There’s never been a more exciting time to be a marketer. Technology continues to shift the goalposts for us: whether that’s through the data that helps us refine our users’ experiences, the digital channels that help us reach potential customers, or new revenue streams that arise from tech’s possibilities.
Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, sit at the heart of all these capabilities. Their technical name may sound removed from the marketing sphere but they’re central to the digital services we use and create.
Whether that’s logging into a new online service with a Facebook profile, integrating an email marketing platform with a CRM system, or even checking the weather on a phone – APIs power all these activities. They’re the unsung hero of digital transformation, powering a new ‘API Economy’ valued by IBM at an estimated USD $2.2 trillion.
What is an API anyway?
Put simply, an API is a set of technical tools and protocols that allow two (or more) to talk to one another. An API allows these systems, such as digital platforms, applications or services, to request information or actions from one another, with the intention of creating value from that collaboration.
A common analogy is to think of an API as the waiter in a restaurant, connecting two distinct systems: the customers, and the kitchen. The customer can only request what’s on the menu, and the waiter can only return the available information. Each system is operating using data displayed in different ways: the ingredients, and the menu.
In the digital world this means that every time you check the weather on your iPhone, for instance, Apple’s weather application calls “The Weather Channel’s” weather API to return data on the conditions in your chosen location. This is a great example of how APIs add value through collaboration: Apple doesn’t want to spend money on creating a meteorology team,, and crucially the data already exists elsewhere. Apple works with an authoritative source, in this case The Weather Channel, who is likely paid for access to their data.
This is just one example of how APIs provide win-win outcomes. And there are many more examples of how APIs can be used in a marketer’s toolkit to drive value for organisations and consumers alike.
APIs encourage new revenue streams for your organisation through collaboration
Skyscanner and Booking.com are just two companies whose entire raison d’etre is thanks to APIs as product aggregators. There are plenty of existing organisations that are using APIs to discover new revenue streams and distribution channels for their existing business units, usually with the help of external or internal collaboration.
For example, a manufacturer can determine how to better design their cars to keep their customers safe, and the insurers gain valuable insight that will drive their policies. In both cases, the marketing teams gain a better understanding of their target audience.
APIs help organisations maximise their existing data
APIs make it easier for companies to expose their existing data for commercial partnerships, but they’re not the only ones who are benefitting. Retailers are also wising up to the returns their customers might see if back-end data is made available to the world.
Retailers are realising that if they wish to bolster their profits, they need to establish a distinct IT architecture that leverages data stored in various siloes – whether it’s through mobile apps, inventory platforms, or other systems.
It’s a challenging time for retailers so, to enhance customer experience, employee productivity, and attract new customers, adopting an API strategy is critical. By adopting a suitable strategy, once-siloed data can be leveraged through a number of touchpoints. For example, if a shopping till was not available, an internal API can be used in point-of-sale systems in store to allow employees to assist customers with inventory questions.
Using APIs to make your (marketing) life easier
Given that APIs are at the heart of connected data, systems and services, it may not come as a surprise that any tool that speeds up processes and cuts out complicated ‘middle-men’ tasks has APIs at the heart of it.
Most marketers now depend on a wealth of specialised tools in their marketing kit, when just a few years ago when we were restricted to a single ‘vendor suite’. The move to cloud computing has widened marketers’ toolset. From connecting a MailChimp account to a CRM system to automating subscriber list updates, to sending an automated “Hello” to new sign-ups. APIs allow you to “plug and play” with different tools.
There are many tools, applications and integrations to help API novices make the most of the benefits APIs can bring, whatever the level of existing technical knowledge is. These tools are based on constructing simple ‘recipes’ of commands, which in turn lean on APIs to complete the actions required.
What innovation could APIs power in your organisation?
Whether it’s powering tools to make marketing tactics more efficient, providing greater strategic insight, or opening up entirely new customer-focused products, APIs connect marketing and technology and are a vital string to any marketers bow. Whatever your level of technical knowledge, many marketers are only just scratching the surface of what APIs could do as part of their strategy. What could it do for yours?
Written by Emma Kriskinans, Global Marketing Director, Tyk.
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