People love their favorite brands, including in tech. Facebook, early on in mobile, capitalized on their network and brand equity in order to provide a login service to developers that both enhanced user trust and reduced onboarding friction. And while today many app developers have begun to eschew Facebook Connect in favor of other keychaining options (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram) or simply using the address book graph/usernames, the appearance of a third-party brand alongside third-party code in marquee consumer apps is becoming more common, not less. At the risk of ironically borrowing from other various themes/theories around collaborative creation, I’ll dub this trend the “remix economy.”
Partnerships have always been a crucial part of strategy in business, and in technology it’s been no different — from open source software projects to channel relationships and everything in between. APIs themselves are also not new — and ever since early pioneers like Ebay and Salesforce.com brought web APIs into the main, they have exploded in popularity and become integral to the strategy of many tech companies. I think this poignant excerpt from a point.io blog post on enterprises joining the API economy applies just as well to consumer apps leveraging each other’s strengths:
Third-party developers are the creative x-factors who will drive your brand into the innumerous niches in which your modern customer segment lives. They are the people who will mix and remix your corporate assets together with those of others to create unique, multidimensional experiences. These novel applications and ideas, which would never be conceived in a corporate boardroom, are precisely what will drive surprising new sources of value for your company and give you access to your competitor’s lunchbox.
But lately API integrations — especially in mobile and consumer web — are becoming increasingly more public-facing and central to developing a brand and user experience. Take the Spotify-Uber partnership announced recently.
It’s nothing technically mindblowing — Uber allows you to link a Spotify account to your Uber account, and allows your playlists to be pushed to the driver’s stereo-controlling phone in the car. But the seamless integration delivers not just a delightful listening experience (okay — at least for the passengers), but also a juxtaposition of two wildly popular brands — Spotify and Uber. It’s almost like when you find out two of your favorite actors are actually buddies in real life. When I open the Uber app and see that — “hey! my Spotify is here too,” I get that uncanny feeling of everything being in the right place. Uber’s own API looks poised to provide a similar value-add experience but for transportation in other apps.
Another great example of this ethos is Snapcash — the new Snapchat feature that leverages Square Cash in order to facilitate peer-to-peer payments seamlessly within the app. Payments in a messaging app are nothing new, especially for Asian companies like Snapchat investor and WeChat owner Tencent. But I do think it is telling that Snapchat chose not to roll its own payment solution and elected instead to leverage the existing brand and technology of Square. This is not only a nod to specialization — Square’s business is building payment solutions while Snapchat’s is building a socialization platform — but also to a mutually beneficial brand relationship where each partner’s strengths are partially conferred by association to the other. Snapchat brings an element of hipness and pop culture relevancy to Square, who in turn blesses the Snapchat platform with its payment & commerce chops.
I think this colorful exchange between Jack Dorsey and Evan Spiegel regarding the integration really captures the spirit behind this deal. It’s a great example of tech leaders acting like the DJ’s of their own brand experiences: remixing, collaborating and fine tuning not only their final product but how their product fits into the constellation of other services users love.
Lets move to the immediate inspiration for this piece: today’s announcement by Drizly that they will be making their alcohol delivery service available for developers to integrate into their own apps via API. In addition to launch partners such as Miller and Swarm, the API will allow a wave of apps to be enhanced, and perhaps even built, with a co-branded, local alcohol delivery component. In the article above, BostInno mentions a whiskey recommendation app called Distiller. Users will be able to purchase whisky from Drizly right inside their Distiller app, and it’s not hard to come up with a few other uses for this right off the top of your head. Not only do these apps and liquor brands benefit from the technical/logistical heavy lifting that Drizly makes available to them via API, they also can leverage Drizly’s growing but trusted brand among millennials as a cool, upcoming service that many have heard about (if not tried themselves). Launching with Foursquare’s Swarm as a partner really emphasizes the versatility of a platform like this and shows how through one of these “remixes,” social apps and beyond will be able to cleverly integrate e-commerce + more into their apps by partnering up.
When things like this are done well, I get a weird feeling of satisfaction. I get the sense that my mobile experience is evolving into something richer and more personally rewarding as my favorite cloud services and apps begin to “play nice” together. Both self-service API implementations and those borne from coordination behind closed doors are making our apps better and more useful. There are other adjacent trends here at work; the rise of platforms like Stripe for payments and Twilio SMS — along with newcomers like Dispatch for on-demand services (for whom I did some work recently) — has begun to change the way applications are developed. But I think that these brand-level partnerships and app remixes will are becoming increasingly more important and visible to the end-user, and ultimately will change how these companies are grown and marketed in addition to how they function. If I’m right, larger (or more greedy) companies in consumer tech that wish to control everything and “take their ball and go home” will find themselves short not just on friends but also on fans in the long-run.