API vs. SDK: Choose the Right Integration for a Complete Audience View

How capturing and segmenting audience data helps you personalize and target more easily.

If you have a SaaS solution, a marketplace, a mobile app, a media website, or a membership organization, etc.—you may be trying to decide between an application programming interface (API) and a software development kit (SDK) to connect your product to your favorite business tools.

Both an API and an SDK will help you integrate your offering with other tools to automatically bring your audience data into oneplace. Why is this important? Automatically tracking who uses your product and how they use it allows you to better understand your audience and develop targeted messaging. Better data analytics means better marketing means that leads to more usage of your product, deeper audience engagement, and higher retention rates.

Continue reading to better understand how an API or an SDK can improve your digital marketing efforts and how to choose the right one.

The difference between an API and an SDK

An API and an SDK both offer ways for your product to interface with another piece of software. The software might be a web service, an end-user app, an operating system (OS), or a kernel driver that enables an OS to interact with a device. For example, if you sell an analytics product, an API or an SDK could allow you to push data from your product to a marketing automation platform and generate marketing from your data. The main purpose of both an API and an SDK is to act like a tube that brings together 2 pieces of software. In other words, APIs and SDKs ensure that valuable audience data can travel securely between different platforms and tools.

While they perform similar tasks, APIs and SDKs differ in what they can do for you.

  • An API is a set of rules that defines how other components or systems can use an application. It defines the kinds of data requests that can be made, how they can be made, the data formats that are accepted, and other conventions. It can also provide rules to extend the functionality or uses of an application.
  • An SDK is a collection of APIs that each do a specific thing but work together with other elements, like libraries of software resources or sample code that enables specific functions.

For example, if you have a service for people to order food online, you might want to send them an email confirming an order. An API is the conduit that allows you to collect information about the food order and pass it to the email service that will send the confirmation to the buyer.

How to select the right tool

The choice of an API or an SDK depends on your priorities and objectives—sometimes, you may need both.

  • Your goals. If your goal is a very specific task like a data query, an API will probably handle that function well. With a more comprehensive integration in mind, or if you have a series of tasks that need to happen, an SDK should provide the tools you need.
  • Your security priorities. Using an API to send information between 2 pieces of software on the web is secure. But, if a mobile app is involved, you risk exposing your API key, which is a unique identifier that serves as a door into your software. If someone gains access to that, they could view data from both parties. For mobile apps, an SDK allows users to pass information back and forth and creates a more-secure, one-time key.
  • Your offering. Some situations call specifically for a particular tool. If you’re sharing information between 2 web-based platforms, an API would be a good choice. For example, to support requests from users to reset passwords. If, on the other hand, you’re the owner or creator of a mobile app, for example, you’ll want to use an SDK, no matter what other pieces of web-based or mobile technology or software you’re connecting with. Say you have a mobile app that aggregates daily news, and you want to suggest new content to users, an SDK will let you track the type of content your user reads and pass that information back to your marketing tool, so you can recommend similar pieces of content.

Getting started

Before you engage developers in the process, ask yourself the following:

  • What platform are you using? Are you trying to connect web-based pieces of software, mobile applications, or both? If your needs are confined to the web, an API might be your answer. If you’re looking for a more complex connection between web and mobile, or between 2 mobile apps, you’ll want an SDK.
  • What is the information you want to collect? Do you just want to know who the user is, or do you also want other demographic information, such as their location? Do you want to track behavior based on time, date, or device? Again, if you’re collecting data from one or multiple mobile platforms, you’ll want to consider an SDK.
  • Who am I partnering with? Be familiar with the organizations whose software or applications you’re connecting to, since you’re basically opening up with another piece of software. Make sure you trust them and that they have good practices for security and updating.

Then, when you’re ready to engage your developers, know where all the information will be pulled in from and where you want it to land. Focus on the top 3 or 4 things you want to accomplish first. In addition to speeding up the development process, starting small will also enable you to confirm that the API or the SDK is working and whether information is coming in the way you need it.

Your engineers will be able to look at your goals and point out where might be an easy starting point. Walking through each component will allow both sides to better understand the technical requirements and the desired outcomes.

Making the most of more data

A major benefit of using an API or an SDK is the ability to get a more complete view of your audience and where they’re engaging with you, so you can effectively target your marketing efforts. Using an API or an SDK to bring this data into one place also takes the manual work out of tracking, so you can focus on other important tasks.

The information you collect can be used for many different purposes. If someone purchases something, the data collected in that transaction could be added to your contact’s profile, so you can contact them with new information.

For example, if someone buys a T-shirt, you can automatically tag them and then pull together a list of all T-shirt buyers, so you can send them an email about new T-shirt designs when they come out.

You can also code more specific guidelines into the API or the SDK for what information you pull in and how you organize it. You can record the exact date and time someone made a purchase, then, you can go back in a week with an email to ask how they liked what they bought.

Knowing where your audience is communicating with you can help inform your choice of channels. If you have a user who is only engaging with you on your mobile app, sending them a postcard or an email might not be effective. But, for someone else, that might be the best way to connect.

The benefits of a better audience view

Using APIs or SDKs to combine your data into one place will give you a more complete audience view and the ability to more effectively target. Personalized messaging, based on this audience data, can help better onboard new users, deepen product engagement, and keep users for longer.