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At Constant Contact, API technology eases customer experiences

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Constant Contact's direct email marketing users needed a simple way to load customer lists, product info and social media content. API integration ties it all together.

Dave Berard is a senior product manager at Constant Contact. He manages the company's Open Platform developer outreach initiative, which invites developers to build integrations on the Constant Contact API platform. He previously served as web services product manager at the Waltham, Mass. company, which provides targeted email marketing services to small businesses.

The mission of Constant Contact to help these businesses reach current and potential customers with smartly designed email marketing campaigns. "Anybody can have an online store and anybody can have an email marketing product," Berard says.

Though the internet levels the playing field for small businesses with limited marketing budgets and expertise, Constant Contact faced a challenge in getting its customers up and running, according to Berard. "It's a heavy product -- you have to generate content, you have to have contact lists to send to." The company turned to API technology to simplify the process for customers who often have little or no technical know-how.

Dave BerardDave Berard

"We build integrations with our API to get contacts into our product. We use it to get content in, like images or text from their websites or Facebook." The idea, Berard says, is to speed up the content import, allowing customers to get their marketing messages out quickly.  Berard characterizes Constant Contact's typical customer as the "head chef, the busboy, the waiter and the greeter -- all at the same time." When someone in a small business -- often with fewer than 10 people -- wears multiple hats simultaneously, marketing usually comes as an afterthought that must be taken care of quickly.

The challenge for Constant Contact was to use API technology, shielding its non-tech-savvy users from under-the-hood plumbing, while integrating its own platform with a customer's numerous sources of customer lists, marketing content and social media activity. "They are really tech-un-savvy and are generally older, too," says Berard. "Thirty to 55 is our sweet spot."

An API is for developers; an integration is for our customers.
Dave BerardConstant Contact

The solution for Constant Contact was to open up its platform -- via API integration -- to independent third-party cloud application developers to build integrations for customers. "I tell our marketing team all the time 'An API is for developers; an integration is for our customers.'"

Of course, any integration will be poor if the underlying API technology is not well-designed and implemented, Berard says. It needs to be easy to use, easily managed and secure, and simple to update, among other attributes.

"Almost any API is functionally useable unless you did a really bad job in developing it," says Berard. "The question is can you understand what it does through documentation." It's also vital to have the tools developers need and an infrastructure that can be configured and provisioned quickly. To that end, Constant Contact partnered with TIBCO Mashery which provided API technology management along with security and onboarding expertise.

"We have a tech writer to write documentation and we have a team to write SDKs," Berard said. "It's all about the resources and the infrastructure."

Constant Contact's cloud-based offerings are architected as a series of services, Berard explained. The API is built by exposing selected services to the outside world. "Everything is a service, and it's just a choice of what we expose -- or not -- from a business perspective. We try to make everything a business decision and not a technology decision."

Say no to microservices

Microservices are all the rage, but not at Constant Contact. Though the company's offerings are created as a compendium of services, these are not the same as microservices, Berard says. "If you make everything a microservice, the big problem you have is how do actually put those things together to do something useful for a customer without having a hundred [systems] calls that take five minutes?" With a monolithic app, something might take 300 milliseconds, but under a microservices architecture that same functionality might require 12 seconds, he says. "You've got to take a pragmatic look at when to use microservices and when to use platform services that aggregate pieces together, and look at what you're trying to solve holistically."

Write to Joel Shore at [email protected] or follow @JshoreTT on Twitter.

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