Businesses, like people, are all guided by different values.
Some want to sell ads, others are focused chiefly on adoption, and some only care about the bottom line. Most of the time, a company’s values fall in line with meeting the needs of their customers. But occasionally, a company’s goals and solving its customers’ pain points don’t quite match up.
This is a phenomenon that’s especially problematic—and common—in the tech space.
For example, a social media company’s primary goal might be to get as many ads in front of viewers as possible (looking at you, Facebook). Your average user, meanwhile, probably just wants to check out photos from their best friend's trip to Spain, or chat with their favorite aunt who lives across the country.
In other words, while the company only cares that the customer clicks on an ad, the average user is trying to derive personal meaning from the platform.
For the company, it’s a short-term way to make a quick buck, but eventually, you lose your users’ trust—and in turn, their business.
Not only is thoughtlessness bad for consumers, but it's also bad for technocrats. Up until now, anyone could attend a bootcamp and become a developer or designer. But in the near future—as data leaks and other ethical issues arise—regulations will make it much tougher to get in the door.
Tech workers must readjust their priorities towards the consumer, for the good of all.
And companies that truly care about what their users care about have to find ethical ways to monetize their platform—ways that don’t involve selling their users’ personal information, for instance. The end goal for the company should be building better relationships, forging deeper connections, and ultimately, creating a more fruitful user experience—a win-win for everybody.
Here’s what a future filled with thoughtful software would look like:
1. Users would get what they actually value.
People will spend money on the things they value.
If you value nice cars, for example, you'll buy a Mercedes. If you don't, you'll buy a Kia, which will get you from point A to point B. If you have an eye for high fashion, you'll shop at Versace or Neiman Marcus. If you don't, then you might shop at Old Navy. If you love music and want to feel like you're in the recording studio with the band, you’ll buy Bose headphones. If not, you can go buy a cheaper pair at Walmart, and they'll fit your needs just fine.
But too many of today’s tech companies aren’t thinking about what customers value—instead, they’re taking your data and selling ads with it, which is not what users signed up for.
Think about Google. They began as a search engine, but now they’re incentivized to collect as much data as they possibly can in order to sell you advertising. It’s gotten to the point where data from Google Maps can relay where you've been, what stores you frequent, and what places you're often around. They target you in ways that you don't even know, like listening in on conversations via your smartphone.
But the public is waking up to privacy concerns, to say the least. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data breach, people are leaving Facebook in droves. And some smartphone users even put black tape on their cameras and microphones to prevent companies from listening. In an era where users are feeling intruded upon, companies need to shift their focus back to the consumer.
If they do, they’ll have happier customers and a much stronger business strategy.
2. Values would become a competitive advantage.
If tech had been more sensitive to the values of their customer base, the last election likely wouldn’t have happened the way it did.
Many believe that fake news articles that were spread on Facebook swayed the results. And studies confirm that social media plays a bigger role in bringing people to fake news sites than it plays in bringing them to real news sites. Facebook, of course, is a major conduit for this news—The Atlantic called it “a powerful, non-neutral force in electoral politics.”
But companies are finally realizing that principles matter, albeit at a snail’s pace.
NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway recently said we’re seeing the emergence of “woke as a business strategy.” The younger generations, in particular, want to know they’re buying from brands that stand for something. McKinsey found that millennial and Generation Z customers— who already account for a combined $350 billion in spending power in the US—are “seriously concerned with social and environmental causes” and favor “brands that are aligned with their values.”
Age aside, research shows that 42% of North American shoppers would pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. And roughly two-thirds of consumers worldwide say they would boycott brands based on their position on those issues.
Another factor to consider is that a more caring corporate tech culture would inevitably promote a positive feedback loop in society. When people realize that having values matters, they’ll demand that companies create products that reflect those values.
All of which is to say, companies who highlight the issues they—and their users—care about are set to reap the biggest rewards.
3. There’d be less tech for tech’s sake.
It seems like every day, there’s a hot new product coming out of Silicon Valley.
But how much more new tech do we really need?
So many companies design things in a vacuum when they should be out talking to their users. They should be asking questions like: How do my users actually use my product? How do they consume it? Why are they consuming it? Not enough companies ask why. They test a million different product features, but they forget to ask the simplest—but most important—question of all: Why would someone buy it?
Every founder should have a specific and user-focused goal in mind. If you just want to make more money, there are much more effective and less wasteful ways to do it—smart investments can have far greater returns.
If companies shift towards serving consumers’ values, there’d still be plenty of cool new products coming out of Silicon Valley—they’d just be much more valuable to consumers.
Consumers have a right to demand more from companies.
Remember, without your customers, you have no business.
This gives consumers significant bargaining power. They have a right to insist that software companies build the platform they promised. If you have a social media company, they’ll demand connection without sacrificing their personal data. If it’s a search engine, they’ll demand results without seeing ads for things they can only remember ever talking about.
Today’s consumers don’t have to tolerate the misbehavior—they deserve to have products built for them that care about the same things they do.
And as company leaders, we don’t have to value money over environmental or social impact. We should be thoughtful, go out and figure out what customers want, find mutually beneficial ways to monetize, and make sure to communicate our values to shareholders.
If we can do that, we’ll be helping pave the way for a more considerate world.