API Marketing: Using Customer Discovery to Launch a New Service

Our customer discovery into API marketing

At Catchy, new ideas and business opportunities are welcomed from every team member. From time to time, our open sessions bring us the opportunity to explore possible new ventures for the agency. In one of these sessions, we discussed how some product marketers are struggling to generate adoption of their APIs. This conversation prompted us to take a deeper look into how developer marketing principles could help product marketers achieve success. Some see lots of overlaps between dev marketing and API marketing, while others strongly believe that’s not the case.

Instead of going in circles internally, we decided to get out of the building. We like to implement and live by what we preach. One of our key strategy offerings to our clients is a try-and-learn process we call DVC, Discover, Validate, Create. Building upon the techniques from DVC, as well as customer discovery practices made famous by the Lean Startup movement, we decided to get serious about finding out more about API marketing and run a few sprints on behalf of the agency. We went out, knock on a few doors, and ask more why’s than a toddler. The focus of this initiative was to assess the current market opportunities, understand challenges, and identify what marketers and product managers are doing to address these.


Why API marketing?

The API space has become much more saturated in recent years. Most websites and apps have APIs, and you’ve probably used hundreds without even realising.  For example, if you are on a retailers website and want to find out where the nearest store is – that map uses an API to fetch geo data and other information relevant to that particular context. API marketing is a business motion chartered with helping developers discover and realise the value of leveraging an existing platform.

APIs are becoming much more readily available because companies have realised they can leverage developers’ innovative technical skills to come up with new and exciting uses and features, which ultimately translates into business growth. In a busy and crowded space, with some of the biggest names in tech to compete with, how do you attract developers to your API?

On our customer discovery, we spoke to marketing and product specialists in the API space to find out what their challenges are, day-to-day considerations, and anything else they wanted to tell us. We documented our discoveries and all the interesting findings, both good and bad. 

The first steps into discovering the relatively unknown

As with any good piece of research or exploration, we back ours with some methodology.

Find people:

The first step towards API customer discovery is finding the right people to talk to. The most logical place to find anyone in the business world is LinkedIn, so that’s where we began our search. We knew that not everyone would want to talk to us, so we wrote out a script to ensure that everyone received similar messages:

Subject: Help with APIs

Hi <name>,

We’ve been running a Developer Marketing agency for about 10 years. We’re now exploring an opportunity to support companies looking to market their APIs but who don’t necessarily need a full developer program.

We’re looking to talk with 100 API marketing leaders for 30 mins and listen to their challenges and thoughts about API marketing. We will share a summary of the study with the participants. Please note this is not a sales pitch.

Would you be open to setting up a brief chat?

Thank you,

<Your name>

<Your job title>

Catchy Agency



The key here is to schedule face-to-face interviews. For logistic reasons, we couldn't possibly meet all our participants in person, so video calling was the next best option. We were keen to have face-to-face meetings in order to see the subtle (and not so subtle) nonverbal cues. The problem with phone calls is that you don’t get to see all of those tiny gestures, which say 1000 words without saying one.  The Catchy team was briefed to ensure there were absolutely no leading questions, otherwise, the interviews could have end up being biased. 

The final guidance is around rewards, and we weren't offering any. We wanted people who wanted to talk to us, not just talk to us and say what they think we want to hear just because there’s a shopping voucher in it for them.

Affinity maps:

Once we had done a few interviews we needed to start mapping out common themes, keywords, and any technical jargon on an affinity map. These ultimately form part of the analysis section. It was important to make really clear notes when conducting our interviews. The affinity map helped us to visually categorise and cluster the different aspects of information. It was an easy way to identify common topics which had been discussed across multiple interviews.


The analysis happened off the back of the affinity maps. Once all the interviews were done, all the keywords and themes were written on little stickies in their topic clusters. We then assessed which keywords were the most important and had an internal debate ensuring all the details were covered. In these debates, we aim to pick out the important themes and keywords from the eyes of the customer, not us.


The Business Model Canvas – we used an adaptation of this called the Lean Canvas. The Lean Canvas is a whole framework in its own right with far too much information to explain in a paragraph, but in a very small nutshell, it’s a way to visually map out a business plan. Check out this Medium article for further info.


What did we learn? The report summarised everything, including our customer discovery research into API marketing and the outlined key points which allowed us to make an informed decision about whether this was a business venture we would like to trial or if we should hang up our API marketing hat and walk away.


Week one

We launched into our first week and the first step of our customer discovery by finding suitable participants on LinkedIn.

Our stats for week 1:

  • 71 invitations sent
  • 3 people interested in participating
  • 1 interview booked
  • 1 interview completed

What did we learned from week 1?

It was actually quite difficult to find the right people. We were looking for marketers, senior but not too senior, and of course they had to be involved in API marketing. Suprisingly, many people don’t make it clear on LinkedIn what they actually do and some don’t even update their profiles in between job moves.

As we looked for a very specific type of person to participate, the research is took longer than we initially thought it might. We were also slightly concerned we might run out of people to contact.

Interestingly, the participants who  agreed to interviews were with some very big and very well known organizations – sectors include marketing software, banking, and telecoms. From the first interview we completed, we didn’t gain much insight into API marketing as the person was on a similar journey as us, but we did get an exciting opportunity for a future bit of networking.