I have been professionally cursed. I have never worked at a company where people (who didn’t work at the company) could properly pronounce the company name on their first try.
I started my post college career at Schlumberger whose global headquarters were out of Paris. To be honest I’m not even sure all 100,000 employees could pronounce it correctly. To top this, I arrived shortly after they acquired an IT consulting company called Sema. After paying probably $500k to a brand consulting firm they decided to call us SchlumbergerSema. Oh thanks! Not only did people butcher Schlum-BURGER by itself, adding Sema just added to the number of permutations on how to butcher the pronunciation. Sema is only four letters but which is it? (SEE-mah, SAY-mah, SEM-mah).
I got over it quickly since my business cards had the Olympic logo on it (since we did the security consulting for the Olympic games) and right before I left they decided to sell off Sema and my stock options immediately vested… Score!
The reason I left was that I got a call from a headhunter who introduced me to this little startup called Appian and about 7 days later I had a job offer in my hand. I don’t particularly remember pronouncing Appian was a thing back in 2004. I mean, I got my first cell phone just 2 years earlier and “apps” were not even a thing. Or maybe, it was just the fact that most of the people I interacted with actually worked at Appian and after being corrected a time or two they conformed to the proper way of saying Appian (to be revealed later).
Fast forward about 5 years, I had moved to Chicago and was running the Professional Services team for North America. At the time, we introduced Appian Professional Services early in the sales cycle as a way to differentiate against our competition. I’m not going to lie, we had delivery teams full of super intelligent and impressive people and client success was not only a thing it was the norm. We even had to prepend the goal, model, and outcome with “wildly” since we didn’t just have happy clients, we had WILDLY HAPPY CLIENTS!
As part of that journey selling with some of Appian’s best super stars — like Scott Ulrichs, Ryan Gates and Peter Vaccarella — we formed that special bond by which I mean we could complete each other’s sentences and could sell this stuff in our sleep. So much so that we had fun doing it and at times too much fun.
One of my most memorable games we would play is when someone mispronounced Appian the next person speaking had to say Appian as many times as possible in their next sentence. To learn anything, repetition is key, right? It would go something like this…
Prospect: We may need to dig a little deeper into the APE-E-ON Process Modeler and how developers and non-developers can use it.
Us: Our Appian team would love the opportunity to showcase the Appian Process Modeler since our Appian Engineering team spent so much time ensuring that Appian was 100% web based (cough, Appian).
Prospect: You APE-E-ON guys sure are innovators!
Us: (Sigh. Unbelievable.)
To be honest, in our years of doing this, our success rates of getting a mis-pronouncer back on the correct pronunciation track was surprisingly low.
By then in 2007, Apple launched this thing called the iPhone and these little things call “apps”. Phew, this is going to get a lot easier, right? Wrong!
Appian even built our own mobile app. So our game became easier…. “in order to build mobile apps at Appian you have to define your app in the Appian app designer interfaces.” But unfortunately, Apple did not solve the Appian pronunciation problem.
I mean, when was the last time you heard someone say the “APE-L” iPhone. Ok, I get it. We eat apples and it may be one of the first words we learned. But did anyone pay attention in history class and learn about the Appian Way?
So as I reach my 14th anniversary this week, pronouncing Appian is not a common talk track among my inner circle at Appian. It is just expected and normal. Mispronunciation is something that we just deal with, until sales kickoff this year (which was 2 weeks ago).
Matt Calkins (Appian’s CEO) took the stage which everyone looks forward to and he left time (I mean a lot of time) at the end so that every sales related employee (some 500 of us) could have a chance to ask Matt a question about anything. Questions had not yet reached their theoretical maximum (inside joke); so, I scrambled to think of something to ask that would be fun and/or light hearted. So the script goes something like this (I have the audio recorded to this so I’m only slightly paraphrasing):
Matt: How about over to Chris?
Chris: Hi Matt. I have a very important question with our brand getting a lot bigger in 2017. In the next 30 days, I plan to write a LinkedIn article that will be entitled “A crash course guide on how to pronounce Appian”
Crowd: (a couple chuckles, inner thoughts of did this guy seriously just give a plug for his LinkedIn profile?)
Chris: … and I just wanted a quote from you on the record to comment on your experience on why people mispronounce Appian?
Matt: (who typically accelerates into saying something very intellectual… lightly chuckles and smiles). Chris, I have no idea.
Crowd: (erupts in laughter)
Matt: I mean when we picked the name back in 1999, I thought it was so good! This name is so easy, it’s short and a good proportion, makes a good logo, it’s early in the alphabet. And I just never imagined that people would call is APE-E-ON.
To be honest, I think the only solution short of putting pronunciation marks above it would be to let people hear it enough times.
Chris: Thanks Matt. I really think we need a video or jingle (more chuckles).
I sit back down and my phone starts lighting up — recruiting, marketing, sales people. “I hope you weren’t kidding about that blog post… That could have been the best question ever at SKO… Can you please sing the Appian jingle?”
So I have re-stoked the fire and 2018 will be the year when people get it right. Other companies have tried to solve their mispronunciation problems by creating some brilliant marketing campaigns:
ListenUp It’s ThyssenKrupp
I’m not sure if Appian Marketing is onboard (yet, that is). However, I’m on a mission.
On a break shortly after I asked my question, one employee came up to me suggesting:
How many words in the English language that start with A-P-P are pronounced “ape”, probably NONE right?!?
Another intellectually curious Appianite suggested:
Blame the bees!
He went on to let me know there is another software company called Apian — http://apian.com. Their website is shown below and their logo is a bee! According to Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Apian (\ ˈāpēən \): means “of or relating to bees”
I have written Apian to inquire if Appian’s 2017 blockbuster IPO has impacted the correct pronunciation of their company (I’m waiting to hear back, stay tuned).
So if this has piqued your interest here is the crash course guide I have been promising.
The many ways on how NOT to pronounce Appian:
The Correct Way to Pronounce Appian — \ ˈa-pē-ən \
\ a \ — as in the sound that the letter a makes in app
\ ˈa \ — Notice the apostrophe (or as linguists say the “mark”) before the first syllable. That means that syllable should have the strongest stress.
-pē — The middle goes something like this — the letter P or this vegetable
-ən \ — The end sounds like the letter N.
(I just couldn’t help myself being born and raised in Nebraska. GO BIG RED!!)
So there you have it. I’m on a mission and may have inspired a few more people at Appian to help create an awesome video or maybe even Appian’s first jingle.
Or maybe, there are just a lot of bee lovers in the world and this low code platform thing has nothing on the bees. I sure hope not!
Either way, spread the love! Until next time…
Chris Wherry, Area Vice President, Midwest @ Appian
Originally posted on LinkedIn.