Marketing Your API as a Product

This guest post comes from Andy Raskin, Director of Product Marketing at Mashery (a ProgrammableWeb sponsor). With Microsoft charging for Bing Search API and Google doing the same for high-volume Maps queries, 2012 is shaping up as the year the API graduates from cool technology to bona fide product. Increasingly, APIs are powering business models, revenue streams, and brand reach. From Klout to Instagram, at virtually every hot startup an API is central to the business plan. As a result, more and more companies are actively marketing their APIs. And as with any product, success is all about the marketing mix. Here’s how leading API providers are applying marketing's 5 P’s (Marketing 101 refresher: product, price, promotion, place, and people) to maximize the business value of their API programs.


Time was, just having a Web API put you on the leading edge. Now companies like ESPN, Dun and Bradstreet, and USA TODAY are deploying entire product lines of APIs, with plans tailored to partner and customer segments. Just as car companies sell many trim levels for each model, you can package your API methods, rate limits, and response filters in ways that make sense for your most important customers.


Microsoft and Google aren’t the only ones making money from APIs. Expedia does over $1 billion in bookings through the Expedia Affiliate Network API, and pioneering information services like Pipl and FanFeedr offer tiered pricing plans for varying levels of API access. Cable companies market basic and premium plans. Likewise, figure out which pieces of your API—which content, which services, which volume plans—customers care most about.


Getting the word out is key for any product, and APIs are no exception. If your API is public, consider connecting with developers by sponsoring a hackathon, as American Express, USA TODAY, and Etsy have done. If your API supports your own dev teams, try an internal hackathon or app contest. Also, use your public API as long tail marketing channel. Two great examples of how that can work are the public APIs of Expedia Affiliate Network and Dun & Bradstreet’s D&B Direct, which output non-bookable hotel inventory and dummy corporate data, respectively. That lets developers at prospective partner firms build proofs-of-concept that their business development colleagues can turn into revenue-generating deals.


One reason RESTful Web APIs are gaining ground on more complex protocols like SOAP and EDI is that they practically document themselves. (It’s not hard to figure out what you're going to get from Still, it’s important to host a Web Portal where API consumers—internal dev teams, strategic partners, and/or public developers—can explore and start using your API. The features of a good API portal include self-service or moderated key provisioning, interactive Documentation (execute test calls right from the docs), developer-facing activity reports, and great forum support. ESPN’s portal does an especially good job of infusing its API program with the company’s brand image.


The culture of your API management and marketing team is sometimes overlooked as a piece of the API marketing mix, but it’s also one of the most important. Perhaps the best example is at Twilio, where new employees are expected to code apps using Twilio’s voice and text messaging services. When Callin’ Oates emerged from that policy and went viral, it was icing on the cake. Of course, the API-as-product trend is just emerging, so best practices are still taking shape. Any tips or challenges you’d like to share around marketing your API as a product?

Be sure to read the next API article: Will BYOD usher in APIzation of Enterprises