Utilizing APIs as a Marketing Vehicle for Your App

App publishers/developers face an uphill battle of promoting their apps in an increasingly saturated app marketplace. This point is echoed by Distimo’s 2013 report that only 2% of the top 250 publishers in the iPhone App Store are “newcomers”, and 3% for Android’s Google Play Store.

This has pushed the boundaries of app marketing from traditional media (ads, PR, print, etc) all the way to “growth hacking” – a creative, cost-effective, and technical approach to marketing that helped companies like Airbnb, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dropbox grow. Part-developer part-marketer, growth hackers employ domain and technical know-how to capture the market in innovative (and sometimes questionable) ways. In its early days, Hotmail’s growth took off by simply adding “PS I Love You. Get your free email at Hotmail” at the end of every message that its users sent to would-be subscribers. The rest was history.

There’s no silver bullet to app marketing – others may have success in traditional methods, others through growth hacking. The good news: technology is advancing at such a fast clip, new mechanisms for app marketing are growing. One such mechanism is driven by the proliferation of APIs. APIs facilitate software integrations, which consequently contribute to“sharing of markets” (e.g. Letting users login to app X using their Facebook or LinkedIn accounts). The most evident display of these integrations come in the form of niche app marketplaces. They can be thought of as categories inside a larger marketplace, only more targeted and visible to the market they serve. These niche app markets are more common, but not limited to, companies whose APIs are extensions of their product counterparts. (See bottom list for examples of these app marketplaces).

Below is a list of points that justify APIs as a sound marketing vehicle for your app:

  • Clearly-defined target market – Concur’s set of APIs allow your app to service 25M users, primarily business travelers. This implies very specific spend and usage behavior which are essential to your apps success.
  • Engaged target market – Your target users already use the product you’re integrating with. That puts you close to driving the user through the acquisition funnel.
  • Inherent value-add to user – Being a partner in a niche app marketplace, your app is naturally perceived as a value-add to the services offered by the product you’re integrating with. The question then turns from something akin to “Why should I download this?” to “How can this help me when I’m on a business trip?”
  • Sales/marketing support – Your app gives the host company leverage on markets/verticals they never imagined they would be in. This helps the company to justify investing in marketing your app through their own sales force.
  • Propensity to spend – Depending on the vertical/industry, you could be looking at an audience that are more likely to spend (business travelers) because they prioritize the convenience and value of your service.
  • Capture diverse behavior – Instead of just capturing clicks and usage, an additional functionality offered by tapping into another company’s APIs opens up a whole set of user behavior that you would have never observed as a standalone app.
  • Multiple app footprint – the more niche marketplaces that you are in, the more chances that your app will be found and used.
  • Rich user data – The company you’re integrating with can provide an additional layer of user information to enhance context (e.g. Chris’ expense indicates he spends an average $9 on coffee in every business trip)
  • Familiar technology domain – You already have the resources you need to use an API – your developers.
  • Spend transparency – Compared to ad-buying as a user acquisition strategy, the dollars you spend in an API model is directly tied to engagement – number of APIs called, rate at which the API is called, and so on.
  • Visibility to companies (not just end users) – If the API integration is gaining traction and demonstrating a significant return on value to the host company, there’s a good chance that they’ll invest more in the partnership. Therefore being in their niche app marketplace alone can be viewed as an ongoing investment on your part as a publisher/developer.

List of enterprise APIs with app showcase

Bonus: Pitch your travel app for a shot at $100K in prizes at The Perfect Trip DevCon this October 30th in San Francisco.

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