Engineering for Expectations: Human Response as the Central Design Principle

Credit: Blake Patterson
Credit: Blake Patterson
Credit: Blake Patterson

This week, XTC continues our PR Playbook discussion with a look at engineering for expectations—how human reaction ought to be the driving force behind how we design and market new technologies.

Human behavior has always been the biggest barrier to technology adoption. Before the iPhone, Apple launched the Apple Newton in 1992, aptly named because Newtonian physics were easier to understand. In addition to being too bulky to be pocket-sized, it required people to learn a frustratingly fickle technological cuneiform. Apple came out with iPod 10 years later, and iPhone 15 years later. The difference was summed up in one word from reviewers: intuitive.

Today, B2C and B2B tech companies alike have learned the power of being intuitive. But more than easy to use, technology must be easy to love, and that emotional bond must shine through in the narrative. Here are some storytelling components to showcase that “je ne sais quoi” of your own technology:

Understand the hype. People’s expectations for new technology tend to map to the adoption curve described by Gartner’s Hype Cycle, and those expectations are excellent guides for the tone and content of our tech PR. Are we enamored with novelty and unexplored potential? If so, clarify what’s most likely to be disrupted. Is the technology over-hyped and we’re promised it does everything, “It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping”? Level-set expectations and challenge the hype. Are we frustrated with results and running into this technology’s shortcomings? Illustrate how to recoup the ROI from existing technology investments. Understanding hype is a prerequisite to effective technology thought leadership.

Make room for surprise. Marketers already know the power of customer delight, and in storytelling parlance the plot twist has always been key. But even more important than delight is surprise. When people encounter an expected joy, they feel good. When people encounter an unexpected joy, the feeling is even more potent and forms a stronger bond. This is what the serendipitous discovery and semantic web discussion was about. This is what compels us to return to CES annually. And it is essential in our storytelling that we not habitually spoil the surprise by dictating the benefit statements to our audience. Instead, leave some room to serendipitously discover new benefits in our offerings. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t tell the world how to use Facebook. He provided a (mostly) blank canvas and let users define this new social utility.

Showcase the human impact. Technologies are easier to love when the world has a reason to want to see them succeed. Showcasing the human impact of mobile, social, cloud and big data technologies shifts the burden of proof from “how can this possibly work?” to “why wouldn’t we want to see this work!” IBM speaks to the problems that impact society most in their Smarter Planet campaign. McKesson speaks to creating a vision for better health. LinkedIn speaks to economic impact and cultural leadership. Polycom speaks to the importance of human collaboration. Nobody can be the hero of their own narrative unless they are in service of something bigger than themselves. That’s the definition of a hero. There’s a lot of power in articulating why the world needs you.

This is how we can put that human expectation of a better life at the center of our communications strategies and make sure technologies continue to serve the human agenda … and not the other way around.

Next week: the rise of small data over big data.