API Marketing Strategy

The opportunity

APIs are a misunderstood business asset. While its technical value seems straightforward, organizations still struggle to realize the full potential of APIs. At Catchy, we see APIs as the technical capability that allows organizations to become part of the Open Innovation economy. This opportunity to accelerate innovation, reach and time to market was exclusive to technology companies. Today, you could argue that any business could augment value generating activities by integrating APIs to their solution offerings.

Open Innovation was originally referred to as "a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology." A definition made famous by Henry Chesbrough. More recently, it is defined as "a distributed innovation process based on purposively managed knowledge flows across organizational boundaries, using pecuniary and non-pecuniary mechanisms in line with the organization's business model." This more recent definition acknowledges that open innovation is not solely firm-centric: it also includes creative consumers and communities of user innovators.

This guide is for technical and business leaders who need to generate traction for the APIs and get more developers using them. 

The boundaries between a firm and its environment have become more permeable; innovations can easily transfer inward and outward between firms and other firms and between firms and creative consumers, resulting in impacts at the level of the consumer, the firm, an industry, and society.

The evolution of the customer’s expectations

The technological advances that allowed the mainstream interconnectedness of online systems took place in parallel with the biggest change in customer thinking the industry has ever faced, in the consumer space as well as in the enterprise. Today, customers expect 24/7 access to services, easy to use apps, integrated experiences, and products that flex around their needs. This shift has served as an innovation catalyst across most industries and has provoked big and small players alike to prioritize their digital transformation initiatives.

Digital transformation has changed customer demands and expectations on day to day services. This impact is felt beyond technology companies—automakers, banks, and even news companies are transforming. The only way for businesses to win in today’s landscape, and to remain relevant in the future, is to meet these expectations. Organizations must enter the Customer Experience era.

FinTech thought leaders are embracing this new reality: 

“With FinTechs, BigTechs, and other non-FS firms finding their place in the market, retail banking today is all about the customer experience when interacting with their financial institution,” said Anirban Bose, CEO of Capgemini’s Financial Services Strategic Business Unit. “As a new, open ecosystem – comprised of customers, traditional banks, non-traditional firms, regulators, and developers – takes shape, there is now a clear opportunity for banks to leverage digital transformation to retain customer relationships by re-inventing the customer journey and creating new revenue streams.”

Innovators and disruptors are fulfilling the growing needs for consumers and enterprise customers. New entrant startups are bringing to market new, forward thinking digital experiences that traditional organizations still struggle to envision. The organizations who best influence, connect and support third-party developers ecosystems will win. Developers are today’s top strategic distribution channel. Through these ecosystems, legacy businesses can expand the reach and impact of its robust infrastructure.

Companies can seek commercial gain by attracting developers to build on their platform. Engaged developers, the innovators of the tech world, will help product development, giving brands a competitive edge.

Platform: The starting block

Open Innovation is realized with APIs. While they are not the only avenue, APIs are the main way third-party developers expect systems to interact with their experiences. They enable developers to integrate data to enhance different states of an application, perform transformations to the data given the context of an interaction, and store the results a given transaction within its corresponding system of record. From a customer point of view, APIs are the technology behind scenarios like being able to access their travel itinerary, reference must-see attractions, and check their account balance after the currency exchange. All within the same service; eliminating the need of jumping hoops or going to different services.

APIs must be robust and reliable. API providers must clearly communicate their Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with measurements for uptime and response times for each type of request it allows. The methods must be contextually obvious with clear documentation and sample code. Remember, while your organization gains significant competitive advantage by enabling a third-party developer to build on its platform, the developer takes in a hard dependency that could impact her customers’ satisfaction. And with the number of companies reacting to this opportunity, developers will quickly move to an alternative that best respects and addresses the technical needs of their organization.

APIs are the starting block. To declare mission complete at deployment is leaving money on the table. Today lots of businesses are launching APIs because: they can, regulations, parity and other reasons without having a clear business strategy in place. Once the infrastructure is in place, the business opportunity is monumental. It is the first step an organization can take to become a powerhouse in the new digital landscape. That said, no sensible business should deploy open technologies without having a clear understanding of the developer segment(s) that will have the most interest in building with it. This helps not only from a go-to-market and positioning perspective, but carries weight on the product roadmap. An understanding of which developers will build, the common uses cases they will try to address, and the needs and expectations they have within the developer community is key to properly align resources and empower others to innovate. This innovation will in turn become a key distribution channel of the most powerful asset: information.

The missing link

Cool co. launches an API.
Cool co. is now a platform.
Cool co. sponsored a Hackathon.

So what?

