understand-your-target-consumer-nordic-apis-01There are marketing tactics providers need to use in order to make sure their developer programs or APIs land in front of the right eyes. In order to segment API marketing correctly, and to do so in a way that is appealing and in good taste, it comes down to intimately knowing the needs of your audience. In this article we interview developer program strategists from Catchy, Dopter, and Stateless to explore why knowing your target API consumer is now more important than ever.

A Response to Increased Consumer Diversity

Throughout webby plains of interconnectivity, thirteen thousand plus public APIs or application programing interfaces now expose data and systems — adding awesome functionalities to mobile apps, and allowing entirely new data-driven businesses and new user experiences to blossom.

Within any economy showing such exponential growth, the diversity of its players will naturally increase as the market evolves. It’s a fact that the API space is becoming increasingly diverse — it’s not the old days where a few independent developers created mashups for fun. APIs have entered large business dealings, gained the attention of enterprise-level product designers, led to the creation of multi-billion dollar startups, influenced creative marketing campaigns, and more.

So, with all this new interest from varying audiences, API providers may be asking: who are we selling to?

At Nordic APIs, we’ve tracked the explosion of this innovation, watching as new players step up to play ball — either connecting or striking out in deprecation. With more and more consumers entering the API space, it’s now more important than ever to consider the large breadth of specializations amongst third party developers. These factors take the form of:

  • varying technical understanding
  • different industry backgrounds
  • geographical location
  • online activity
  • API use cases
  • protocol preferences
  • programming language preferences
  • …and more.
Mike Kelly, API consultant at Stateless.co

Mike Kelly, API consultant at Stateless.co

Mike Kelly runs Stateless.co, an API strategy consulting firm based in London. He describes the wide breadth of developers currently in the space:

“There are of course broad categories such as system integrators, mobile, web, embedded systems. In reality there are innumerable forms of developers each with their own set of constraints and requirements, which is why developing a set of realistic developer personas is important.”

Why Create a Developer “Persona”?

Traditional business models necessitate a process of consumer profiling. The same can be done in a way that makes sense for this niche API sector. Intimately understanding your target consumer is crucial as it will influence the following:

  • Market Fit: Knowing your consumer can help you discover unmet needs in the market your API could potentially satisfy.
  • Functionality: Understanding use cases can help design API functions around that need.
  • Segmentation: Knowing your user can help segment marketing efforts and decrease customer acquisition cost.
  • Creative Marketing: Knowing what your audience is interested in will help tailor your marketing to this audience, influencing your message, tone, appearance, design, style, and more to attract your target audience.

Kelly goes on to mention the importance of establishing developer personas is that they establish an important frame of reference:

“If you’re unable to clearly describe your target customers and their use cases for your API, that usually indicates that the underlying proposition is not focused enough. Likewise, if you’re unable to clearly determine how a proposed feature provides immediate value to one of your personas, that is a strong indicator that it doesn’t belong on the roadmap yet…I’m a huge fan of any methodology that encourages approaching the strategy and design of an API by focusing on the client side, rather than the server side.”

The Developer Brain

understanding-your-api-consumer-brain-nordicapis‘Know your demographic.’ ‘Understand the psychology of your consumer.’ We hear phrases like this frequently in general business discussion. Is it possible to apply the same philosophy to marketing APIs?

Jason Hilton of Catchy.  Catchy's upcoming conference will bring together experts in developer programs and IoT.

Jason Hilton of Catchy. Catchy’s upcoming conference will bring together experts in developer programs and IoT.

Developers are not your average consumer. In a conversation with Nordic APIs, General Manager Jason Hilton of Catchy Agency, an international developer program management outfit with an upcoming IoT-themed dev conference, pinpointed the following attributes. The developer brain is naturally analytical. They appreciate authenticity. And in a sea of competing tools with rampant overzealous marketing, they have the right to be skeptical. A web developer especially wants to pick up and play with a product, expecting an instant proof that it behaves as advertised.

Take these generalizations as you will, but they’re worth to consider when developing a marketing message and story applicable to this certain audience. Both content and aesthetics can either incorporate or alienate depending on their execution. Creating a developer portal, for example, should, in response to our brief psychological examination, be intuitively designed, with transparent information, an attractive layout, and interactive modules that allow one to test API calls.

But Plenty of Other People Are Interested in APIs, Too!

Andreas Krohn

Andreas Krohn, API expert at Dopter and prolific dev community contributor

Andreas Krohn of Dopter urges us to consider a wider scope with API marketing. Instead of focusing so heavily on developers, API providers should create more inclusionary customer personas.

