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The 3 Letters That Could Help Your Business Grow Like Uber APIs: These programming interfaces live wherever digital experiences are being created. Are they part of your growth strategy?

By Bryan Kirschner

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Uber's runaway success, which the company more colorfully describes as "seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps," is a conspicuous source of inspiration for anyone building a business based on the smartphone revolution. But while a compelling app may be one key to a digitally-powered business, there's another digital tool that may be just as or even more important to growth.

Say hello to APIs, or application programming interfaces. Like Uber, every innovator should have a strategy for deploying them.

Related: The Three Letters That Could Change Your Business: API

APIs are everywhere.

Application programming interfaces are behind the scenes almost anywhere digital experiences are being created. Every Google map you encounter represents a third party taking advantage of the Google Maps API. With as little as one line of code, developers can embed a customized Google Map into their own websites or apps. APIs enable digital communication.

For that reason, in our increasingly inter-connected digital world, APIs have become more than just a convenience that helps developers build apps and websites faster. They have evolved into a strategic tool for companies to exchange value and drive business goals such as brand awareness, market share and increased revenue. APIs deserve a place of their own in your growth strategy.

Leverage the power of "pull."

Taking advantage of APIs is all the more important as competition for attention intensifies in app stores. The power of apps to engage consumers is compelling: In the Apigee Institute's 2014 Digital Impact Survey, nine out of 10 U.S. smartphone owners over the age of 18 expressed favorable feelings toward apps. Nearly one in four (23 percent) of those under 40 said they had started shopping at a new store in the previous year because of apps.

At the same time, however, 76 percent of those surveyed agreed that app stores can be "cluttered and confusing." Here's where APIs can help.

APIs provide an additional option beyond "pushing" marketing communications to potential app users, whether that means customers or partners. By offering something of value to others, their customer interactions do the work and generate "pull" back to your products and services.

Let's consider a few examples, including Uber, and some of the implications for creative uses of APIs.

Related: 21 Apps to Boost Productivity, Accountability and Success

Build on what's special about your business.

Uber's API is recognized for providing what many find to be a great customer experience. It makes sense that partners like OpenTable and United airlines are eager to integrate the ability to book an Uber directly into their own branded apps and web experiences. But let's look at another smart use of APIs by Uber.

If a great experience is what "hooks" people as customers, one way to grow that experience is to invest in traditional approaches that convince customers to to try your product or service in the first place. We're all familiar with advertising, special offers and coupons. But Uber has an API-based alternative: Through its API Affiliate program, the company covers a payment for any new Uber user who completes his or her first trip within the United States. Not only does this offer harness the creativity of others, but Uber pays only if that first trip actually occurs.

Awareness, insight, revenue, and more . . .

If you have a transaction-based product or service that could complement a third-party digital experience, you may have the opportunity to use APIs for revenue sharing. Walgreens' Photo Prints API enables app developers to print photos to the printers at Walgreens locations. With every completed order, the app developer gains a share of the revenue.

Transaction-by-transaction revenue sharing is one of the API business scenarios that get the most attention, but it's not the only way to take advantage of APIs.

If you have information or insight that enriches content, that can provide the touch point and awareness that builds your brand and wins that first app installation. To be sure, Amazon's affiliate APIs do include opportunity for revenue sharing. But it's much richer than simply embedding ads on a page: the My Favorites API, for example, enables a content provider to select, comment on and review a specific product.

Whether a purchase occurs or not, this API can provide insight into trends, customer satisfaction and opportunities to build community. If your business is built around professional services staff, art or physical locations like hotels, consider enabling others to embed your assets and their comments anywhere, anytime.

APIs may be the "unsung heroes" behind great digital experiences. But like digital natives Uber, Google and Amazon and traditional companies such as Walgreens that have embraced them, they hold tremendous potential for entrepreneurs who can orchestrate them to sing in concert.

Related: Technology Is Making it Easy to Put the Personal Touch Into Digital Marketing

Bryan Kirschner

Director of the Apigee Institute

Bryan Kirschner is the director of the Apigee Institute, a research and strategy organization that helps companies succeed in today's app economy and tomorrow's programmable world. Prior to the joining the institute, Bryan was the director of open source strategy at Microsoft.

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