Recently, fellow A/V writer John Sciacca wrote a blog post called "Women Are From Venus, Men Love Tech". In it, he questions whether women really have any interest in home theater and home automation technologies. Based on his own experiences as a custom installer over the past fourteen years, he has found that women seldom show much enthusiasm for this area of technology; yes, they care about the cost and aesthetics of the products that will enter their homes, but the level of enthusiasm for the products themselves just isn't there, which makes it challenging for him to involve them in the process.
The story inspired a lot of interesting comments, and it has inspired me to contribute a few opinions of my own, as both a woman and an A/V tech writer. The question of how to design and market A/V products that appeal to women is certainly not a new one, and some companies are better at it than others. My male colleagues and I have had many a laugh at manufacturers and marketers that embrace the "Just Make It Pink" mentality - those who believe that all a woman cares about is the aesthetic. Just add a pretty color or some sparkles, and, voila ... chicks will dig it.
I'm not saying that a product's aesthetic appeal isn't important to a woman. If she's asked to choose between a pair of beautifully sculpted, gorgeously finished floor-standing speakers and a couple of huge black boxes, she'll likely pick the pretty ones. However, the point is moot if you've failed to convince her of the benefit of owning the speakers in the first place. In other words, aesthetics may help her decide which product to buy, but they don't convince her to buy either one if she hasn't opted to do so.
So, what does convince her? If she isn't an audiophile or videophile in her own right, what will motivate a woman to invest in home theater gear? Allow me to offer up a few insights to our predominantly male audience - be you a husband who wants new stuff, a manufacturer trying to market products to a wider demographic, or a custom installer who wants to more effectively engage women in the sales process.
Warning: Generalizations ahead.
1. Women put a high value on practicality and convenience.
Going back to John's original blog post, one commenter took particular umbrage with his opinions about women and technology, pointing his attention to a December 2011 Parks Research survey showing that women were more likely than men to purchase products in three of the four major consumer electronics categories. What were the three categories, you might ask? Smartphones, tablets and laptops. Not exactly the kind of tech John was discussing in his article. Interestingly, the fourth category - the one in which men expressed more interest - was flat-screen LCD TVs.
It comes as no surprise to me that women buy a lot of smartphones, tablets and laptops. Beyond just being cool toys, these products have an obvious practical side, offering features that help us organize and optimize our daily lives. Not a day goes by that I don't use my smartphone's calendar, notepad, map service and Web browser to get info that I need to accomplish some family task. That's not to say women only use these gadgets for practical purposes. The Parks study goes on to state that, once a woman buys one of these devices, she uses it heavily to share content online and download movies and music. However, I believe that the product's practical applications are what help to justify the initial expense and inevitable upgrades.
I remember the good old days when I traveled to a trade show like CES with a cell phone, a PDA, a laptop, and a music player in tow. Then the iPhone came along and merged all of those functions into one cool little device, and I didn't think twice about dropping the cash to get one. Yes, it was cool, but it also made my daily life easier, and that made it a worthwhile investment.
When we're talking about higher-end A/V products like TVs, speakers and whole-house audio/video systems, I think women often see them as extravagant toys with little practical benefit. To sell them on the gear, you need to sell them on the ways that the gear might make life easier. Want to upgrade to a smart, networkable TV? All those streaming VOD services mean no more trips to the Redbox kiosk or video store, and no more unhappy kids when the movies they want to rent are out of stock (plus no need to add another black box to the system). Today's smart TVs are loaded with all kinds of apps; do some research and figure out which ones might appeal to a woman's more practical side.
A full home theater setup with a front-projection system and multi-channel audio may seem like an extravagant investment, but that depends on how often the family likes to go to the movies. How much can a home theater save you in time, money, and frustration, compared with all those trips to the local movie theater? Consider the cost to take a family of four to see a movie these days. Consider the logistics of getting there, getting food, getting desirable seats. Consider the annoyances of the modern-day moviegoing audience. A home theater setup can actually be a very practical investment; you just have to know how to properly tout its convenient benefits.