“I strongly dislike how developers are worshipped in marketing”

In his work at Dopter, an API strategy and consulting firm, Krohn routinely encounters providers that want to create hackathons to reach out to developers to promote their APIs. Though that can be an effective strategy, are developers really the sole audience that may be interested in APIs? The truth is that designers, entrepreneurs, marketers, and other business leads are just as important constituents.

Krohn believes we naturally target developers for the following reasons:

  1. APIs are technical.
  2. Developers relate to other developers.
  3. Silicon valley influence.
  4. Myth of the single developer.

Though many people aware of APIs are developers, not everyone is a developer. We must remember that the world is bigger than the Silicon Valley. Just as the laymen smartphone consumer can brainstorm innovative app ideas without needing to know how to code, there is a similar low bar that allows anyone to understand the possibilities APIs offer to then envision creative applications. Developers are crucial to any software process, but in reality, a diverse array of talent and experiences contribute to creating a new product.

Expanding our Portal: Developer End User Evangelism

If we incorporate a wider audience into our understanding of the target API consumer, how does that change the way an API is marketed?

Krohn encourages us to remember that real value is only created when an end user uses the app that’s created with the API. And who creates that experience? Entrepreneurs may create the product, managers oversee production, designers envision the user experience, developers connect the backend, and other domain experts may contribute. All these stakeholders intimately understand the value of API integrations, and thus all their perspectives and needs should be considered.

Think of standard web API portals as they are now. Can entrepreneurs immediately discern the end user value when they view API documentation? More often than not, their needs are excluded. There is a lack of high-level summary and sample use cases to inspire non-technical minds — this experience is often non-existent.

Krohn believes that Developer evangelism should rather be End User Evangelism. As Krohn says, “be aware of who you are including or excluding, and make it a conscious decision.” Think you know your target audience? that may soon change.

Andreas Krohn communicates the importance and challenge of including non-technical individuals in the API discussion

Varying Industry Backgrounds

With the recent rise of B2B and enterprise interest, should API providers be selling to individual developers? Or is it a better idea to seek out business partnerships directly?

The way APIs are marketed and consumed varies tremendously on the industry. API providers may range from a two person startup to an enterprise development team spanning hundreds of employees. The same diversity is present on the consumer end, affecting the way APIs are acquired. The core value message also changes based on whether the API is directed toward startups, engineers in a large organization, or toward convincing upper leadership.

Jason Hilton of Catcy says we can begin by separating the consumer side of the API space into two distinct groups:

  • Enterprise Developers: Developers working within a large organization. The challenge faced here is that they may not be the decision maker. Working on the inside, means they must make the case upwards, involving multiple parties and potentially creating a longer decision making process.
  • Freelance Dev Shop: These are small startup teams looking for helpful API integrations to accell their product.

According to Hilton, industry variance mean it’s “It’s worth applying specific techniques and strategies. Just as much energy and consideration needs to be put into marketing a developer program as with any other product.”

Mike Kelly shares a similar experience, encountering differences in user acquisition based on who’s consuming:

“It varies a lot between different businesses and markets. If a relatively lightweight, phased on-boarding process for partners and clients is realistic and commercially viable; then absolutely APIs can, and should, be used to generate leads from developers. We refer to this as bottom-up user acquisition.
If the business is tied to a traditional top-down user acquisition process, with procurement decisions happening in upper management, then developers and the API will play much less of a role in sales. Having said that, if deep technical evaluation and due diligence is a key component of their decision making process, then the API will still play a key role.”

Location & Demographics

With so much personal data online — GPS, demographics, bio, history, taste, “likes”— the amount of data opens up a pandora’s box for hypertargeting. However, simple geographical location is still considered vital when creating a profile of you target API developer:

According to Catchy, “location is a crucial factor. AT&T, for example, has APIs that are useful to developers who are producing apps for the US market. Indeed, many of their APIs are only available to developers with a US billing address because of the monetization aspects. Trying to attract non-US ​based developers to adopt these APIs is completely pointless.”

Other than geographical pinpointing, additional physical locations like developer centric programs such as hackathons, meetups, and conferences can be used to discover your consumer. If we consider online activity, our target developer location varies depending on their needs. Gauge how active your target consumer is on Stackoverflow, Github, Twitter, Reddit, among other communities.

API Use Cases

Next, API providers must imagine the API’s use case in the wild. Why would someone want to use your API? Providers should consider the possibilities the data offers and brainstorm applications that could be created using the API. Kelly believes this process will help identify consumer needs:

“The key to a good persona is in establishing concrete user scenarios and stories…You need to understand the needs of your customer before deciding what to offer them.”

This process also involves considering the business model of the product that will be created using the API. Hilton notes that “the business model of the API is important — we know that serious developers will monetize either through paid apps, or carrying ads. Trying to get the developer of a paid app to implement an ad API is pointless.”

