5 Things CMOs Need To Know About APIs

Perhaps you’ve heard developers and techies refer to “APIs,” but you’re not quite sure why anything with such a technological acronym has any impact on marketing. Well, take heart. In this column, you’ll learn what exactly is meant when people invoke application programming interfaces (APIs) and also discover how they are fueling some of the […]

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Perhaps you’ve heard developers and techies refer to “APIs,” but you’re not quite sure why anything with such a technological acronym has any impact on marketing.

Well, take heart. In this column, you’ll learn what exactly is meant when people invoke application programming interfaces (APIs) and also discover how they are fueling some of the more innovative digital marketing initiatives happening these days.

What Is An API, And What’s It Good For?

Whether you know it or not, APIs power all digital marketing channels and the apps we use today, allowing businesses to exchange data with partners and participate in digital ecosystems.

To use an analogy, APIs act as a window into a company’s digital assets. They let developers and partners use the data the company is prepared to share in myriad ways, including building mobile apps and desktop experiences. Besides making data available, a company could also tap into a partner’s data, intermingling it with its own to provide heretofore unknown functionality.

Perhaps an example would make it more concrete. Google maintains a vast set of APIs, including one that provides data about its AdWords advertising program. That API allows advertisers — those who have developers on staff or who hire developers — to build a custom interface to AdWords that makes it easier for staffers to manage campaigns.

It also allows third-party tool providers, such as Marin Software or Adobe, to build their own software platforms that use the API data. It makes sense for Google, because it’s basically letting others do the work of creating a more useful interface that taps into the AdWords platform — and all of the users become Google advertisers.

Thanks to the open API economy, you can build mobile apps that use a mix of APIs; you can combine location APIs with targeted promotions or map your morning run with a calorie counter.

APIs: They’re application programming interfaces, but they’re so much more. They’re key to participating in the new global economy — the digital economy. Following are some ways CMOs can tap into the power of APIs to grow their businesses.

1.  Be Where Your Customers Are, No Matter What The Channel

In 2013, ABI Research estimated that there were 10 billion+ wireless connected devices. They also predicted that in 2020, that number is expected to mushroom to 30 billion.

The Internet of Things is taking off; many of us wear at least one connected device today. These devices are the marketer’s future distribution channels.

The notion of gaining access to all those devices is daunting. Luckily, there’s a fast-track solution. APIs let you securely serve up your data, services, or content, enabling developers to build apps for any device using that data.

Look at businesses like The Coca-Cola Company and McCormick. They’re creating new value for customers through the Coca-Cola Freestyle drink machine and the FlavorPrint app, which offer personalized sodas and dinner suggestions based on individual tastes, respectively.

A connected, touchscreen soda machine is the new distribution channel for Coca-Cola. What will yours be?

2. Partnering For Digital Network Effects

As engines of growth for a business, we all know how powerful partnerships can be. They’re even more important in the digital world.

APIs make it easy to exchange data and integrate with partners. Your partners, in turn, can extend the value of your data and create something even more valuable.

Imagine how much more scalable and simple your work with agencies would be with all of your data and services available via APIs. Instead of shuttling around collateral or sending logos and other content via email, an API could bring the content right into the systems the agencies use to process and distribute it.

Yesterday, thriving partnerships relied on great relationships. In today’s digital world, they flourish when you provide valuable assets in a way that makes them easy for partners and developers to use.

The world’s fastest growing companies, like Airbnb, Instagram and Snapchat are all digital businesses, and they’re all connected to each other. Together they create network effects and fuel growth. It’s not people negotiating partnership contracts that connect them, it’s APIs.

3. In The Digital Economy, Innovation Happens Outside Your Box

APIs not only let you showcase your business on mobile devices and create network effects with partners to fuel innovation.

They open up access to millions of app developers around the world who are hungry to build the next big thing.

Enabling those developers with easy and secure access to your data and services via APIs creates new business opportunities.

A great example of this is Walgreens. The drug store chain has built an open API around its photo printing machines. Over 75 different mobile apps integrate Walgreens’ QuickPrint functionality, bringing new value to customers, new revenue streams for developers and for Walgreens, and more traffic into the business — via all channels.

Remember that developers also know about other APIs that can augment the value of yours.

4. Survival Of The Fastest

When you’re the size of AT&T or Walgreens, moving fast isn’t easy. Yet, to win in the digital economy, the time to act is now.

How do you compete with digital natives that are disrupting your industry? You unlock your existing assets to create new products, new experiences, and unprecedented value for your customers.

This is how AT&T used APIs to create value out of a lowly phone bill. By using the telco’s billing APIs, video tool company SundaySky created a service that dynamically turns a phone bill into an explanatory video. Cool, right?


By making it easier to understand a phone bill, AT&T both created more customer value and decreased calls to customer service.

Without APIs, innovation like this would be a lengthy process. APIs are the business technology that removes organizational, technical, and security barriers to unlock the value inside your enterprise.

They make it easier for a CIO to say “yes” to a CMO while maintaining security and control. They’re a simple interface on complex systems that provides the agility to react when market and customer expectations shift.

5. Become A Real Digital Business

A digital business provides both digital customer experiences and digital operational excellence. The CMO and CIO need to become partners.

CMOs need to understand how new technologies like APIs help create value for customers. CIOs need to understand how customer and market expectations must drive their technology decisions. In other words, the partnership must center around the customer.

Becoming a digital business isn’t easy. Speed to market is critical to all businesses, and many companies tend to “bolt-on” digital tools. It’s a short-term strategy that ultimately leads to an inability to compete with companies that take a more holistic approach, one that focuses on full digital transformation.

APIs overcome the organizational, technical, and security hurdles on the path to realizing the value of your enterprise’s assets. They bridge the gap between what the CMO needs to create value for customers and what the CIO needs to deliver a platform for a digital business.

With alignment in place and technology that’s purpose-built for the requirements of the digital world, the potential to grow and succeed is limitless.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Denise Persson
Denise Persson leads Apigee’s worldwide marketing team, including demand generation, product marketing, analyst relations, public relations, and brand strategy. Prior to joining Apigee, she served as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of ON24, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) webcasting and virtual communications company. Throughout her career, she has built and led global marketing teams for high-growth, category-creating companies and helped take companies through multiple phases, including mergers and acquisitions and public offerings. Denise holds an MBA from Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.

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