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When APIs Don't Sell: Uncovering the Marketing Gaps Hindering Your Success

CEO, Drupal Architect at Digital Polygon
Oct 11, 2023

Simply creating APIs is no longer enough. To gain traction, organizations must effectively market their APIs to developers and product owners. In this post, John Doyle will lay out what it takes to achieve business success with your API projects.

John Doyle (CEO, Drupal Architect at Digital Polygon) brought this article to you. After the Apidays New York 2023 conference, John wanted to highlight some of his discoveries, such as that in today’s world APIs need to be marketed to developers in order for them to gain traction (as developer documentation isn’t enough). We invited him to write a guest article on the Pronovix blog so our audience can also learn from his observations. See his thoughts below.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending Apidays New York alongside the Pronovix team and seeing the innovation that is happening around API productization and developer experience. Reflecting on my learnings and the conversations I had at the event, two things stood out to me:

  1. API’s are becoming more abundant and data is more freely available than ever before.
  2. Organizations are behind on marketing APIs, often still relying on developers to create the content.
  3. Aggregators are winning the game by making API’s more accessible and focusing on marketing them as products.

Let’s start with some background on advancements in the API landscape and some of the drivers that are leading us to a shifting approach to API adoption.


A Shift in API Adoption

The Cause: The Ease of API Development

Thanks to advancements in technology in recent years, the process of creating APIs has become increasingly accessible and user-friendly. Developers now have a wide array of tools and frameworks at their disposal, simplifying the development and publishing process. This ease of development enables organizations to bring their APIs to market quickly, allowing developers to explore and leverage them with ease.

The Effect: With Ease Comes Competition/Market Saturation

While the ease of API development has opened doors for innovation and accelerated the growth of the API ecosystem, it has also led to increased competition and market saturation. As more organizations recognize the benefits of APIs and venture into API development, the market becomes crowded with similar offerings. Merely having functional APIs is no longer sufficient to capture the attention of developers

To thrive in this competitive landscape, organizations must go beyond basic functionality and focus on delivering exceptional developer experiences and added value.

The Need: Standing Out in a Crowded Market

To differentiate themselves in a crowded market, organizations need to emphasize the:

  • unique features,
  • capabilities,
  • and benefits of their APIs.

This requires a comprehensive understanding of their target audience and their specific needs. By conducting thorough market research and engaging in ongoing dialogue with their audience, organizations can gain insights into what sets their APIs apart and how they can deliver additional value.

Additionally, organizations should invest in creating developer-centric experiences that go beyond the technical aspects of API documentation. Providing intuitive and user-friendly developer portals, interactive API explorers, comprehensive code samples, and robust SDKs can significantly enhance the developer experience. By facilitating easy integration, streamlining workflows, and providing excellent support and documentation, organizations can build trust and loyalty among developers.

'You can have the best product in the world, but if nobody knows about it, what good is it?' - Phil Knight.

Wow, That Sounds a Lot Like What My Marketing Team Does!

Good developer documentation and integration features are table stakes today. In order to stand out, developers need to be aware of and understand the value that your APIs bring. This is where marketing comes into play. By effectively marketing APIs to developers, organizations can ensure their APIs gain traction in the crowded market.

The Same User Journey Applies to Buyers of APIs

To achieve success with APIs, organizations must follow the proven stages of marketing: 

  • awareness, 
  • consideration, 
  • conversion, 
  • loyalty, 
  • and advocacy. 

By approaching your API launch with these stages in mind, businesses can build a strong developer community and foster long-term engagement with the brand. Through targeted content, events, documentation, and support, organizations can move developers through this journey, ultimately leading to advocacy and a loyal user base.

Marketing APIs as Products

To stand out in a competitive market, organizations must treat their APIs as products and market them accordingly. Just like marketing a physical product or service, API marketing requires a strategic approach. This includes identifying target audiences, creating compelling value propositions, optimizing discoverability, and delivering an exceptional developer experience.

Effective API marketing focuses on removing complexities, providing interoperability, and showcasing the unique benefits that set the API apart from competitors.

The Role of Content and Documentation

In the world of APIs, the marriage of marketing content and technical documentation is paramount. While functional APIs are essential, they need to be supported by comprehensive documentation that guides developers in their implementation. Additionally, organizations should create engaging content, such as tutorials, use cases, and sample code, to help developers understand the value and potential of the API. By providing robust content and documentation to go along with their API specs, organizations can differentiate to build confidence in their APIs and encourage adoption.

The Rise of Aggregators

Aggregators have emerged as powerful players in the API market. They excel at marketing APIs as products, removing complexities, and providing seamless interoperability across vendors. By aggregating multiple APIs under one platform, they simplify the integration process for developers, stealing market share and brand awareness from individual API providers.

While partnering with these aggregators can be beneficial for organizations looking to scale API adoption, they come at a high long term cost:

  1. Potential loss of brand awareness. By utilizing aggregators, organizations risk becoming overshadowed by the aggregator's brand, making it challenging to establish a distinct brand presence in the market.
  2. Customer loyalty may be compromised, as users are primarily associated with the aggregator rather than the individual organization. This lack of direct customer engagement could hinder long-term relationships and limit the ability to gather valuable customer insights and feedback.
  3. Relying on aggregators means surrendering control over analytics and data privacy. Organizations may have limited access to detailed analytics and face potential data privacy concerns, as aggregators control the data flow.

Ultimately, while aggregators offer convenience and additional adoption avenues, organizations should carefully evaluate the trade-offs and determine the right balance between leveraging aggregators and maintaining control over brand awareness, customer loyalty, and data privacy.

The future of business success with API’s lies in the convergence of developer experience and marketing expertise. APIs need to be marketed effectively to developers, making them aware of the value they bring and encouraging adoption. With the growing competition in the API space, organizations must create and market their APIs more efficiently and effectively than ever before.

CEO, Drupal Architect at Digital Polygon

John Doyle is CEO of Digital Polygon, a company specialized in building and customizing traditional and headless Drupal applications. Pronovix partners with Digital Polygon on a range of projects, especially for collaborations with our North American customers.


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