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Adventures in Empathy

Published by: David Garfinkel on 12-02-2019

On the podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman interviewed Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb. Chesky tells of advice he got 10 years ago, when the company barely had any customers at all. He got the advice from one of the wisest men in Silicon Valley, Paul Graham of Y Combinator.

The advice was simple, but powerful:

“Get to know your customers by one.”

Brian Chesky and his Airbnb co-founders followed the advice.

He remembers, “I’d just spend time with them, and I’m like, What if I did this, what if I did this — and from those questions, a handcrafted experience is born.”

He also said, “You literally start designing touchpoint by touchpoint, the creation of a peer review system, customer support, all those things came from us. We didn’t just meet our users, we lived with them. I used to joke that when you bought an iPhone, Steve Jobs didn’t come sit on your couch.”

Well, good joke, but, Steve Jobs used to walk around the Apple Store on University Avenue in Palo Alto and ask people who were trying out Macs what they liked and what they didn’t like about the Mac.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. I just wanted to give a shoutout to Steve Jobs.

Meanwhile, Airbnb is slated to go public next year with a valuation of $35 billion. Not bad for 10 years work and starting out by going over to visit your customers at their homes.

There’s a reason I told you this, and it’s not to suggest that you go live with your customers!

I’m telling you because Brian Chesky of Airbnb made one of the four choices copywriters can make for empathy that we’ll talk about today. All four are important, and we cover them in the podcast.

First though, we cover what “empathy” is. I’m using one of the best definitions I’ve ever come across, and naturally, it’s from a Hollywood screenwriting guru. I say “naturally” because screenwriters, just as much as copywriters, need to have strong empathy for the people involved in what they write, in order for it to connect with readers and viewers.

Next, we go over the four choices you have for empathy each time you start a new project. You can only make one of them, and a couple of them are weak substitutes for the real thing. We’ll go into detail about all four.

By the time you’ve finished listening to this show, you’ll have a much better idea of what empathy is; how to achieve it (and how not to); and why it’s important in the success of your copy.

Keywords: connecting with your reader

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