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When industry jargon and buzzwords backfire

How a product pitch that name-dropped the '2012 API Billionaire's Club' got me thinking about the proper way to describe your API.

This guest post was submitted by Lorinda Brandon, Director of Strategy at Smartbear Software

So, an interesting thing happened to me recently. I was getting a pitch about a new product from a well-known large enterprise and the marketing person said the following: "We are members of the 2012 API Billionaire’s Club." Huh? The product had nothing to do with APIs and she had no reason to know me as someone who talks about APIs. It was part of her marketing pitch about the value of the company.

And this got me to thinking…when do we start asking for meaning behind some of this jargon? I appreciate that being in the API Billionaire’s Club says something about a company – it says "My company’s reach is far and wide"; it says "My data is valuable so other developers tap into it"; it says "My infrastructure can handle a ton of requests." All of that is great and has a lot of meaning to someone getting a demo of a product that may cost a lot of money to set up and use. But none of that was explained to me. There was an expectation that I would recognize all of those key values as part of the statement.

And this got me to thinking even more - did the marketing and sales team understand that this is what they were conveying to me? Or is it considered good enough simply because it's a badge with a buzzword? Like many technologists and marketers today, I find myself growing more bilingual every day, but I also worry about the "high school language class" syndrome where we say things that don’t sound natural to a native speaker. I’m thinking it’s time to put some thoughts down about pitching your API-ness.

Why is this important to me?

In the example above, I found myself pondering whether they were trying to assure me that I could rely on their infrastructure because so many other people did. If so, then a deeper dive into the API architecture would be worthwhile. You don’t have to get into specific code details but an overview of the stack and how it processes that many inbound API requests would be worthwhile, so I know you really have a story there. If you are trying express your value to other companies, then providing some context for how those APIs are helping other businesses might be appropriate. To put it simply, tell me why I care.

Why is this important to you?

Actors love to tell us why their awards matter to them – the Oscar says their peers respect their work; the People’s Choice tells them their customers enjoy the product. The software industry has similar models of end-user awards and industry awards. But this one is an anomaly. This is just usage. It is not a true indication of satisfaction or quality (although you can infer those things from widespread usage). So, considering this is just a volume-based distinction, you must have a reason for adding it to your pitch. To put it simply, tell me why YOU care.

Why is this important to the API industry?

OK, this is my own personal bias, but I love what’s happening in the software industry right now. I love the movement to share, adopt, and manage APIs. And I really do love that this is on a marketing pitch as part of the company value statement. And just like I expect financial billionaires to give back to the industries and people who made them rich, I expect the API billionaires to do the same. We need the successful companies to roll up their sleeves and help us plow forward in this burgeoning but young API Revolution. If you’re going to put it on your hit list, be prepared to tell us API lovers how we can ride on your coat tails.

And oh, please continue to brag about your success with APIs. It feeds the creative fire and inspires others to do the same.

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About Lorinda Brandon, Director of Solutions Strategy at SmartBear

For more than 25 years, Lorinda Brandonhas worked in various management roles in the high-tech industry, including customer service, quality assurance and engineering. She is currently Director of Solutions Strategy at SmartBear Software, a leading supplier of software quality tools. She has built and led numerous successful technical teams at various companies, including RR Donnelley, EMC, Kayak Software, Exit41 and Intuit, among others. She specializes in rejuvenating product management, quality assurance and engineering teams by re-organizing and expanding staff and refining processes used within organizations. She has a bachelor’s degree in art history from Arizona State University. Follow her on Twitter @lindybrandon.

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