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Brand API: Your Next Killer App?

API Growth , Feb. 23, 2012

Nowhere in digital is innovation happening faster than in the development of APIs. Just as the rush was on in the early days of the web for companies to have websites (properties), in recent years it’s been all about creating APIs (services). Right now we see API growth on its steepest upward trend yet—with the leading web API directory recently posting a count of 5,000 identified open APIs—just four months after breaking past the 4,000 mark. To put that growth in perspective, it took about 8 years to get to the first 1,000. You probably first heard about APIs in the context of major web platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google or Amazon. But these days brands everywhere are jumping into the fray. Why?

Let’s start by understanding exactly what an API is and what it can be used for. API is a software acronym for “Application Programming Interface,” and it’s nothing more than a way for applications and systems to talk to each other. They enable this conversation by defining a simple and standard way for developers to directly access data and functionality and integrate it into their experiences. When a brand creates an API, this data and functionality—which represents everything the brand has to offer digitally—can start to reach new channels and new consumers. The API can provide anything from basic product information to store locations to fully transactional commerce, and can be manifested in anything from mobile apps to web mashups to social sharing. In this new era of the “Brand API,” marketers can extend their brand reach now while also preparing for future technologies and the new consumer touch points they will create.

The move into the API space doesn’t have to happen all at once or in one particular fashion—like any other asset, the API is defined and controlled by the brand. It can be used to provide business value in several ways, whether it’s kept completely inside the firewall, made accessible only to specific external entities, or made completely public. Brands can jump into the fray at whatever level they are comfortable and where they can reap the most benefit. Let’s look at a few examples across the API continuum, starting close to home and working our way outward.

  • Starting out: Many brands, and the IT ecosystems that support them, have already begun to leverage APIs internally to deliver operational efficiencies by simplifying the process of building internal systems, websites, and web applications. Brands that have taken this initial step are leveraging their digital spend and gaining speed-to-market advantages over their competitors. Providing a “service bus” of APIs to their agencies and partners allows them to focus on creating great consumer experiences without having to build and rebuild the software needed to access basic services like product data or CRM systems. Not there yet? You’re in good company—many established brands have yet to sort this out.
  • Venturing out: Many companies are tapping into new experiences (and new consumers) by starting to make selective use of their APIs outside of the corporate firewall. A great example of this is in the proliferation of mobile apps. Often these are powered by Brand APIs that provide real-time content and services, even if the APIs are not open to outside developers. This semi-public use of Brand APIs can be a great proving ground—allowing the brand to provide additional value to their consumers while exploring the potential for opening the API completely to external developers.
  • All out: Software developers are out there working on the next killer app—and if you enable them with your API, they can include your brand in it. This can allow your brand to be experienced in new and innovative ways, potentially in entirely new channels, without any additional investment on your part. Best Buy includes a complete Commerce API as part of their BBYOPEN API program, which paved the way to a unique mobile rewards program launched with Citi last summer. Companies who provide open APIs know the importance of “developer love”—supporting their API users with documentation and support communities as well as providing clear terms of service and branding guidelines.

Brand APIs are helping more brands and developers connect and innovate every day—where  are you seeing the love connection?

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