticed by a myriad of compelling options in the market today, so what they stand to gain has to be clearly differentiated and articulated to get traction. Any proposition communicated to the developer community should include programs that heavily promote developer activities.

For instance, the explosive growth of the app market has created a need for developers seeking help in marketing and the promotion of their products. Both companies are in a great position to leverage their existing marketing programs to promote “special” applications and help developers get exposure.

It’s also important to externally define the joint value proposition to the rest of the developer community, and fast. There are a variety of marketing programs that can be used to drive developer interest in a program. For instance, the App pitch program has been shown to be highly effective. Another simple way to generate interest is to give developers an opportunity to “pitch” their apps for inclusion in established marketing programs as well as the Microsoft and Nokia app stores. This type of program is a win-win for developers and the companies, as Microsoft and Nokia get to associate themselves with high-quality apps that make it through the pitch process, and developers get desperately-needed exposure for their app.

Contests are another channel that have become ubiquitous in the developer program space with good reason: they can develop a large amount of interest in a program very quickly. With the right prizes (sponsorship opportunities, marketing dollars, exposure to venture capital, cash) a contest is a great way to get new developers registered to the Microsoft, Nokia programs and to get them producing products that make the brand stronger.

Last but not least, developer-focused conferences and “developer days” provide an excellent platform to reach out to large groups of developers and to publicize a company’s program in the industry. It gives developers direct access to a hand-picked group of decision makers from within an organization. And for developers already engaged with or evaluating a program, it gives them the opportunity to sit down with subject-matter experts and ask technical or business-related questions. This type of personal interaction with the developer can go a long way toward keeping developers both informed and engaged.

By making sure these elements are in place for any joint Microsoft/Nokia developer program, both companies have a stronger chance of fostering a reputation in the industry as being developer-focused and providing valuable assistance to those trying to bring their applications to market. The benefits for developers could be equally lucrative, with profitable returns on their investment as well as the opportunity to target a larger user base.

Neither Microsoft nor Nokia can afford to ignore the fact that the right developer-led strategy can lead to exponential growth for the companies while the wrong strategy can have a lasting negative impact on their brands, particularly in the developer space—an unwanted outcome that will no doubt be hard to undo.

Steve Glagow is executive vice president at