TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Meet Jane Geek

Meet Jane Geek

Pallavi Gogoi (
Wed, 23 Nov 2005 22:18:19 -0600

By Pallavi Gogoi

Managers from Dell Inc.'s marketing and public relations staff flew
from their Round Rock (Tex.) headquarters to New York earlier this
year to meet with editors and sales reps at a dozen
publications. Their mission wasn't too surprising: Get editors to
print more about their computers, televisions, and pocketPCs.

It was the choice of magazines that was unusual, including Oprah
Winfrey's O at Home, Ladies' Home Journal, and CosmoGIRL -- not
exactly publications on the company's regular radar screen, despite
the obviously large number of women tapping keyboards in offices and
cafes. In barely six months, though, Dell's laser printer, plasma TV,
and notebook computer were featured as must-haves in gift guides in
shelter magazines Real Simple and O at Home. And in August, CosmoGIRL
gave Dell's 700m, 4-lb. notebook a "kiss of approval."

Dell isn't the only consumer electronics giant to have slept through
the alarm when it comes to realizing that women are as interested as
men in personal computing and home entertainment. RadioShack and Best
Buy recently begun to make big changes to their marketing plans, store
designs, and products with women in mind. In an effort to avoid
commodity status in crowded categories like TVs and PCs, they have dug
deeper into customer's heads. Marketing executives noticed that women
are much more involved in buying electronic gadgets but are completely
underserved. Indeed this year, for the first time, women are expected
to outspend men in the $122 billion market, according to the Consumer
Electronics Assn.

It didn't take long, once it tuned in, for Dell to register that women are
its fastest-growing customer group and key to its growth strategy,
especially as it branches out to TVs and MP3 players. Its own research in
2004 showed women made up half of its buyers and were as likely as men to
prefer buying PCs online. So besides the women's magazines, Dell is running
ads on women-centric cable-TV channels such as Oxygen and Lifetime
Television. It also placed a Dell TV and laptop on the set of Martha
Stewart's new NBC daytime show. Before that, says Bobbi Dangerfield,
director of customer experience, "you wouldn't have seen any Dell ads on
these women's channels."

Blame the male geek culture at digital hardware marketers for ignoring
women in the past. As recently as early 2003, Samsung Electronics
tested its phones, TVs, and home theaters with all-male focus
groups. Today, the company makes sure half its reviewers are
women. The payoffs: Samsung designed its DuoCam -- the first two-lens
digital camera and camcorder -- after women reported they liked to
record "life events" both in photographs and video but didn't like to
lug around two gadgets. The camera recently became lighter by 40%,
again the result of female feedback.

Chief Purchasing Officer Samsung has bested its rivals in design
awards the past two years, an accomplishment that Peter Weedfald,
senior vice-president for sales and marketing at Samsung Electronics
America Inc., attributes to listening to women. "Have you ever heard a
man say: 'I wish they would change the design and color of this
product and make it easier to use?"'

Demographics have a role to play in this shift. Women now head 33
million households, up from 21 million in 1980. Their buying power has
grown, too. In the past three decades, men's median income has barely
budged, up just 0.6%, while women's has soared 63% (though women still
earn less than their male counterparts -- 78 cents for every dollar a
man gets). And women need plenty of computing power given they are
starting businesses at twice the rate of men, according to the Center
for Women's Business Research.

The digital home has also come to confer on women the role of chief
purchasing officer of computing and entertainment gear. They're
judging the user-friendliness of computers and wireless networks just
as they would stoves and refrigerators. "Last week my 11-year-old came
in and said she needed a JumpDrive to transfer digital files back and
forth from school, and who buys it? My wife," says Paul Rand, chief
development and innovation officer at communications firm Ketchum
(NYSE:OMC - News), which led a standing-room-only marketing-to-women
forum at the Consumer Electronics Show last February.

Best Buy has caught on to the women's digital mind-set, too, launching
its "Jill Initiative" to focus on what women want. "Jill," according
to the retailer, is a time-pressured suburban mom who prefers shopping
at Target Corp. because of its focus on style, over, say, Wal-Mart
Stores Inc. In the past year, Best Buy relaunched 60 stores, changing
their look with pastel colors rather than the chain's traditional
dark-blue and yellow scheme to create a more soothing
experience. Personal shopping advisers whisk mostly female shoppers
around the stores, steering clear of tech jargon. "The language of
bits and bytes is a thing of the past," says Ketchum's Rand. A Best
Buy salesperson doesn't talk megapixels but instead asks if a digital
camera is primarily for still photos or soccer games and if buyers
plan to print their own photos.

Remote Fix-It Women are far less likely than men to feign understanding
of new technology, and thus they expect a high level of customer
service. So Best Buy launched the Geek Squad service, whose men and
women in white shirts and ties go so far as to offer home visits in a
white-and-orange Volkswagen Beetle to fix, upgrade, and install
hardware and software. Dell, meanwhile, last week rolled out Dell On
Call, which allows its help desk to take over a computer remotely and
fix it for customers who sign on.

Perhaps consumer electronics marketers wouldn't have taken so long to
appreciate women if they had a few more in their ranks. Dell, for one,
laments that women are only a third of its management ranks. Last
March it held a diversity summit with 30 other companies to form a
strategy to attract more women as employees, not just customers. "It's
important that our employees reflect our customer base," says
Stephanie Mims, senior manager of global diversity at Dell.

Some may view these efforts as pandering, the way auto makers in the
1950s tried pitching cars with matching handbags. But some see clear
differences between the genders. RadioShack Chief Marketing Officer
Don Carroll says women behave differently from their first step in the
store, based on studying his in-store-motion cameras. "Men look left
and right, identify their product, and head towards it, but women
really shop the store before reaching their goal," says Carroll. He's
changing lighting at the company's 5,000 outlets and making the stores
less cluttered, a leading complaint among women and a move that will
no doubt make it easier for men to shop as well. It's Mother, it
seems, who knows best in the gadget aisle.

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