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An $8 Billion Lesson in Strategic Decision-Making

A software company down the street from me got acquired this past year for $8 billion. There is a great lesson in this success story that’s quite contrarian 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 announcements about big investments from 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 went public a while before, and its market value was 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. Their press releases, pitches and conversations with journalists mention this aplenty.

When they first created the phrase “experience management,” it’s easy to see how it may have been considered jargon-y. 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.

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.

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


Michael Smart teaches PR professionals how to dramatically increase their positive media placements. He’s engaged regularly by organizations like General Motors, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Georgia Tech to help their media relations teams reach new levels of success. Get more media pitching knowledge from Michael Smart here.

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