Beyond Messaging: Open APIs in Marketing

Siri – an iPhone application that uses its speech recognition technology to act as a mobile personal assistant that was purchased by Apple earlier this year – is an excellent case study in how to leverage open APIs to satiate utilitarian consumer needs. So why don’t more marketers create open APIs and allow others to create enjoyable consumer experiences?

As Tim Berners-Lee says, we now live on a Web of data rather than a Web of documents. Companies are currently sitting on piles and piles of data. While all of this data is useful to someone, a company’s management team will traditionally balk at the chance to share data, even if it’s non-personally identifiable data. Executives often do not see a direct correlation between their company’s vitality and sharing their information with the world.

Guest author Dean McRobie has over 17 years of technology, consulting, and project management experience. In his role at Organic, he is enhancing our technology delivery capabilities and developing leading-edge technology concepts and solutions that support our diverse client needs. Dean has worked with industry-leading brands like Equinox, Bank of America, Estee Lauder, and others. His musings on the intersection of technology and marketing can also be found on the Organic blog Threeminds.

“Open APIs present a unique opportunity to marketers because they can be used to create real utility, not just carry messaging.”

OkCupid is incredibly smart in the way they analyze and share their data. They are using their data to help everyone understand their audience in a completely different way. What value does this information have if only contained within OkCupid? It is valuable for some targeting and some better matches. But what value does it have in the wild? It stimulates thinking; it allows people to explore data that you could never capture in a research study or focus group.

Google and Netflix are also perfect examples of how enterprises can achieve marketing success through open APIs. Open APIs are particularly appealing for marketers because they are a relatively inexpensive way to build brand equity, crowdsource innovative data and product ideas and even set up branded Web development communities. Often, the first step in creating a loyal customer base is through the establishment of two-way feedback systems. Consumers relish their role in the product development process while brands can solicit free, informed opinions that they can use to generate out-of-the box marketing ideas. For instance, Microsoft repositioned its data visualization tool, Pivot, as an application to view website content based on feedback from the user community.

But the benefits of open APIs aren’t only relegated to the abstract. It’s possible to make some money from them using a freemium model. Let’s say a bank wanted to offer up generic customer information related to their branch banking practices. This sort of information is fun for consumers to see and play with but doesn’t provide them with any long-term applications. However, the bank could offer more detailed – though not personally identifiable – information that is applicable to other industries for a fee.

The average amount of money in a savings account at a branch is an excellent indicator of an area’s wealth and may, for instance, be of interest to a financial planning service firm that is evaluating neighborhoods to expand its customer base. Open APIs represent low-hanging fruit for marketers that allow them to demonstrate high-margin ROI on their marketing projects.

Marketing-focused open APIs are already in use and drawing attention. Netflix partnered with Mashery to open up its catalog information along with consumer ratings and access to your Netflix queue. The New York Times put together an interesting map that shows the most and least popular film titles in major metro areas. It was a smart way for the home movie distributor to gain some media attention and provide some fun information for consumers. Who knew “True Blood” would be the second least-rented DVD of 2009 in New York City?

Porsche leveraged a few Google APIs in its latest campaign to promote the Cayenne models that provides consumers with a virtual test-drive. The API blends the Cayenne’s primary selling points, real-life photos of the route and, most importantly, a personalized experience with a direct call to action.

If I were to guess, the price point for this campaign was cut dramatically because they were able to use stock footage spliced with unique images from Google’s street view. It’s an interesting take on the virtual driving experience and is memorable for consumers.

Open APIs present a unique opportunity to marketers because they can be used to create real utility, not just carry messaging. Brands are challenged not by price but by either a reluctance to share their own information or the lack of understanding how to leverage other companies’ open APIs to create memorable consumer experiences.

When done right, open APIs can become the catalyst to a wildly loyal fan base and inspire marketers to create campaigns with the often-elusive wow factor.

Photo by Deniz Ongar.

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