When a buzzword can be okay

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A software company down the street from me got acquired Sunday for $8 Billion. And there is a great lesson in this success story that’s quite contrary to conventional PR wisdom.

I’m still trying to get my head around this. Qualtrics was just another growing company in the community. People you’d know would get hired there. You’d run into the PR team at networking events. Starting in 2012 they’d make some announcements about big investments from fancy venture funds that valued them around $500 million, and then things would go back to normal.

Now, overnight, billions will be flowing into our local economy via all those stock options and inevitable philanthropy that will result. This gigantic increase in value flows from a key strategic decision they made a few years ago.

At its core, Qualtrics allows its customers – businesses and researchers – to deliver fancy online surveys. You might be more familiar with a competitor, SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey just went public a few months ago, and its market value is a “paltry” billion or so. What explains the difference?

Qualtrics stopped describing itself as a survey company.

Instead, they coined their own phrase for what they do, something no one else was using. They are an “experience management” company. “XM” for short, because all useful tech company phrases need a non-intuitive acronym :).

So their press releases, their pitches, their conversations with journalists, would all be riddled with this phrase. Back when they first started doing it, you might have called it jargon or a buzzword.

But it wasn’t. It was a deeply entrenched strategic decision top management made to create an entirely new category of software. Their tools tell companies how their customers and employees are feeling, and that allows the companies to “manage their experience” better. There is obviously big $$$ in that if you can pull it off.

Instead of shying away from that term because of its unfamiliarity, the Qualtrics marketing and PR team took on the challenge to educate journalists and others why the term makes sense. They succeeded.

Your takeaway: Continue to zealously guard against using the same buzzwords everyone else is when there are more clear alternatives. But when your employer is going all-in to create a new position in the minds of journalists and their audiences, rise to the occasion and figure out how to make it stick.

This week nobody in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street is snickering at the phrase “experience management.” They probably wish they thought of it first.

This article was originally published on Nov 20, 2018.