I would think that home automation would be an easier sell, as it screams practicality. No more trips around the house to check and turn off the lights. No more wondering if you locked the door or shut the garage. Easy-to-install wireless cameras allow for a quick check of the baby's room or front porch. There is the ability to remotely perform all of these tasks even when you're on vacation. And, thanks to smartphone and tablet integration, all of this control can be right at her fingertips on the device she already loves so much.
My point is this: if you can present a product or service in such a way that it appeals to both sides of a woman's brain, then a sale is much more likely.
2. Women care more about the result than the process.
There's a saying, "Men build houses, women make homes." Be it nature, nurture, or some combination of the two, women usually aren't as interested in the step-by-step process of building as they are in enjoying the result. Maybe it's because our parents bought us dolls to play with instead of model airplanes to build. How many women like to work on cars for fun? A woman may want to know the basics of car repair so she can fix her own flat tire or change the oil (again, very practical), but she's not as inclined to wile away her Saturdays under the hood.
The same is true in the home theater realm. For the male audiophile or v
ideophile, half the fun (if not more) is the process of assembling a great system - picking out individual components that perfectly compliment each other to form that ideal whole, adding in the best controller, the best seats, the best lighting, etc., etc. A woman may find this process very boring, but that doesn't mean she won't appreciate the result when it becomes a tangible reality.
You need to give her a glimpse of that reality, and this is where an A/V showroom can be so helpful. Guys, if you want to sell your wife on a home theater system, don't take her to a loud, crowded Best Buy. Take her to a specialty dealer who has great demo rooms, preferably a completed theater room with the full lighting, seating, and control package. While you're busy reading spec sheets and trying to equate numbers to performance, she needs to hear it and see it for herself to be swayed.
And to all you A/V salesmen out there: if a husband and wife come in together to the store, then she expects to be involved in the process in some manner. If you immediately discount her because she's not showing interest in spec sheets and tech talk, if you condescend to her, if you ignore her and sell only to her husband, then there's a good chance you can kiss that sale goodbye. The best salesmen are equally deft at selling the process to the man and the result to the woman.
3. Women have trouble de-stressing at home.
This third point might present the biggest challenge of them all. A man's home may be his castle, but a woman's home is often her job, especially if kids are involved. The home is a place of business where there's always work to be done: things to be cleaned, children to be cared for, and bills to be paid. It's not that these are bad things, but they represent the stresses of daily life. It can be hard for a woman to unplug from these stresses within the physical confines of the house. That's why, when she needs a break, she physically leaves the house and goes someplace else. The spa. The shopping center. The coffee place. Somewhere where she literally cannot take care of any household business and therefore can relax.
As much as I love a great audio demo at CEDIA or CES, it's simply not the same experience at home. I can't recall the last time I sat down and listened to music, as an act in and of itself. Just listened to music for the pure enjoyment of it. For me and most women I know, that enjoyment would last about five minutes. Then I would hear my child complaining upstairs, or I'd see something in the room that needed my attention, or my brain would simply start running through my perpetual to-do list.
A man may look at a great A/V system as an ideal way to relax - just sink into the perfect chair with some music and a cold beverage and unplug from the day's stress. For him, the system may be pricey, but its ability to provide enjoyment and relaxation for years to come ultimately makes it a value. A woman looks at the price tag and thinks, "For that money, we could take a great vacation ... somewhere that isn't in our house." It's not that a woman doesn't appreciate or enjoy the technology; it's just that she would enjoy a vacation more.
While this challenge might cause some women to feel reluctance toward a major home theater purchase (or any luxury home item, for that matter), it doesn't necessarily mean the sale is impossible. If you remember the first two points - if you've successfully sold her on the system's practicality and convenience, if you've successfully demonstrated the finished product to inspire some enthusiasm - then point #3 doesn't have to be a deal-breaker. But this I know for certain: simply pointing out how pretty the speakers look isn't going to get it done.