A lot has been done to address the technical challenges of APIs. But little attention has been paid on how to take these platforms to market. The cultural shifts, the disruption and the operating costs associated with launching APIs are significant. Technical and business teams must craft a clear plan to introduce new capabilities to the market. Specifically, to the developer community. Any business launching an API must understand which developer segment gets the most value, why a given developer segment will choose them, how they build, and what they’re trying to build. Without this foundational understanding, the organization will be risking multimillion dollar investments with hope that brand equity and trending topics will drive adoption.

After the audience is understood, marketing channels must be prioritized. Traditional marketing will not work. Developers are a unique audience and their needs are different. Sometimes, having a recognizable brand is more detrimental than beneficial when entering the developer space. Developers understand that more and more brands are trying to get them to build bits on their platforms as a growth strategy.

Developers want to know if these brands really mean it. Does the brand understand my challenges and opportunities? Is the brand truly committed to my success? Am I just another tick on their scorecard or am I going to get the support required to create great customer experiences? These are questions the developer community will publicly challenge new entrants with.

Now, the question is: are you in the business of launching tech for the sake of it or are you in the business of enabling new revenue streams?

API Marketing Strategy Fundamentals

Audience Identification

Who will use your API? Is it best suited to specific industries, locations or use cases?

Before jumping into technical explanations about your API, you need to understand who you are talking to. Gather feedback on what they understand, what they don’t, and explore how to tailor your message. The community isn’t limited to software developers. Target your messaging to both technical developers and non-technical stakeholders:

Technical developers might not be making the decision to buy your API, but they will be the ones using it. They’ll also be the ones advocating for your API to respond to a business need.

Non-technical stakeholders could include product owners, CTOs, CPOs, etc. These stakeholders often drive strategies and identify needs. They need to understand how your API solves problems.

Audience Research

After defining the audience, you must find and match companies to create a list of potential partners, end users and paying customers you will want to market to. Research lists include contact details as well as detailed developer profiles.

Competitor Landscape

Understand your competitors and where you may have advantages over them for your users. The research must include a review of their value proposition, marketing positioning, onboarding experience, technical specs and the community buzz around each offering.

Value Proposition

Why will developers want to use your API? What makes it special, useful or interesting to your target developer and business personas? Distill these benefits into a coherent and actionable value proposition that amplifies your product vision.

Content Editorial Process

Having a content calendar and a robust editorial process are crucial foundational blocks for API marketing.

Content Production

Create relevant, informative and engaging content pieces. Your products need to speak to developers, creators and makers in order to help them understand what’s possible to build with your API. Build your content plan around your target audience and focus on what your API does, not only how it works. Developers have the technical expertise to understand API mechanics. Stakeholders need to know what they can achieve with your API. The approach is show, don’t tell. Create success stories, product updates, and more to inspire your future users.

Marketing Channel Audit

The distribution of content is as important as creating it. Understanding the channels you use for marketing is essential to reaching the maximum number of potential users. Audit your current channel and marketing mix and create an optimized bespoke channel plan for your API. 

Channel may include:

  • Your developer portal. The point-of-contact between you and your users.
  • Social networks. Connect with influencers. Build relationships.
  • Forums: GitHub and StackOverflow. Hang out and offer advice. Be active in the community.
  • Developer events and meetings. Hackathons. Conferences. Meet developers where they are.
  • Guest blogs. Have a voice on other platforms. Showcase industry knowledge.

Developer Experience

It’s essential the journey to use your API and developer experience is as frictionless as possible. Review the current experience and prioritize a set of recommendations and improvements to delight developers across every touchpoint. To be successful, your API should be easy to implement, have strong documentation, and feedback loop.

Build a developer experience that best services the target audience. Developer heavy content should live within a developer portal, not on the homepage of your site, to keep the messaging friendly to all audiences. By linking your developer portal from your homepage, developers can find the technical material they need without getting lost in your marketing landing pages.

Search Intent

Seek to understand the way developers and other users search for tools and APIs. Review your current SEO and compile a list of suggestions on how to improve the discoverability of your content.

Community Engagement Playbook

Creating an API means creating a community. And your users drive marketing. The best way to promote the use of your API is to engage the community. Creating a thriving and engaged community of users is seen as the pinnacle of success for some API and developer program managers. Create a bespoke Community Engagement playbook packed full of actionable steps to bring your community to life.

More Developer Marketing Resources


Developer Marketing Guide

In the Catchy Developer Marketing Guide, we’ll help you understand the ins and outs of building a developer program. Whether you are planning a developer program from scratch, or you are managing an established business that needs a fresh approach, building an incisive, long-term developer marketing strategy, you’ll feel better prepared to take your next steps in marketing to developers.