Putting people before technology. A look back at the Amsterdam The Next Web conference.
From the moment it kicked off, the tone of the 14th edition of The Next Web conference was set. The theme was “The Heart of Tech,” and it spoke to a need to get back to the people behind the technology. In a time when managing privacy and personal data is paramount and big tech companies are embroiled in scandal, we were clearly getting to the heart of one of the hottest topics of our times.
Many speakers came to the same conclusion – technology is taking up too much space in our lives. There’s a tech-based solution for everything, from choosing which movies to watch, to communicating with friends, even doing our groceries. We’ve never been so connected, and never felt so deluged by information. Louise Troen, VP Marketing and communications at Bumble, a dating app, summed it up perfectly, “The explosion of social media interactions has led to a drop in human interactions.”
Her observation is as simple and as it is weighty. The proliferation of platforms and communications hasn’t resulted in consumers having more attention to give to brands. The opposite is actually true – we are exposed to huge quantities of content, but we only give it a cursory glance, to the detriment of both engagement and human connection.
Everyone who took the stage at The Next Web was in agreement about one thing: we absolutely have to put the user and their needs back at the heart of the tech solutions we’re providing. Melanie Deziel, former editor at the New York Times, was categorical, “Put your audience’s needs before your own.”
For some brands, this might mean communicating less often, but offering higher-value content. The creation of value isn’t easy, as it depends largely on how it is perceived by the user. But by putting the emphasis on the user to begin with, we’re giving ourselves a solid head start.
Michael Gaston of Cut.com, the video production company behind viral videos such as 100 Years of Beauty, talked about revisiting the way we typically define users, suggesting that we depart from socio-demographics, and start instead defining users through their behaviour and preferences. These boxes we put people in, these socio-demographic categories, make it easier for brands to target them, but don’t leave much room for nuance and personalization. By letting people’s behaviour speak for itself in defining our categories, we are getting closer to a model that reflects the reality and consumers’ actual needs.
For many people, creating value includes personalizing the user experience. Purna Virji, speaker for Microsoft, spoke about tech solutions that are adaptable, rather than one-size-fits-all. A personalized experience creates value – users see a lot of value in human interaction during the purchase process. According to Petah Marian of WGSN, a trend forecasting company, consumers spend more if they’ve had a human interaction during the purchase process.
Finally, Michael Redbord of Hubspot, a suite of marketing software, perfectly summed up the key to customer experience success: “The most successful brands are those that deliver the best experience, not necessarily the best product.” It’s a radical approach, we’re turning resolutely towards the human being using the technology rather than simply focusing on our own tech solutions.
The winds of change are blowing in the tech industry. Human beings, the ones we are trying to serve through innovation, are figuring ever larger in corporate decision-making. Companies that follow the trend will be equipped to confront the challenges of the future.