Ever wondered what’s the most efficient way of building a powerful brand? If you ask this question to various marketers, a common reply will be inbound marketing. We’ve been wondering though if there’s another way, using strategies that haven’t gone mainstream yet.

Doing inbound marketing right means spending time, money, and effort to craft compelling content. When and if it’s discovered, this kind of material builds trust with customers. If this is how you’re currently building your brand, then hopefully you’re trying just as hard to promote your content — pushing it through channels such as social media, email newsletters, your blog, and YouTube. Doing all this comes at a cost, one that’s rising as it becomes more challenging to be heard online. It’s hard to punch through the noise with good content, so forget about trying with mediocre stuff!

Is there an alternative channel that’s less crowded, but can still deliver brand engagement?

The answer is yes – APIs!

The basic idea is to build an API, and use it to create a distribution channel. This will make it possible for customers to engage with your media and data in various new and useful ways. By owning the channel, you can brand the content at the point of consumption, and promote your brand in a new light.

Lets take YouTube as an example. Using their iframe player API, third-party websites can enhance their visitors’ experience with better video functionality without the technical complexities or cost involved. In exchange for providing websites with this free service, YouTube gets to display their brand to potentially millions of people daily — reminding the world that they rule the online video market.

How to Increase Brand Awareness with APIs

In this post, we’ll expand on this type of API branding strategy. You will learn how to sidestep the noise and increase your brand awareness using APIs. This strategy begins by finding a problem and developing an API that delivers a solution.

Step 1: Find a Problem Worth Solving

In the process of bringing new products and services to market, companies aim to reach something called “problem/solution fit.” It basically means that you have found a problem worth solving — a problem that real people are having and not one you just assume they have.

Just like new products and services, your API needs to solve a real customer problem if you want it to get adopted. Finding this problem can be a little tricky because it needs to be solved with an API, and in a way that earns you the precious attention of your target audience. Don’t worry though. By involving your developers, marketers, and customers in the conversation, it’s very possible to discover a real API-related opportunity.

Like any good product implementation, speaking with your customers is the best place to start. Your goal is to understand what digital services they are using, what are they using them for, and what are they trying to get done. This understanding can then be profiled and fed into your API development team who will use it to keep their prospective solutions relevant.

If you’ve been avoiding the common API marketing mistakes and built a healthy email list, then you might find this template email useful for booking interviews with your most engaged customers.

Subject: [Your company name] [What you’ll give them] for a friendly interview

Hi [name],

It has been great having you as a customer. We’re looking to tackle another problem that you might be facing, and I’m wondering if it would be useful to you.

I’m trying to understand a bit more about your digital interactions. My goal is to learn about the digital services you use, and what you try to get done with them.

Would you be available for a 20 minute in-person interview or phone call?

I’m not looking to sell anything –just get your input. Since you’re one of our most loyal customers, I’d love to get your input because we really don’t want to build something that isn’t useful to you or our other customers.

If you have a few minutes, how does Thursday or Friday morning work for you?

Thanks for the Help,

[Your contact details]

Step 2: Build an API Solution Worth Using

Once you have found a bona fide problem, you need to find an API-related solution if you’re going to use this less crowded channel to increase brand awareness. Start by reflecting.

Take a look at your business or organisation, from an outside perspective. Ask yourself what media, data, or functions could you bake into an API solution.

Maybe you’re sitting on a collection of digital learning material, for instance, and wondering how else to use it. By letting relevant third-party websites embed that material into their websites for free via an Iframe API, you could piggyback of others audiences and promote yourself as an authority resource.

Here’s another example: Lets assume you have collected data on living conditions in different cities. That could be turned into a useful “index/comparison interface” just like nomadlist did. This tool helps freelancers choose the best cities to live in, and has generated some serious traffic since it went live. This one isn’t necessarily an API, but it does show you that building something useful with simple data can deliver huge brand engagement, saving you the cost of expensive inbound marketing.

If you’re looking to build an API that developers would use, just as you would study the app store market place if you were building an app, you should study what the readers of ProgrammableWeb want to know more about. There’s a good chance the list of top ten tracked APIs says something about what attracts those who actually build with APIs.

Step 3: API Adoption Means Finding a Growth Model that Scales

At this stage, you’ve created an API that solves a real problem and captures value by promoting your brand –it’s time to scale! The focus of this stage is on growing your API adoption as efficiently as possible.

It’s important to understand that this stage has two primary goals:

  1. lowering your cost per API adoption, and
  2. increasing your acquisition rate

Sometimes, one of these comes at the cost of the other, but both require that you understand your funnel and growth model in detail. This means measuring growth with some sort of analytics package (e.g., Google Analytics). There are many analytics packages on the market, and you’ll want one that allows you to perform cohort analysis and to segment your data on a user level. Here’s why.

Cohort analysis allows you to compare your funnels performance changes by looking at when a customer first interacts with your digital platform. This is helpful because it allows you to see spikes in your key metrics very clearly. Then by drilling into the data, you can discover insights that help you understand what you need to do more of, and what you need to STOP doing immediately.

Being able to segment data on a user level helps increase your customer understanding – something that should be directly fed into API marketing strategy.

It’s critical to be tracking the right metrics, and understand how your metrics are being reported. Not doing so could result in making very important decision based on funky data. It’s easier to do than you might think, so bring in the talent if you haven’t got the bandwidth to spend some time in your numbers.

During this stage you’ll be rolling out many experiments, some more important than others, but all potentially able to deliver impressive results. In order to speed up your rate of growth, you’ll need to increase your rate of learning. This means hastening the rate at which you run experiments — all without sacrificing on accuracy!

Learn how to execute experiment like a scientist, and then focus on doing so faster and faster.

In order to lower your cost per API acquisition, you’ll want to spend resources optimizing your funnel at every stage, starting with where the most customers are getting stuck. The AARRR model is extremely useful and versatile for this type of exercise, but you should map your funnel using whichever model you feel more comfortable with. If your team is big enough, you could assign individual team members the responsibility of tracking key metric conversion rates.

At this stage your API is successfully adopted, growing consistently, and your brand is reaping the benefits of that exposure – time to go celebrate!

Conclusion

This post has discussed how you can use an API to deliver brand exposure by creating useful APIs that distribute data or media that tackles a customer problem. We’ve highlighted three stages to this initiative that align with how innovative companies launch new products and services. The first stage is to find a problem worth solving; the second is to build an API solution worth using; the third and final stage is about growing your API consumption in the most efficient way possible.

Do you have any examples of how brands have used APIs as an alternative channel for brand building? Please leave your answers in a comment below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

About Rhys Fisher

Rhys is a digital marketer with a sharp focus on growth. He also contributes to Swedish Startup Space, and Medium.

About Staffan Sölve

App developer, mainly iOS, and ebook publisher, in my own company Posiphone. I am an experienced technical author, with a career as part owner of a B2B ad agency, and with employments in telecom and public transport companies.