Has Tech Forgotten the Value of Empathy?

Article by | February 28, 2017 Positioning and Messaging

I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t keep up. In fact, I feel this way just about every day as my news feeds and inbox fill with marketing messages from software companies with things like “The 10 Things You Need to Know About….” or “How to Choose the Right [insert a multitude of software platforms here]” or “What You Don’t Know About [some technology I’ve never heard of] Can Hurt You.”

It makes me wonder: are these tech companies thinking about me, John, as a real person when they’re sending these messages? Or are they just trying to make as much noise as possible — without necessarily thinking about the human audience for which it is intended? Has tech forgotten the value of empathy?

What’s true for marketing is even more vital for product development. Lauren Goode, in her article for The Verge, articulates this point of view very well, saying that, “Tech leaders and innovators […] have their hands full. But as they’re building products and platforms and services for the future, they’d be wise not to forget about the people — real, live, unpredictable beings — they’re building cool stuff for.”

Empathy for your buyers isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s a strategic business decision. We talk to and work with many B2B technology clients who are trying to swim in this ocean, introduce their latest and greatest product, tell their story, and generate demand. It’s crowded, noisy, and seemingly undifferentiated (at least from the perspective of buyers and users) but I think a few things are important here in creating products and messaging with empathy in mind:

Pragmatic Not Esoteric

Being creative, different and unique is good, but you still need to be approachable and practical. If users don’t understand you and what you’re trying to do or sell, they will not have the time nor desire to purposefully dig deeper to ‘get’ you. Make it obvious.

Empower the User

Particularly for millennials, think about (and speak to) how your product or service empowers them to make a difference in what they do every day. It’s not about your features, it’s about your benefit to the user and organizations that enable them to make a real contribution to their piece of the marketplace. Give them meaning. Make them a hero.

Recognize Reality

However awesome your product or service may be, it’s only part of a much larger day-to-day digital ecosystem users have to contend with. CRMs, email, project management tools, social channels, service platforms…the list of tools we work with goes on and on. Make it easy to onboard, easy to get in and out of the system, and easy to juggle amongst other technologies.

Talk to Humans

“Voice of the customer” isn’t just a marketing or product management tactic. It’s dialogue you have with real customers, about you and your product, on a consistent and purposeful basis. What problems are they facing? What’s important to them? How can you help? Talk to them – they want to talk to you.

As Om Malik admits in his article “Silicon Valley Has An Empathy Vacuum”, showing empathy through technology can be difficult: “It’s hard to think about the human consequences of technology as a founder of a startup racing to prove itself or as a chief executive who is worried about achieving the incessant growth that keeps investors happy.”

Despite the effort required (or perhaps because of it), empathy is a differentiator. In messaging and product development, it has the power to cut through the noise and impact your buyer. Creating a SaaS or PaaS solution? Bring an empathetic approach to your product and launch planning and you will really stand out in the crowd.


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