Technology Preferences

Developers have varying technological specializations, focusing in different programming languages, attracted to certain protocols over others, and coming with a unique history using specific tools. So, how critical is it to consider these concerns when marketing an API?

Hilton: “As well as understanding why someone would want to use your API, it is vital to having an understanding of who could do so. Likely there will likely be some criteria that would directly influence the sorts of developers who could become potential users of the API. Such criteria might include prerequisite technical knowledge, such as coding languages, platforms, or protocols, or else might entail non-technical factors such as location. If an API marketing campaign is to be successful, it should target all and only those developers for whom the message is relevant. Understanding your API’s technical requirements and restrictions, and then being able to identify and reach relevant developers, is a key facet of API marketing success.”

Kelly: “JSON over HTTP seems to be the standard preference these days; likely because they are both simple and ubiquitous with strong tooling on the vast majority of development stacks.”

Lessen The Corporate Branding

Marketing, relations, outreach — typical B2B sales motives, labels, and tactics may conjure up negative connotations. Hilton acknowledges a common pain point among working with enterprise clientele is knowing when to lessen the corporate branding to appeal to the tech community.

Mike Boich of Apple was arguably the first self-proclaimed software evangelist — now throughout the tech community, the title is more commonplace than ever. It’s no wonder why the tech community has embraced alternative roles like “evangelist” or “developer advocate.” It helps communicate a true passion, and having a passion, and a true conviction for what you are promoting will win the day. The lesson of 2015, according to the Catchy team, is that “If you have a developer evangelist, you have a dev program.”

Successful copy can’t be homogenous. It must be direct, imbued with enough transparent technical knowledge to communicate value. This becomes a concern for larger clients that are not accustomed to exposing their documentation. When asked his opinion about the pros and cons of opening up an API to the public — weighing the loss of security and authority over proprietary knowledge — Hilton advises as follows:

“It depends on the goal of the API owner. If volume is critical, then opening up the API is a crucial first step. If, however, it’s niche and / or dependent on the quality of products produced using the API, then keeping it closed is the more sensible route. ​

As a general rule, if the API is for enterprise then being ‘closed’ can work. An example here would be SAP. Being closed allows the API owners to retain strict control of the ecosystem, ensuring all apps retain business look-and-feel, and also quality measures. But ​closed APIs, entailing log-in to a proprietary ecosystem, will always be a barrier to entry for the majority of developers.

If the end product is commercial (i.e. apps in the Play store) then open APIs have significant advantages. For one, they are more popular with developers, who can fork the source code to invent completely new products. This allows developers to innovate, creating products that the original stakeholders would not otherwise have thought of. Open drives innovation, and keeps barriers low. Android apps being the paradigm example.”

Developer Experience

The presentation of developer facing material is paramount to success in the space. According to Mike Kelly, “providers may see the best growth opportunities in customer acquisition and activation by developing tutorials, improving documentation, exposing sandbox environments, tailoring the API design to specific use cases.”

API providers can use tactics to help acquire developers, increase onboarding efficiency, and maintain user retention by appealing to the tastes and needs of the audience. Stellar reasoning behind creating quality developer experience can be found in John Musser’s “10 Reasons Why Developers Hate Your API.” Harking back to Andreas Krohn’s stance on the need for increased inclusion, API experience should also consider the entrepreneur experience, the manager experience, and the designer experience. In that spirit, embrace developer language, but also cater content, appearance, UI, and UX to your audience.

Kelly: “developer experience is the most important metric of quality for an API. It’s vital.”

Build it And They Will _____

Simply opening a platform up without the right forethought, planning, and intimate knowledge of your consumer will not work in this sector. Product teams within technology companies often assume the product will be used, but too often, marketing is either too slim or inefficient, leading to a low adoption.

Understand Your Audience

Perform the necessary research to find who your consumer really is. Who is the key influencer that can communicate the value of your API? It comes down to knowing the needs of this audience, and this requires thorough analysis. Wielding this knowledge, you should have helpful answers to the following:

  • Technical Perspective: Understand what type of person will be interested in your API, and make sure your marketing and API portal does not exclude interested parties.
  • Industry Background: Consider who will be attracted to your API: is your API a public offering encouraging startup developers to check it out, or is it a partner integration used by enterprise teams?
  • Needs: Understand the needs of your audience first, then tailor functionality and experience to address those concerns.
  • Architecture: Build in relevant modes that your target audience finds useful.
Bill Doerrfeld

About Bill Doerrfeld

Bill Conrad Doerrfeld is an API specialist, focusing on API economy research and marketing strategy for developer programs. He is the Editor in Chief for Nordic APIs, and formerly Directory Manager & Associate Editor at ProgrammableWeb. Follow him on Twitter, visit his personal website, or reach out via email.