I’m always amazed by how many non-techies at software companies discount an API. I worked at one company where the Marketing Director saw it more of a novelty we could show off to our customers than something we could leverage to our advantage.
What is an API, Michelle?
If you aren’t a techie, an API is an application programming interface. Essentially, depending on the level of integration, you can push and pull data from one software application to another one. For example, if you use a Twitter client, you are taking advantage of the Twitter API. The data is moving to and from your Twitter client to Twitter’s servers because it “plugs in” to Twitter.
Why Does This Matter to Marketers?
Being able to plug into an application means you can add to its functionality and it can add to yours. So if you have a customer relationship management system like Salesforce for managing contacts and you want to integrate with an email marketing software, your developers can build an integration that will push and pull data from one to the other.
As a marketer, you are opening your audience to that other product and you are opening yourself up to their clients. This concept is often called “reciprocal marketing“. It costs you a developer’s time, the time and money it takes to send a newsletter, as well as a possible press release.
Why Does This Totally Rock for the Customer?
Having an API means you can keep your software’s interface clean and easy to use. It can focus on what it is supposed to do well. Then, you can integrate with products that make up for what you lack. The more you integrate with, the more flexible solution you can offer your customer.
A big pet peeve of mine in software is called “feature creep”, which is indeed as frightening as it sounds. Rather than integrating with other products, a software company will add on and add on until it is damned near impossible to figure out. It’s expensive and will leave your customer feeling stupid and frustrated because they can’t make your software do what it supposed to do. Your customer isn’t necessarily stupid–your software architect might just be a big jerk for not taking the user experience into account.
To me, software developers that build rather than integrate are like those dads who refuse to hire people to work on their houses. They are crappy at plumbing and crappy at landscaping and crappy electricians, but dammit! They did it themselves. So what if house visitors have to poke the doorbell six times and yell “rosebud” just to tell you they are at the door?
If you are in software marketing or business development, get familiar with products your customers could use and then consider an integration. It’s a lot cheaper than other forms of marketing and can offer tremendous value to customers.