This is the seventh part of the Building Effective API Programs blog post series. In the previous parts we covered benefits of APIs, alignment between API programs, strategy and business models, API design and implementation, and API operations. In this part, we discuss aspects of how to market your APIs.
API marketing is often seen as a little unsavory to developers who often reject the idea that they should be marketed to, or simplified to a notion that hackathons are the key way to attract users to your API. While there are some techniques specific to APIs, in truth APIs need to be marketed like any other product.
Marketing is about bringing the right product to the right customer in the right way. The same is true for marketing the API program. Marketing depends on the product. After the value of the API is defined, it’s time to establish it in the market and get it to developers. STP (Segmentation – Targeting – Positioning) is a great framework to think about this.
It may be necessary to take different audiences into account as different segments for API marketing, depending on the scope of your API program. Audiences may include:
- Completely internal usage
- Exposing the API to close partners or suppliers
- End users of the apps or services resulting from API integrations
- External companies or developers
WIP Factory’s developer segmentation method can be helpful to identify segments that are specific to your organization. This method applies filters to the total market. Filters include:
- The technical – relating to platforms, operating systems, programming languages, or tools
- Individual – skills, experience or persona of developers
- Business – types of companies or organizations, their market position, or financial strength
- Market – secondary markets such as suppliers, buyers, or others depending verticals
After applying each of these filters, check whether the resulting segments are relevant, large enough, and valuable for your API program and whether you have the resources required to address these segments. The next step is to choose, or “target”, the most relevant and valuable segment(s).
Targeting is the process of evaluating each segment’s attractiveness and selecting one or more segments to enter. To identify the most important developer segments, take into account the following characteristics:
- The selected segment is accessible. The segment is only valuable if it can be reached. For instance, if you don’t support a particular programming language or architecture stack, or if you can’t reach a certain developer community geographically, it will be very difficult to address this developer segment!
- The selected segment is substantial. There should be a critical mass of developers in your segments. Is the community active and growing? You may not want to choose a segment which is going to disappear.
- The selected segment is differentiable. The segments you choose should be specific enough that you can come up with a set of tactics to address them, which make sense and can be effective.
Next you will define tactics to address these target groups of developers.
Marketing textbooks define positioning as “arranging for a product to occupy a clear, distinctive, and desirable place relative to competing products in the minds of the customer.” By now, you’ll have a good understanding of your target developer segments. Positioning means developing a strategy to address those segments and creating tactics to implement it. The best marketing exposes a product – an API in our case – to potential customers or users that solves important problems, alleviates pains, and creates gains that your audience cares about.
If you target several developer segments, then your positioning must incorporate their differing perspectives. Your positioning tactics should address the specific challenges of each of these segments of developers.
When coming up with your positioning tactics, keep in mind that developers have a low tolerance for “bullshit” (realizing they are being marketed to), so it’s important to keep messaging informational. Focus on the developer experience (DX) of your API, support the community, and listen for feedback. Some of the most effective tactics are:
- Working with developer evangelists
- Providing outstanding developer portals
- Participating in and supporting developer events
- Providing support and lightweight processes (e.g., registration)
Example: The Twilio API
A very often cited example related to successful API marketing is Twilio, which provides an API to enable communication via voice and messaging like SMS. Looking at their office locations, you can see Twilio has chosen to have a physical presence in markets that are more important for them: US (San Francisco, Mountain View, New York), Europe (London, Munich, Tallinn) and Bogotá in Colombia.
Their API documentation, tutorials and processes are very clear, fast, and simple to use. Although Twilio provides a plain web API, they know their most active developer communities are exist around programming languages such as PHP, Ruby, Python, C#, and Node.js. That’s why Twilio provides helper libraries for exactly these languages.
Finally, Twilio is also known for their active event engagement with developer evangelists. Ricky Robinett is a developer evangelist at Twilio who gave a great talk called Being Alfred: Serving developer communities and making heroes. Other programs Twilio has run to attract developers include Twilio Heros and the Hacker Olympics.
- Make sure you understand what type of audience are you trying to reach with your API: Internal Users? Close Partners? Existing customers? The outside world?
- If you decide to work with evangelists, understand what type of evangelists are most appropriate to support the value proposition of your API.
- Define the events which are most appropriate for communicating your message.
- Understand hackathons and decide whether they are the right events for your API.
In the next part of this series, we’ll cover how to create an outstanding developer experience (DX) for your API.