From 2009 to 2013, I saw every new API that was released for developers. I was the editor of ProgrammableWeb, the journal of the API economy. Founder John Musser and I used to joke, “It’s the year of the API… again!” Our directory tracked all of these developer interfaces and many times I’d be briefed on API news as a journalist. I saw the same issues over and over.
We don’t want to hold back the imagination of developers.
I heard that enough it became a joke. Companies, sometimes very large companies, were releasing APIs without any idea how developers would use them. It’s true, developers often build amazing things, stuff you couldn’t predict. But without some concept of why they’d use your product, they may never give it a shot.
Use cases and examples can seed developer imagination. Yet as we’ll see in this post, it’s often missing from technical content, including in some of the database companies the EveryDeveloper team researched. Whether for an API, dev tool, or database, these use cases could be the missing link to your technical audience’s success.
In my experience with developer products, use cases are crucial for success. Though sometimes they come across as fancy descriptions, they can be practical tools. Good use cases help potential customers see what’s possible and spark developer creativity. Even better, use cases can help you create more strategic technical content—and ensure it will resonate with the audiences that consume it.
When I talk to marketers who want to attract and engage developers, I always stress the importance of use cases. They make you put yourself in a developer’s shoes, understand their unique problems, and create solutions that genuinely connect with them. In other words, you get beyond generic personas—“all developers” or “anyone who needs our product”—and show your product framed around the things your audience cares about.
Beyond understanding your audience, use cases also inspire developers to see other ways to solve their technical problems. When developers see well-crafted use cases, they get excited about what a product can do. It sparks their creativity, making them think about new and innovative ways to use it.
For example, Firebase calls out the custom notifications use case on its website. A developer might be less familiar with the Messaging and Functions features of Google’s cloud database. The use case, about engaging end users, now very well may engage the developer to build it!
When our team works with companies that want to reach technical audiences, we rely upon use cases to help guide our work. They provide a clear structure for creating content that speaks directly to the developer audience. It helps build a story around how a product can be used in the real world, making your message relatable and actionable.
These stories, framed as use cases, are an integral part of marketing your technical product. As you’ll see in the next section, we reviewed some real examples to see what we could learn from some top developer companies.
Use cases have long been part of EveryDeveloper’s research. It’s included in our developer experience criteria as sample apps, one way it can show up in documentation. The reason we looked specifically at databases is because they can support almost any use case. Yet, even database companies focus their products on specific solutions.
We’ve preserved many examples in our use cases for databases gallery, which includes screenshots from many top database companies, including Mongo, Elastic, and Firebase.
Over half of the websites we reviewed included a “Solutions” menu, beneath which was often one or both of these organization methods:
- Industry: Frequent choices in this category were finance (39%), retail (33%), and manufacturing (28%)
- Functionality: Popular use cases included AI (44%), monitoring (28%), and streaming (22%)
One DB executive told me the industry pages are likely just demand gen campaigns. It’s hard to imagine most developers identifying by their industries. While security requirements may differ, most of the day-to-day with a database is the same whether you’re in finance, manufacturing, or some other industry.
It’s unsurprising to see AI included, as the companies look to capitalize on a current trend. Plus, every machine learning technique requires a lot of data—a fact that makes AI use cases good database customers.
Monitoring and streaming are also high-volume use cases, but database features could also be a reason these are highlighted. Some databases will be better choices for writing a large amount of small data. Others will be more tuned for aggregating data or maintaining consistency across multiple instances. The lesson here for non-DB products is that there’s always a way to frame your features as use cases.
There were as many organization techniques as companies we reviewed. Less common than industries and functionality, some organized solutions by job role or department. We’ve observed this pattern outside of databases as well, such as where multiple audiences use a technical product.
It’s important to keep these various audiences in mind, with stakeholders at different levels in an organization. Ideally, use cases aren’t just one-off pages, but a narrative that continues across all your communications.
Much of the use case content we found from database companies kept the descriptions at a high level. That is, the pages describe potential solutions and benefits but don’t explain the technical details behind them. We did find some companies that provide deeper use case examples. Even better, we’ve identified a technical use case journey so you can ensure your product’s capabilities are covered at every appropriate level.
Consider the following use case needs, from surface level to deep in the weeds:
|Content Level||Content Objective|
|Inspiration||Name the use case and identify benefits|
|Business case||Share business metrics or a customer case study|
|Technical case||Identify developer outcomes, like time/stress savings|
|Technical overview||Show architecture or other high-level explanations|
|Technical tutorial||Get into the nitty gritty with a sample app or walkthrough|
Inspiration may be the first level, but it’s important, especially to less technical audiences. Developers also appreciate how a product fits into actual usage, even if they say “just show me the docs.” Too often, these high-level descriptions over-promise or gloss over technical details.
Every database company we reviewed included inspiration use case pages. Many also showed the next level down: business case content. These customer stories still rarely speak to a developer audience. Ideally, there’s an outcome that speaks to the technical roles, which brings the use case closer to implementation.
Aiven shows a great example of a transition from business to technical use case, right within a single page. Its event streaming use case starts high-level and gets more granular as the page scrolls. The technical overview, via the example architecture, is aimed at roles that would assist in implementation.
The coverage of the technical use case journey does not need to happen on a single page. In fact, it’s best when use cases continue throughout your content. Rather than the single-page method, point readers to the right level of additional information that fits their needs.
Though not a database company, Twilio is known for its developer focus. Like many technical products, Twilio must speak to multiple audiences. Its solutions pages, like the healthcare example shown above, provide a natural transition from use case to technical implementation.
The most granular level of the use case journey, the technical tutorials, was rarely seen in our review of database companies. Let’s look at how this type of content can enable your technical audience to complete their desired use case.
Whether your product is a database or another developer tool, use cases help show what’s possible. Ideally, that inspiration continues throughout the developer experience, way beyond “hello world.” You want to continue the use case narrative in blog posts, educational guides, and documentation.
When you connect use cases to implementation, it’s more difficult to make some of the common technical content mistakes.
Instead of stating (or over-stating) a solution, you can show the solution.
That can mean fully working code, snippets of common patterns, architecture diagrams to show how products interact with each other, or any other form that communicates what’s possible.
For example, MongoDB provides a code examples section, which can be filtered by language, technology, and other meta-data. The Spotify example could be a next step for a developer interested in the personalization use case. The Dog Care Provider app? That might make sense linked as a next step from the retail industry page.
While Mongo has the pieces of the narrative, it may not put them all together. And they’re not alone amongst the database companies that we reviewed. It’s common to have the high-level inspiration, but rare to follow through on the entire technical use case journey.
Developer success isn’t only dependent upon a great initial experience. Use cases help identify goals that lead to technical solutions. One way you can look for signs of use cases in your documentation is to audit for types of content. In our guidance for documentation teams, we identify two primary ways to segment documentation content:
- Function: what is supported and how it works
- Context: how it is used and why it matters
It’s natural to have docs that are almost entirely functional. However, you need the contextual content to connect your product to what really matters—the use cases it solves.
It’s one thing to acknowledge the importance of use cases for your technical audience. It’s quite another to thread them throughout the many pieces of content you produce. Can you see use cases in your blog posts, educational guides, and documentation? Make sure they engage your audience through the technical use case journey.
Gather your team, audit your existing content, and make a plan to include more use cases. Along the way, you might want an objective perspective to keep things product-agnostic and help with content that will resonate with your audience. Reach out to the EveryDeveloper team so we can help you get the most out of your use cases!