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In Depth

Technology

Women and gadgets

Last Updated Oct. 9, 2006

It used to be that diamonds were a girl's best friend, but these days many women are cozying up to tech toys such as cell phones and plasma TVs with affection they previously reserved for stilettos and jewellery.

Apparently if it's a gadget, women gotta have it, according to a survey done by Oxygen Media, an American cable network owned and operated by women. The Women's Watch: Girls Gone Wired survey released in August indicates that 77 per cent of women fancy a new plasma TV over a diamond solitaire necklace, 78 per cent would rather have a sleek new cell phone than shoes, and 86 per cent would prefer a new digital video camera over designer footwear.

Women are fully embracing technology and really using it, Karen Ramspacher, vice-president of research for Oxygen Media, says. For guys it's about entertainment, and a bit frivolous, while women actually use it.

Adrian Capobianco, vice-president of interactive marketing for Canada's FUSE marketing group, agrees that when it comes to what women want from technology, it's all about functionality. Women are using the internet for information that will help them and their families and to stay connected to family and friends.

Barbara Kerson, a mother of two in Guelph, Ont., says, "I don't like technology for technology's sake. When it makes my life easier I love it, but just to have it because it is new, I don't care about that. For instance, I set my personal video recorder at the beginning of the week to the shows I want to watch. When I have the time, I sit down. I always have something I can watch and I don't miss the shows I want to see."

Several astute companies have taken note of their new target audience and are aiming their marketing strategies straight at them. Capobianco says Tetley Canada, the tea company, has twigged to women's affinity with technology by creating an online "Music Lounge" where women can download free songs for their computers and portable digital music players.

Chatelaine magazine has recipe updates subscribers can sign up for on its website, Chatelaine.com. Updates are sent three times a week via text message at 5 p.m. so that a last-minute dinner idea pops up on the subscriber's phone. By replying "more", the recipient receives an ingredient list back, which also includes the website for the recipe.

Not only does it fill a need for users, but it makes business sense for Chatelaine's owner, Rogers Publishing Ltd. (a division of Rogers Media), Capobianco says. "This drives text messaging revenue for Rogers, which owns them, [drives] traffic back to their website, and keeps them in touch with their target market three times a week."

Oxygen's Ramspacher says one of the most popular tech tools among women these days is a GPS tracking system, gadgetry that was once the sole domain of the military and outdoor adventurers. In fact, she says most of these portable navigation devices are now bought by female customers.

"Women are totally into them because they're functional, she says. It helps them with their lives and to get their work done. One of our clients told us that 55 per cent of his GPS customers are women. "

Toronto businesswoman Valerie Gerechter has similar feelings for high-tech communications gear.

"My Blackberry allows me to be out of the office and still work. It makes the world my office. I can answer e-mails, contact clients. I was in Sears yesterday buying a winter coat for my daughter and texting clients about a deal closing."

Best Buy is another company that has taken note of the technology buying power of women. Lori DeCou, company spokesperson for Best Buy Canada says, "As technology becomes more mainstream and more affordable, in more households it's women who are influencing the decisions around the purchase of these products. We offer a store comfortable for women."

In the United States, the company has specifically targeted the "soccer mom" buyer, which it calls "Jills", and has company representatives helping them. Special sales associates guide women through the tech buying process, and they are offered express checkout lines. In Canada, while the company is not targeting women as specifically as its counterparts to the south, it uses low-pressure sales tactics in the form of non-commissioned salespeople, an approach it feels is attractive to women.

When it comes to the hottest new products on offer, even though functionality is important, some companies still go for the pretty or fashion factor when targeting women, taking aim at those who want to "tech-cessorize." Motorola features pink phones and Siemens adorns its handsets with a floral pattern, as well as providing distinctly female features — the Siemens colour display, for example, doubles as a pocket mirror.

A Samsung phone has a fragrance and aromatherapy guide built in, as well as a calorie counter, Body Mass Index calculator, shopping list organizer and personal scheduler.

The chic Nokia cellphone, the Vertu, is perfect for the woman who likes both technology and baubles (and also has a lot of money, because it can cost as much as $80,000 depending on the model).

"We've had fashion phones for females for many years," Keith Nowak, Nokia's media relations manager, explains. "This year, the Nokia 7370 allows the customer to translate European shoe and clothing sizes to American. It also offers a mirrored display so that when it's not active it's actually a mirror. Women can use it to put on lipstick or eye shadow."

But does marketing this gender-specific work?

"Women in our focus groups say it's not enough to make the ad pink or put Anna Kournikova in it," Ramspacher says. "They want to know what the benefit would be to their lives, why they would need it."

In other words, the product has to do something practical, but at the same time, girls gotta have fun sometimes, right?

And when it comes to fun, content is being created that caters specifically to women as well. Kristin McDonnell, CEO of Limelife — which provides content for mobile phones — has developed everything from games aimed at women to specialized content through partnering deals with companies like Time Life Inc.

Says McDonnell, "Women are 60 per cent of game players on the web and mobile phones. They like puzzle, word or card games like solitaire. [But] a lot of what is offered is for men, card games with buxom card dealers."

McDonnell says simply tailoring gadgets to a female audience is not enough. Until the content women are interested in is available, women tend not to use technology for technology's sake. Although the VCR, the internet or iPods may have started off with very male-oriented content, once female-oriented content was available, women flocked to those devices and have become the power users.

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