Level Up Your Product Game Using Empathy

BY CHRIS MASSEY ON NOVEMBER 15, 2016

Jeremy Toeman is VP of Product at CNET, the world’s largest and most trusted online source of consumer technology news and reviews. Toeman is responsible for building CNET’s multi-channel products, including web, mobile, OTT and apps. Toeman also runs CNET’s audience development, engagement and social media teams. He has 20 years of experience in the consumer electronics and digital media spaces, and has built hardware and software for desktop, mobile, video and social platforms. He has a passion for building products that create delightful experiences for users. In this great talk at ProductTank San Francisco, Jeremy invites you to up-level your product management skills using empathy. Jeremy takes some time out from our often highly data-driven testing culture, to show how employing empathy drives you to build products people love, not just stuff they use.

Mind the Traffic

As product managers, we know we need to actively listen to and hear conflicting incoming needs from business stakeholders, designers and engineers and, like traffic cops, somehow make sanity and order out of the chaos. At this busy intersection, we must also build empathy with our users and find ways, means and time to get inside their heads and truly live there for a while.

Where is the Benefit?

Starting with empathy helps create better products. By asking questions about users lives, problems and frustrations, empathy steers thinking away from features, which don’t excite customers, towards benefits, which is what will really make them love (or not) your product.

Watch Out for Your Ego

Jeremy explains that to truly engage empathically with the user, he had to learn to put his ego to one side when evaluating ideas. He talks about creating a glass-house of ideas – transparent, fragile, vulnerable – and then really listening to and hearing user response with empathy. Let people throw rocks at  your glass house and try to break it; the lessons learned will produce sturdier ideas and better products.

A/B Tests and MVPs

A/B tests are an important tool, and you need to be able to use them effectively, but Jeremy argues that all that A/B tests will ever be able to give you are local maximums in terms of the performance of your product ideas. You can get to somewhere better than where you currently are, but you can’t get to a fantastic product purely by testing your way there from something that you know doesn’t work. Similarly, there is a potential trap with MVPs – all too often people will just build a bad version of what they really want to create. A true MVP has to be built with enough empathy to be – in and of itself – actually solving the problem your potential customers are facing.

Build and Trust your Instincts

Putting empathy into practice builds and hones your gut instincts and gives you skills you can use when trying to see into the future for your market and products. Jeremy uses examples of ‘non-empathic products’ which failed because even with great design and engineering, they just missed the point.  

Any Questions?

With engaging personal storytelling, Jeremy concludes his talk with a Q&A, delving further into detail on the topics of choosing qualitative data, silencing your ego, and using active listening to get the best out of your whole team.

About CHRIS MASSEY

Chris Massey has been marketing B2B software products to developers for 8 years, building communities, content and publishing platforms along the way. He's an editor for Mind the Product, as well as a fan of JTBD, JFDI, and JEDIs.

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