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April 29, 2014
Open Brand APIs
By: Brian Landry

Open Brand API means giving external developers the ability to develop applications or services using functionality or content from the brand. This topic is part of the PSFK Future of Retail Report. In particular, the report revolves around how real-time access to information and analytics is changing the face of modern retail for both shoppers and brands. The report sheds light into retailer willingness to experiment in order to keep at the front of innovation and customer engagement. Overall, the topic of Open Brand APIs is innovative because it creates disequilibrium that sparks new behavioral and intellectual possibilities in the world of retail.

Open Brand API is also an exciting topic because it brings with it the promise of low risk innovation because the cost of failure is no longer attached to the retailer. It brings the promise of faster innovation evolution with development at scale because the retailer expands its groups of research and developers at no cost. This concept is relatively new. The philosophy is that by opening your brand API developers outside of the company can then help you build better products and services that support customer activities with your products. However, only about 7,600 companies have open APIs. It is an interesting technology space for retailers because it moves the marketing team away from defining engagement into allowing a larger community to define how they want to interact with the retailer. Aside from technology challenges like security and traffic, Open Brand APIs also bring about design challenges.

Retailers and brands in specific will face unique marketing challenges when opening their APIs. Retailers take time, effort and a significant amount of capital to craft a look and feeling for their brand. In order to preserve this, the retailer will have to develop APIs that maintain the look and feel of the brand and/or assume control over the projects developed by the user community. For example, Nike has “opened” their Fuel Band API by creating the Nike+ Fuel Lab. This initiative funds ten companies to innovate around their Fuel Band. Nike chooses the developer teams, and in twelve weeks they must present an optimized product. However, can one still consider that an “Open Brand API”? Nike continues to absorb cost and risk involved with their innovation and holds the decision power to decide which 10 companies make it into the program. Also, it takes away from allowing crowdsourcing solutions by narrowing the pool of creativity to 10 groups. The semi-open Brand APIs model that Nike is following is a step forward towards innovation. As more brands join the movement, openness and flexibility with the APIs will make brands compete to attract low cost/risk free talent.

Overall, Open Brand APIs are an attractive attempt at innovation for the retail industry. They allow for rapid development of services by increasing the pool of developers and designers thinking about problems and solutions.

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