APIs Are The Next Marketing Platform
In the toady’s 30 second attention span world, we spend much of our time asking each other what is next. In marketing it was the web, then search, then blogging, then social media, but what really is next? Last week David Armano, made a big announcement that he was going to join Jeff Dachis and Peter Kim at the Dachis Corporation to focus on social business design. After reading David’s post it spurred me to write a post I have been kicking around in my head about the “future” of marketing.
Companies have always needed a platform to communicate with their customers. In the past that platform has been many things: media, billboards, advertisements, blogs, fan pages as well as a a host of others that I am forgetting. Social media has been a breakthrough for many organizations because it removed the gatekeepers from the marketing equation and allowed them to publish their information directly to their customers on their own schedule.
In a world without media gatekeepers where does marketing go next?
API’s Are The New Marketing Platform
If I was a CMO, I would take some of my marketing budget from traditional media buys and creative work and use it to hire a small group of extremely talented web developers that have experience using API’s to develop simple and easy to use web applications. API stands for application programming interface and it serves as a platform for web applications to interact and share information with other applications. A practical example of this are Twitter clients like Tweetdeck and Seesmic, though they reside on a desktop, they use the Twitter API to send and receive tweets, which means that you don’t have to go to your Twitter.com page to use your account.
The future of marketing is about companies developing useful applications for their customers that extend web services that the customers are already using. This replaces the current model which is to use web applications to communication with customers. The problem with current social media marketing is the noise. A company is one of thousands, sometimes millions of users and it is easy to get lost. Developing applications via API’s provide a way for companies to break out of the crowd and at the same time create value for customers.
Brands will need to become conduits that facilitate consumer communications instead or interrupters that intermittently drop in advertisements.
Imagine if Pepsi had built the first great Twitter desktop application instead of Tweetdeck or Twhirl and millions of people were using the company’s application to use Twitter. This transforms Pepsi’s role from a company that is trying to communicate amongst millions of Twitter users, to instead providing one of the handful of major applications used by millions.
I mention Pepsi, because they are a company that has began to create web applications using APIs. An example of this is the Pepsi Zeitgeist which used the Twitter API to aggregate relevant tweets at SXSW 2009.
Today’s economy is putting web startups in difficult positions, the demands have never been higher to produce great applications with less development staff. This provides a golden opportunity for brands who have money to spend in the form of marketing budgets. If brands use a portion of their marketing budget to hire API developers then they have the power to partner with developing web companies to help them improve how consumers use the service while in tandem changing consumers’ perception and awareness of the brand.
Marketing As A Service
Developing third party applications based on API’s is the extension of an idea that has long been kicked around often referred to as “Marketing As A Service”. Brands have been trying to execute on the idea of marketing as a service on the web, but normally it is with small stand alone applications that are developed as widgets or are a component of a campaign microsite. This isn’t a bad approach, but developing and extending existing web services through API’s offers much more opportunity. Plus these services already have a predefined and organically growing user-base.
The ROI of API’s
What is the ROI of this? The biggest appeal of using API’s as a marketing platform is that brands have a mountain of data at their disposal. Instead of knowing that a customer came to a sales page, brands can know what type of information customers are interested in, how they like to communicate with their friends, keywords that cause them to take action, and countless other data points that would render the best market research obsolete. Data is just the beginning. The long-term brand awareness that is driven from positive user experience can build stronger brand advocates.
Flip It And Reverse It
Developing on the APIs of existing web services is only the beginning. We live in a world that now has expectations of open and available content. The natural extension of this will be for companies themselves to release their own API’s to allow their customers to create and develop applications. This goes against most current thoughts on inbound web marketing, but understand that empowering customers with information, empowers word-of-mouth marketing. This approach applies to all businesses not those that are web-based, but rather anyone who has a web-based tool or component for their organization. Obviously this concept will have many hurdles for some organizations, especially from a legal standpoint.
Not A Replacement
Developing on API’s and using other marketing as a service approaches is not a replacement for social media marketing or even traditional marketing, instead it offers the ability to provide consumer value in a more meaningful and complementary way then other current forms of marketing. It would be difficult to leverage API’s as a marketing platform if brands did not have other traditional marketing resources to help drive exposure and users to the applications that have been developed on the APIs.
Looking Back At The Future
The ideas discussed in this post aren’t new ones, they have been at the heart of successful marketing, the Web simply provides a cheaper and faster way to execute these ideas. In the way that software as a service (SAAS) businesses are changing the software industries business model and increasing profitability, marketing as a service on the web has the same opportunity to improve ROI and change the industry.
I challenge you to think about the roles APIs have for your customer-base. Would this approach work for you? Do you think this is the future? If not, what is?