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Why should you care? December 7, 2009

Posted by Nii Sai Sai in Wired to Care.

Why was the Xbox such a huge success for Microsoft? Why does Harley Davidson only allow motorbikes in the parking lot in front of its corporate headquarters? Why on earth did Michael Eisner agree to let Disney build Animal Kingdom in the middle of Florida? And, what do all of these questions have to do with James Carville?


There is no substitute for developing empathy through firsthand experience. Microsoft’s Xbox team was full of avid gamers who knew what a cool game would look, feel, and play like. At Disney, Michael Eisner was at first skeptical of the idea of spending tons of money to bring wild animals to central Florida. The turning point was when his team ‘surprised’ him with a firsthand encounter with an African lion. That was the best pitch, period. Eisner knew right away how thrilling the experience would be for Disney’s customers. Harley Davidson understands how passionate its customers are about bikes . . . and the disdain a lot of them hold for cars. Consequently, the front parking lot is strictly for bikes, while the ‘boxes’ (as they call cars) are relegated to the back. James Carville is known for his famous quote, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Well, he understood the power of affinity with voters, and used that to help Bill Clinton focus on the economy during his presidential campaign.  We all know the results.

I often make the mistake of thinking that I understand where other people are coming from. I like to believe that I can quickly hear someone’s story, and just like a superhero, throw on a cloak of understanding and appreciation for their situation. I tend to believe that I can figure out what people truly want, and do so quickly. And, I think you all make the same mistakes like me. Establishing a common reference point with another person or group requires significant work. We have to immerse ourselves in the other party’s experiences in order to develop the ability to identify with them. When it comes to developing products that truly address customer needs, we will only scratch the surface if we don’t spend the time observing, listening to, and engaging our customers.

Ethnographic research is essential for developing solutions which truly address customer needs because it fosters the development of empathy for the customer. A lot of market research focuses heavily on general trends and averages, and often misses the boat when it comes to specific customer pain points.



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