Too many tech companies are missing out on the lucrative female market because they still think women will buy any gadget as long as it's pink. Here's how to create and market tech products that women really want.
Last year, when Timex rolled out a new, smaller GPS sports watch, the watchmaker ran ads for the product in women's magazines with the delicately handwritten tag line: "He never lets me catch up. But I do love trying."
It was another tone-deaf marketing blunder from a company trying to sell its tech gadgets to women. In these efforts, technology companies too often resort to sexist slogans, painting it pink, or dumbing down features, say marketing experts.
Marketers and product designers know they must target women: Females control an estimated $20 trillion in annual consumer spending worldwide, according to the Boston Consulting Group. Women earn more higher-education degrees than men and start new businesses at a faster rate. Women's earning power is growing faster than men's. And women now make up more than half of Twitter users and Facebook subscribers.
Still, the tech industry remains male dominated. Its culture of lightning-speed product development means few tech companies take the time to truly understand women, their lifestyles, and their needs, says Anna Shaw, a director at Smart Design, a design and innovation company with a lab that focuses on female consumers.
Instead, companies resort to stereotypes and assume women aren't tech early adopters. "They're interpreting women as a smaller, softer human," Shaw says.
The result: USB cords painted with daisies, sparkly clutches that hide wireless speakers (and have no room for anything else), and Della.com, a site launched by Dell Computer in 2009 that sold pastel-colored laptops. The company took the site down in a matter of weeks. "We learned from that mistake," says Dell spokeswoman J.J. Davis.
"They thought that we couldn't understand megabytes unless they were pink and purple," says Stephanie Holland, owner of Holland + Holland Advertising and founding author of the She-conomy blog on marketing to women.
The trick to creating tech for and selling tech to women? Much of it is common sense. We offer a refresher:
Lesson No. 1: Design for Your Most Demanding Customers (Hint: Women)
Smart companies design their tech with women's needs in mind first--not so they can market it as a women's product but so they get a better product for all their users. That's because women are your most demanding customers, says Shaw. "Women have a longer checklist of needs and higher expectations--from the marketing messaging to tech support," she says.
Research and her own observations show that men tend to focus on a product's specifications and performance. Women consider the total relationship they will have with the product--its benefits, uses, maintenance, and repair needs, says Shaw. Remember: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" applies to tech design, too.
Lesson No. 2: Stop Viewing "Women" as a Single Market
Marketers frequently assume "women" are one homogeneous market. They aren't. They're the busy mom, the Millennial, the empty nester, the athlete, and the senior executive. Products must address the unique demands of each group. And to do that successfully, you have to talk to those women before you design.
"Companies need to understand who she is, what are her emotions, what are her values," says Shaw. Instead of traditional focus groups, Smart Design uses informal "girl chats" with wine and snacks to get women to open up. Shaw says the private meetings encourage women to relax and talk about what's really important to them. That doesn't always happen in traditional focus groups. "Some women don't speak up, or they say what they think you want to hear," she says.
Darrell Cavens, CEO of flash-sale site Zulily.com, takes a different tack: He eats breakfast with female customers. "Many of the improvements to our site have come directly from that feedback," says company spokeswoman Lara Jones.
Still, some marketers and designers are simply not paying attention: The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show included an entire area showcasing Whirlpool's Internet-connected kitchen, dining room, and laundry room products, called the MommyTech Summit.
Lesson No. 3: Solve Problems With Uniquely Female Products
Liz Salcedo's cell phone constantly ran out of charge. In 2011, the social worker gutted a purse and combined off-the-shelf components to build a phone charger inside it. After retrofitting bags for her friends, she started Everpurse, a Chicago company that sells handbags for $189 to $329 that charge your phone. By tapping female advisers, investors, and employees, the company hit half a million dollars in sales and ran out of its holiday inventory just six months after launch.
Michael Koss, CEO of Koss Stereophones in Milwaukee, found similar success after hearing his two daughters, three sisters, and wife vent that earbuds were painful and the sound quality was off because the devices did not fit properly inside their ears. That's because they were made for men's ears. The 50-employee company spent two years designing Koss Fit, a new line of earbuds that were 30 percent smaller, to fit comfortably inside women's ears.
Lesson No. 4: Put Women in Charge of the Design Process
Men hold more than three-quarters of all computer-related jobs in the United States, and they make up 72 percent of corporate CEOs. It's one thing to get input from women by asking wives, assistants, or even other designers in the office. But to truly avoid the pitfalls of creating a product for and marketing it to women, companies need to put women in charge of the process, says Holland.
Koss did just that for Fit earbuds. The CEO turned over all design decisions to women. They targeted female athletes who used the products while exercising. When they learned Olympic swimmer Dara Torres had complaints about earbud fit, they brought her into the design process for input and she tested different versions. The $29 product is now sold nationwide. "If everything we do is authentic and real, then people will appreciate it," Koss says. Even if they do offer the product in pink.