Guest Post: Chris Haddad on API Branding for Improved Community Reach

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 12, 2013

 Chris Haddad (shown) is WSO2's Vice President of Technology Evangelism. He works closely with developers, architects, and C-level executives to increase WSO2 technology adoption and maximize the customer value of WSO2’s software. Prior to joining WSO2, Chris led research teams as a research vice president at the Burton Group and Gartner, advising Fortune 500 enterprise organizations and technology infrastructure vendors.

In this special guest post for OStatic, Chris discusses the value of API branding and open APIs for improving community reach:

 API Branding for Better Community Reach

By Chris Haddad, WSO2 Vice President of Technology Evangelism

 It’s no longer enough to build a valuable API — you also have to market it.

This is particularly true where mobile computing, cloud APIs, and open source have converged to rejuvenate open source collaboration and community. A great example of this shift is the GitHub Web API, which is now many developers’ API of choice to use with mobile clients for gauging project activity, strength, and momentum.

The GitHub Web API demonstrates how Web APIs and API branding can attract, retain and grow community participants, and establish thriving open source projects. GitHub highlights why developers seeking to build an effective open source collaboration and community strategy need to consider Web APIs and API branding as essential cornerstones.

The Shift to Open APIs
Before looking closer at API branding, it helps to understand how developer community members are subtly shifting their focus from open source projects to open APIs. Today, effective developers not only review and include open source project frameworks into their solution, but also evaluate and integrate open Web APIs. 

When developers incorporate APIs into mobile applications or Web applications, APIs can drive end-user decisions and real-time plan adjustments without requiring pre-planned database downloads. For example, while outdoors, mobile app users can access real-time weather alerts and radar feeds to gain up-to-date weather status, in addition to accessing pre-planned weather forecasts. 

This transition from networked electronics towards a networked society will require more APIs. Today, the number of connected devices exceeds the world’s human population. Connected device interactions will increasingly shift Web activity from websites towards Web APIs. In a few short years, your API will be just one of billions.  

How Will Your API Stand Out From the Crowd? 
To stand out, developers need to adopt the playbook from the open source world (think Spring, Tomcat, Linux), and use API brands to distinguish online API resources. API brands enable you to build mindshare with your target audience. Mindshare increases API visibility; visibility encourages individuals (and devices) to discover and evaluate your API. API evaluation triggers collaboration leading toward API adoption, and adoption realizes your community goals.    

Figure 1 illustrates the virtuous API branding cycle:

Building brands requires art, science, and execution. Brands are a unique blend of consumer perception and provider reputation. Consumers may associate brands with commodity, exclusivity, ease of use, and value. Constantly delivering the required capabilities, achieving API quality, and delivering customer service build a provider’s reputation. 

You should build your open API brand strategy by:

    1. Defining the API brand message
    2. Building API brand awareness
    3. Nurturing the API brand
    4. Measuring API brand value

Building the API Brand
When defining the API brand message, identify the target audience and specify key perception targets. API brand awareness requires continual communication, promotion, and visible outreach – similar to the continual actions that establish a successful open source project!

Establishing an API brand requires focus and actions that are similar, yet different, from establishing an open source project brand. When establishing your API brand, focus on value, perception, reputation and retention.  

For example, value is created by delivering the right message elements and attributes, aggregating API endpoints, orchestrating API interactions, and delivering service tiers at a reasonable cost.  

Quality delivery and ease of use significantly influence community perceptions and a provider’s reputation. Unlike ‘in the wild’ open source projects, an API brand’s reputation is impacted by run-time service-level agreements and terms of service (TOS). A team must have a provider focus in addition to a code focus.

Community Engagement is Key to Brand Value
API communities gain momentum when case studies and partners are available. Nurture the community with a partner program that reinforces API support options. Use hackathons to build an ecosystem and gauge API usability.   

Because perception and reputation are incrementally acquired, building a name brand requires significant foresight. Before investing significant time and effort promoting your brand message, answer the following questions:

      1. Who will own the customer relationship with the API end-user?
      2. How will you increase brand awareness?
      3. How will you prevent API commoditization?

Balance your desire to syndicate the API across third-party developers against the power of API monetization.  Establish third-party attribution and reference guidelines before making your API available, and use ‘see more’ attributions to drive end-users toward your brand property. Prevent commoditization by executing a plan to orchestrate multiple capabilities (i.e. deliver a solution instead of a building block) and tap your API into a broad ecosystem.

Tailoring the API Brand to Your Audience
Successful open source projects acquire an aura and image that transcends the code.  Open source projects use logos, community engagement, and use cases to establish an image. With APIs, the visual look and feel strongly influences perception. When tailoring the API brand presentation for an intended audience, different logos, words, fonts, and colors become your brand image and influence perception. 

Build a developer and end-user portal that matches your intended audience and desired brand image. Figure 2 demonstrates how a standard API platform was customized:

Choose an API brand platform where you can fully customize the look and feel, create multiple storefronts to reach multiple communities, enable multiple publisher groups, and deliver multiple service level tiers.  

Identify a platform that can scale as you add brands targeting market niches. Learn by watching how other companies brand their distinct offerings.

Open source contributors, committers, and advocates already possess the skills, attitude, and experience required to build success API communities. By extending open source project best practices with few additional open API best practices, you can make your API stand out from the crowd, increase adoption, and create a thriving and successful open API community.

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About the author
Chris Haddad is WSO2 vice president of technology evangelism. He works closely with developers, architects, and C-level executives to increase WSO2 technology adoption and maximize the customer value of WSO2’s software. Prior to joining WSO2, Chris led research teams as a research vice president at the Burton Group and Gartner advising Fortune 500 enterprise organizations and technology infrastructure vendors.