what women want from digital technology

Earlier this year, I was interviewed about what women want from digital technology.  (Thanks to Robin Raskin, Maria Bailey, and the team at MommyTech TV for the interview!)   I’ve studied the topic ever since my years heading up brand and strategy at Sony Electronics.  More recently, women’s needs have come to the forefront of my thinking as digital health and fitness brands look to cross the chasm from the early adopter market which tends to skew male to the mainstream, more gender-balanced market.

Here’s the video of the interview – and since the actual interview ended up only scratching the surface of some of the points I had hoped to discuss, below the video I’m also including the notes I had prepared for the interview.

Q:  Why is it important for digital products/services/apps to emphasize emotional benefits and facilitate community among their users, instead of pushing product features and talking technology?

A:  We humans are emotional creatures. We make our purchase decisions based on how products promise to make us feel. That’s why great brands succeed by seeking intimate emotional connections with customers. Either a product satisfies an emotional need I have (“I want to feel healthy and successful”) or it offers me access to a self-identity that I want to experience and express (“I’m an athlete”).  Product features are usually of secondary importance to these emotional connections.  This is particularly true for digital health and fitness devices.  The success of certain devices like the FitBit and Nike+ isn’t due to the technology; it’s not even due to physical fitness; it’s due to the feelings people experience when they use them.

Creating a sense of community is important in this context.  According to research by the Consumer Electronics Association, positive reinforcement and competition are the strongest ways to encourage sustained use of dedicated wearable fitness devices.  Devices, apps, and services that enable people to interact with their friends have that feedback and friendly competition built right in.  So, to increase their appeal and relevance, great brands emphasize that you’re not just buying a product, you’re joining a community.

Q:  What are some examples of brands that get it right? 

find your greatness

A: Compare Nike’s 2012 London Olympics ads with those of Adidas. Adidas ran high-energy, fun spots that highlighted its products. Nike’s commercials, by contrast, were quiet and moving. They made an emotional connection through a new call to action: “Find Your Greatness.” It’s no small wonder that the Nike’s ads generated fifteen times as many Internet conversations as did the Adidas ads, even though Adidas had paid $155 million to be official Sportswear Partner of the Olympics.

There’s an iPad Air commercial from Apple called “Pencil” that introduces about “an extremely simple tool that can be used to start a poem or finish a symphony.”   After talking about all the wondrous ways the tool has been used, the ad reveals that it’s about the iPad.  Then there’s the ad for the new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 that compares it to the iPad Air, touting that it has 1MM more pixels, and is 20% lighter and lower priced.  The Kindle Fire may be selling well in the short term, but I bet it doesn’t inspire the admiration, loyalty, and advocacy that the iPad does — nor does it enjoy the benefits that these produce in the long run.

Q:  How can companies use design to make a stronger connection with women?

A:  You’ve probably heard that phrase “shrink it and pink it.”  It describes the way many marketers try to attract women consumers with “female” designs.  Technology companies are some of the worst offenders in using this mindless design approach.  The definition and application of design needs to be broadened.  It has as much to do with form factor, as it does with user interface and ease of use.   It also has to do with the entire brand experience — from the store environment to the price and packaging to the values the brand espouses and social causes it supports, to how it fits into the home, and which family members will use it…  If design is applied to understanding how brands fit into women’s lives, it will certainly bond people to brands.

Q:  How can people learn more about this?

A:  Femme Den is a design lab focused on female consumers – I love their work.

Nilofer Merchant worked for major companies like Apple, and Autodesk, and currently advisor to Logitech, Symantec, HP, Yahoo, VMWare, and many others – I learn a lot from her

My book,  What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles That Separate the Best from the Rest (Jossey-Bass), which explains how great brands avoid selling products and other ways top companies develop standout brands that foster customer loyalty and increase profit margins.



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  • Sheryl Adkins-Green

    Great post – particularly the insights regarding the importance of incorporating community support. and engagement. This is the top criteria for all of the technology and digital marketing initiatives being pursued by Mary Kay.

    • deniseleeyohn

      thanks, sheryl! mary kay is a great pacesetter in this area.