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What Marketers Need to Know About Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

When I was in college studying marketing, the textbooks tried to teach me that marketing is more about understanding people and less about understanding technology and data. That’s still true. If your marketing stack is highly sophisticated and your messages aren’t reaching people emotionally, you won’t see an ROI on your technology investments.

That being said, understanding people’s behaviors and attitudes in today’s digital world requires not only using technology, but also knowing how different technologies work well enough to get creative. Marketers can no longer dabble in technology or outsource everything in hopes of faking their way to customer insights. Marketers must become masters of customer insights and technology strategy in order to turn technology and data into good customer experiences.

One of the most important technologies marketers will come to depend on in the next 5 years is the Application Programming Interface (API).  If you’re a marketer, you don’t necessarily need to become a full stack developer and enter hackathons to hone your API development skills. But knowing a bit more about APIs and how they can be applied to marketing strategy will pay you back with more actionable insights and measurable results from the data your marketing activities generate across different systems.

What APIs are and why you should care

APIs allow applications to expose their functionality for other diverse sets of applications to use. You’re already using APIs. Just about any time you are moving information between programs or setting up automated tasks that coordinate systems, an API did it. For example, APIs let you run a map program on your website or open up a chat window inside your app. You can think of APIs like tunnels between programs that allow them to work together without exposing their internal programming.

It’s not easy to get excited about the APIs themselves, but it’s easy to get excited about their implications for marketing. APIs are exciting for marketers because they allow us to freely choose the best software platform and data combinations for marketing functions without worrying about how the customer data or engagement metrics from campaigns in different systems will fit together.

For example, let’s say you want to send an email inviting people to register for a webinar. If you send the email invitation from your email marketing platform and people register for your webinar in your online meeting platform, you have a problem because you now have customer engagement data about the same group of people in two different systems. This type of situation might compel you to send your invitation emails from your online meeting platform so your email metrics, registration metrics, and follow up emails are all in the same place. But instead, you could use an API script to send the webinar registration data back to your email platform so the registration activity is tied to the click-through data in your email report and your follow up and reminder emails are triggered in your email marketing platform based on the engagement happening in the online meeting system.

Marketers must become masters of customer insights and technology strategy in order to turn technology and data into good customer experiences.

API developers can help you turn data into insights by connecting systems and data in the marketing technology stack. This is where your creativity really matters. What are you doing manually now that you want to automate? What are your systems not doing that you wish they could? With a little help from developers, you can deploy APIs to streamline your own tasks at work, as well as build APIs in to your marketing programs to boost the customer experience.

A few use cases for APIs in marketing

Google Analytics APIs: Save vast amounts of time by automating your most complex reporting tasks. You can create and save custom reports by querying for dimensions and metrics with the Core Reporting API. You can access attribution and conversion path data for users on your website with the Multi-Channel Funnels Reporting API. You could even embed your own branded dashboard on a 3rd-party site in a few steps using the Embed API.

FullContact Developer APIs: These APIs help you enhance contact information anywhere you need it. Deploy these APIs when you want to pull in social profiles of customers inside your CRM, add basic demographic information about the contacts in your marketing automation system, offer enriched information about prospects to your sales team, or pull in other characteristics to add to your audience segments for highly personalized marketing campaigns.

Facebook Audience Management APIs: The success of your Facebook ads will depend on getting in front of the right people at just the right moment with fine precision. That’s not guesswork. Facebook wants to make it easy for you to identify and manage your ideal audiences using this API. You can automatically use data from your CRM system, website visitors or mobile IDs to contact your preferred Facebook users. From there, you can expand to Lookalike Audiences that share some of your customers’ characteristics. Through the API, you will be able to measure and get reports on the success of the placement based on direct conversion events like registrations and additions to shopping carts.

API developers can help you turn data into insights by connecting systems and data in the marketing technology stack.

Tips for the technical novice

Many people without technical knowledge or experience are using APIs right now. You don’t need to know how to operate digging equipment to use a tunnel. No matter what your technical background, you will get faster and be able to do more with experience. Here are some projects to get you started.

Let’s say you want to use APIs to transfer customer information between spreadsheets and chat programs this afternoon. You can start with Blockspring, which promotes itself as the best way to “program without writing a line of code.” Like a drag and drop approach to understanding how APIs function, Blockspring lets you jump into building powerful APIs like these:

  • Company by Domain API: Find information about a company given their URL or domain address.
  • Disposable Email API: Detect known domains associated with disposable email addresses, and in addition detects sub addressing for domains where the behavior is known. Great to prevent fraudulent sign-ups.
  • List Cleanup API: The worst part about unstructured data is the time it takes to get anything useful out of it. Build a simple API to collate names, addresses and locations while removing incomplete and duplicate data.

Go ahead and get started

With a few months of experience in how APIs make calls and handle responses, you will start to see possibilities everywhere. You can start experimenting with simple marketing APIs. As you gain confidence, joining a community of other API novices will be your best resource.

Get familiar with an API Knowledge Base for the most common problems that others have encountered and solved along the way. You could even write content about your experience to help other marketers on the same journey. The time you spend learning how to use them will be more than returned to you greater efficiency and a wider reach in brand advocacy.

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