An API (Application Programming Interface), believe it or not, is an interface between two software programs. It essentially allows the two programs to make use of each other’s services and resources, and interact with each other. You can think of them like tunnels between programs that allow them to work together… and all without exposing their inner programming!
You might not realise it, but you will probably use APIs nearly every day of your life. For example, an API would let you open a chat window inside an app, or let you run a map program on your website. Being totally honest with you, it’s really hard to get really excited about APIs themselves, (my development team are shaking their heads in dismay as I write this), but what is worth getting excited about are the benefits APIs have for marketing purposes.
Most email systems today will have some sort of built in API functionality where, with a little effort, you can link your company data systems to your email service provider. This is something we do with Enabler’s email marketing software, allowing is to provide the option of adding bespoke APIs completely tailored to your data needs.
From an email marketing perspective, APIs allow you to do some really cool things that allow you to deliver much more targeted messages to your consumers, helping with both acquisition and retention.
APIs and Automation
API integrations allow your data that’s being stored elsewhere (i.e. CRM system) to be drawn down into your email system. Giving your email marketing software direct access to your customer data has big benefits for enhancing and deploy your emails, especially when it come to marketing automation.
Let’s take a look at an API example in action.
eBay utilised an API integration to send out a daily product email to their customers. Each deals displayed within the email is being automatically drawn from the eBay product pages. The deals changed daily on the website, and because an API was set up between the website and the email campaign, it meant the email deals changed also to reflect the website. This meant that the marketing team could send the same daily emails without so much as a single edit to the actual email content, and know that everything in the emails would be automatically updated to reflect the current deals.
The smartest thing about this API integrated email is yet to come however… If a recipient opened this email the day after it was sent, they would see the content for the day they opened, not the day it was deployed, meaning they always saw the latest deals.
The reason API integrations are so powerful is because the data being pulled through the API already exists, and as a marketer all you are doing is bringing that information into your campaigns.
Other uses for API content within email:
- Customers of airlines and ticketing venues can select or upgrade the latest seats from within an email.
- Restaurant guests can receive special deals and reserve seats in real-time within a few taps.
- Doctors appointments could be made from within an email simply by displaying an up-to-date list of appointment times.
- Hotels could send loyalty emails to their customer base and guests could reserve a room directly from the email.
- Sending a welcome email to a customer when they sign up on your website.
APIs and CRM management
API’s also serve another function in the world of email. Let’s say you have a fantastic CRM system, but sadly it doesn’t send email…now in the old days this would have meant exporting data from that system, uploading it into your email tool, sending an email, exporting the unsubscribes from that email, and re-uploading into your CRM. I don’t know about you but I get exhausted just thinking about that process. Luckily, those days are over! You can now use APIs to help manage your data across multiple systems.
When transferring data between systems, an ‘API call’ is made. An API call is an individual interaction between the two applications through the API, for example when a request for data is made from one system to the other using the API. This allows the two systems to keep your data up-to-date across both systems simultaneously without any manual intervention.
APIs and Security
Each time a data transfer happens, lots of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is being handled, so security is vital (especially with the GDPR updates coming in May!). Best practice for security when it comes to APIs is to assume that everyone is always out to get your data. Now, it’s also good to remember that not all APIs are equal, and not all vulnerabilities will be preventable. An API gathering weather data does not need to take the same precautions as an API that is sending patient’s private medical data.
The best way to ensure this data is kept private during transfer is by using encryption. With sophisticated key management strategies, or encryption key management strategies, the data can become accessible on a need-to-know basis.
The process works something like this:
1. Authenticating with the web server before any information is transferred
Authentication is used to reliably determine the identity of an end user, while Authorisation is used to determine what resources the identified user has access to. Authentication and Authorisation are commonly used together.
On the web, Authentication is most often implemented via a dialog box that asks for a username and password. For added security, software certificates, hardware keys and external devices may be used.
2. System decides which resources or data to allow access to
Once the user is authenticated, the system then decides which resources or data to allow access to. For APIs, access tokens are commonly used, either obtained through an external process (for example when signing up for the API) or through a separate mechanism. The token is passed with each request to an API and is validated by the API before processing the request.
The best solution is to only show your authentication key to the user once. It’s their responsibility to hold that key near and dear. Think about it this way – would you trust someone who kept losing the spare keys you gave them…?
This all sounds great, why doesn’t everyone do it?
API setup can be complex, especially if you are navigating your way around big data and different systems and teams. More and more however, companies are realising that API integrations are the way forward for making your marketing campaigns truly personalised, more interactive and the most enjoyable experience for your customers, and are investing time and resource into getting APIs set up. Additionally, from an internal perspective, they will save your team and company time in the long run.
If you want to chat to us about how Enabler’s APIs could take your email marketing to the next level, please get in touch.