How to Market Technology to Women

Here’s a funny thing about being at CES this year: lots of companies gave presentations on what I, as a woman, want in technology. What I want to buy, what special needs I have. This is what I learned that companies generally think women want in tech:

1. Companies think that women want products that are covered in flowers and pink. Okay, yes, I know there are a lot of young ladies out there that do want to own all things sparkly, pink, and flowery. But these young ladies also happen to be in kindergarten. Of course I wanted a unicorn on my radio when I was eight years old. But now that I’m paying for my purchases with my salary and not allowance, I’d like my tech to reflect that. For some reason, executives in product development are confusing women with little girls. “Feminine” and “girly” are two separate concepts that need distinction. Believe it or not, at a press conference, one company actually invited the women of the press corp to their booth to learn more about products “for her” where we would be able to partake of their “candy bar… because we at [Company] are looking out for what women need.” Thank you, but unlike the toddler to which you are apparently marketing, I don’t need to be plied with sweets to do my job and evaluate your product.

2. Companies think that women won’t use tech unless it’s shaped like something else that we use. Speakers shaped like handbags, cell chargers shaped like lipstick, etc. These were the sorts of things that I saw in abundance at CES. I’m not sure why anyone would be afraid that a bluetooth speaker look like a bluetooth speaker. Or, for that matter, why anyone would want to have to carry said speaker that looks like a purse, you know... in her purse. Or carrying two purses? Whatever the reasoning here, I’d like to go on record and say that purses and cosmetics are shaped like they are for a functional purpose. Shaping your mobile phone like a compact with a mirror only serves to insult the very people you hope to make your customer.

3. Trigger Warning: Companies think that women want everything to have a rape whistle. As crazy as it sounds, so many products marketed to women at CES had the bizarre selling point of “it also has a built-in personal alarm!” Flashlights, mobile-device battery chargers, laptop cases (all available in pink, of course) elicit super-high dB shrieks if you yank a pull tab. As though women are somehow inherently safer because their cell case can make a loud noise, or men are not at risk to be attacked. This isn’t the format to get into the detrimental impact of placing the responsibility of violent/sexual crime prevention on the victims. But suffice it to say, I do not feel safer walking around because a product I own is able to make a loud noise, nor do I care to find out what would happen if I accidentally snag that tab on something in public.

After sitting through presentation after presentation of these inane gadgets that were designated as “women’s tech” I came to a depressing realization: if this is what companies think they need to do to sell tech to women, then they are under the impression that men were the ones who bought everything else. This thought was reinforced by the way a lot of products were being displayed. Scantily clad “booth babes” (an actual common term, not mine) smiled painfully in front of entertainment systems. At a press conference, models in mini dresses stomped a runway carrying bluetooth speakers and wearing headphones connected to nothing. Ladies dressed in evening gowns draped themselves silently over televisions. I tried asking one tv-model lady a question about a television and received a uncomfortable and frightened look until a man in a polo shirt came over to talk to me. It was clear these women at CES were paid to be seen and not heard.

But why? Surveys taken by CEA as far back as 2004 showed that “women actually spent more on technology … than men. Women accounted for $55 billion of the $96 billion spent on electronics gear.” And in 2012, Mashable reported that “women expressed more interest in tablets (18%), laptops (20%) and smartphones (20%). Only 15% of men planned to buy a tablet, while 14% sought a laptop and 17% intended to buy a smartphone. The only category in which men surpassed female interest was flat screen LCD TVs, with men (19%) favoring the sets over women (17%).” Most interestingly however, in her article on Trendsight.com, consultant and writer Marti Barletta posited, “The typical pattern I’ve seen in technology products is that men are always the early adopters of any new technology. Women don’t get into the game until the bugs are worked out and companies are better able to articulate the benefits in terms of ‘how will it improve something in my life,’ instead of abstract specifications.”

This insight is key. Tech CEOs, if you are reading this, take note: I know of at least one company that is paying attention. In a meeting I took with Skullcandy at CES, I was given a sneak peek of their new “Muse” line of headphones. Skullcandy’s rep, Liz, explained to me that vast amounts of consideration and market research with actual women were put into the designs. They found that women wanted headphones that had a smaller headband yet that didn’t pinch. They wanted anti-microbial ear pads to prevent breakouts. They wanted included carrying cases that had extra pockets so that they could also house credit cards, keys, and cash along with protecting headphones. They wanted... well, practicality. Do the headphones come in some traditionally feminine colors? Sure. Light blue with stitching, classic black with studs, and an antique floral that reminds me of a shabby-chic steamer trunk. But that fashion choice was added after the entire chassis was modeled to fit lifestyle and product use. I was thrilled.

What women want isn’t all that mysterious, or even much to ask for. We want a product that does what it claims to do, that has a practical user interface, and that fits seamlessly into our lives while meeting a need. Basically, what any good consumer product should already do. To continue to market tech in the usual way is insulting to not only women but to men as well. The tech industry, by using half-naked women to market their wares, aren’t just alienating the women who use their brands, but also telling men that they are too stupid to see an inferior and unnecessary product past a pair of boobs. By labeling certain colors and styles as being “for women” they are alienating men who might enjoy their products in a cheerful hue. By telling us who we are rather than what a product can do, the tech industry is insulting the intelligence of consumers and restricting mass adoption of new technology. Not only does it hurt our society, but their bottom line. And if you ask me, that just isn’t practical.
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COMMENTS
veggieboy2001's picture

That's about all I can say.YES. I know I'm a male, and have a different perspective, But I think you're spot on, and I'm glad you wrote this. My only (slight) disagreement is in how the "tech industry...using half-naked women to market their wares" is insulting. I don't think that it's assumed we (men) can't see past a pair of boobs...I think that if you have a thousand (plus) booths, the "boobs" will attract the eye, and get you to their booth. Then you have a thousand (plus ) booths with boobs. Which is equally insulting.

Biffstar's picture

Technology (in particular home entertainment tech) shouldn't be gender-specific.

If a female is interested enough in technology to seriously consider a purchase, she won't care about any girly trinkets to begin with. So how it's marketed really shouldn't matter. A girl wants a TV, she's going to buy a TV. The end.

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