So, you’ve built your API. Or maybe you’re not quite there yet? Whatever stage in the process you’re at, it’s never too early to start thinking about who will actually use your API.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. But it’s an essential step of the process because, if you fail to do it, you won’t know how to market it. A one size fits all approach may fail to resonate with your ideal users, and your API will struggle to grow as a result.

The key to avoiding this is finding an audience that falls in love with your product. Again, easier said than done. However, finding a market that can’t get enough of your API and wants to talk about it to their fellow developers can make your life much easier.

Below we’ll cover a few of the questions you should be asking to refine your audience. We’ll outline some of the steps you need to be taking as you build your service to find an audience for your API.

What Does Your API Do?

This might sound like a rudimentary question, but it’s one that you need to answer. Distilling what an API does into a single sentence is helpful because it prompts you to think about your positioning. Here’s an example of how Twilio does this from their blog:

“Twilio helps organizations and brands of all sizes create meaningful moments with users across the globe — from the simplest text messages to life-saving communications.”

It’s true that “meaningful moments” is a little vague, but elsewhere in that post, Twilio talks about enabling developers “to build unique, personalized experiences for their customers.” Already, a picture of Twilio’s customer base is starting to form:

  • Organizations who want an API for B2C communications
  • Need for a high degree of customizability
  • Focus on text as a medium (although Twilio covers channels like voice and video too)
  • Requirement for high reliability and uptime, evident from the reference to sending “life-saving communications”

Armed with the information above, it becomes easier to think about how to market Twilio to potential developer-consumers with an elevator pitch. Or a TL;DR, as Twilio frames the above on their blog. And, as we all know, this is something Twilio has done incredibly successfully.

Carry Targeted Messaging Throughout

It’s not enough just to think about why your product is useful to a specific audience. You need to make sure you’re conveying that message across everything from landing pages to documentation. That means demonstrating the value you can add, including code samples and use cases where possible.

If you have competitors on the market, it’s worth looking at how they perform. How are they appealing to their audiences? If you’re trying to appeal to a slightly different crowd, think about how you can tweak the type of language used to do that. IFTTT, for example, has done an excellent job of positioning automation and complex API terminology in a way that’s friendly to a layperson.

If you’re marketing to the same audience as another product, look at how you can convey what you do differently to them and what makes your product more appealing than them. Or, perhaps it can complement those services. After all, we’re talking APIs, so things don’t have to be cutthroat and can be more collaborative where there are opportunities for that.

Where to Find Your Audience?

Where you actually look for users will vary massively depending on what your target audience looks like, but, in the case of APIs with technical implementation required, it will likely come down to mastering successful developer marketing. This typically dictates an educational, non-salesy approach.

But, once again, this all starts with a deep understanding of the value your API can offer. We’re back to that big question of “what does your API actually do?” The more resources you can point interested developers to, like use cases and blog posts, the better.

Some good news is that you don’t have to do all of this on your own — consider listing your API in marketplaces, like RapidAPI, or directories, like ProgrammableWeb. If you describe and tag your API(s) effectively, these represent a ready-made audience of developers who are hungry for great APIs.

Likewise, sites like ProductHunt, HackerNews, and even relevant subreddits on Reddit all represent good spots to highlight APIs that have enough wow factor to score upvotes. In other words, it helps if your API has some extraordinary use cases!

But, however important external buy-in might be, you also need internal buy-in

Is Your Organization as Invested as You Are?

In a previous post, we talked about getting business buy-in for an API initiative. That’s really important here because it can have a massive impact on the adoption of the product outside of the company. Support teams, for example, can’t evangelize the API if they don’t understand how it could help customers… or even that it exists.

Talking with people from Support or Operations can help shed light on the customers’ problems, enabling you to figure out API solutions that can address them. Even better if you can get insight into the problems your customers’ customers are having, as this enables you to build services with a community of end-users the API will reach in mind.

Before, we’ve discussed treating an API as a product, and one thing we highlighted there was the importance of designing a high-quality product that serves a specific need. Getting input from all over the business is one of the best ways to build this product/needs-focused mindset.

Embrace the Feedback Loop

No one knows what your customers want better than they do. That’s why it’s critical to collect feedback via forms or an automated email sent after they sign up for an API key. It’s worth asking them questions like:

  • What brought them to your API in the first place?
  • Did it solve their problem(s) in the way they hoped?
  • What about the API in its current state works well?
  • Is there anything about it that could be improved?

Henry Ford is often misquoted as saying that “if I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.” There’s some truth to the fact that being too customer-led can be a bad thing, but obtaining feedback can shed light on issues you might never even have considered.

When you’re finding an audience and marketing an API to them, this (actual) quote by Ford is worth taking to heart:

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”