The differences in men’s and women’s values and motivations require a new approach to product innovation and marketing – and new tools to match. Learn about Female Interaction research conducted by Design-people and how it helped a new Danish audio brand to make an international breakthrough.

By Klaus Schroeder

Stockholm, 3 February 2014.
The exhibition halls are abuzz with activity as workers uncrate sofas and assemble display cases, trying to create a feeling of light and space in the cramped exhibit areas. The Vifa marketing team feels like a fish out of water as they set up a display booth with their new wireless speakers. Like everyone else here, they are hoping to attract the notice of the legion of tradespeople and press who will descend tomorrow upon the Stockholm Furniture Fair – the world’s largest showcase for Scandinavian design. The marketing and sales people from Vifa glance around nervously. After two years of intense branding, design and development effort, was it rash to launch their new line of speakers here, instead of at IFA Consumer Electronics Show in Berlin?

The journey began two years earlier, in a meeting at the Design-people offices in Aarhus, Denmark. Since 1933, Vifa has been a venerable name in audio, producing state-of-the-art components for most of the industry giants. But they were unknown outside the industry – and now they wanted to reinvent themselves as a maker of high-end loudspeakers in their own right.

Most companies in Vifa’s situation would have emphasised their history of technological innovation and tried to appeal to audiophiles. The audio industry is a crowded field with high name recognition among consumers. Their products, even on the low end, tend to be rich on features and low on usability, with an appearance that highlights function. That tendency may be particularly pronounced in the high-tech sector, but it is a way of thinking so deeply engrained in modern product development, that it is hard in almost any field to realise that there are alternatives.

But true to their innovative roots, the Vifa executive team wanted to think outside the box, and the CEO, Michael Sørensen, was willing to apply a diffe-rent approach to development, design and communication. He decided to go with a new strategy that coupled their superb audio skills with a dedicated focus on female user preferences. So the speaker that they would eventually launch in Stockholm was to be carefully designed to meet the demands of well-off, independent women.

Exploring women and technology – the Female Interaction project
Design-people’s ‘inspired by women’ approach has its basis in the Female Interaction project, an extensive research undertaking that the firm initiated in 2009. At the time, Design-people was a relatively new addition to the Danish design scene. With a focus on user-centric design, the small but growing team specialised in making advanced tech products easy and attractive to use. But Design-people decided to dig deeper into the motivations of users, particularly one vast, overlooked segment: Women.

In recent years, women’s buying power around the world has been rising far more rapidly than men’s. This trend – known as ‘womenomics’ – is rooted in women’s increasing access to education, better jobs and expanding influence in households, businesses and society. Yet numerous surveys confirm what most women know only too well: Products and services are rarely created or marketed to satisfy their expectations.

“By 2028, women will control nearly three quarters (72%) of consumer spending worldwide.”
Boston Consulting Group

For the Female Interaction project, which was co-financed by the Danish Business Authority, Design-people assembled a team of university researchers and other experts in interaction psychology, pervasive computing and user-centered design. The team worked directly with the product development together with marketing professionals from three technology companies. The research team worked with more than 1,500 women (and a few men) on three continents to investigate their attitudes, their relation to technology and their response to several new concepts.

The project used this research to develop guidelines and met-hods that would help companies not only create innovative products and services that speak directly to women, but also market them so that they appeal to female values and preferences.

Three years and 10,000 working hours later, they published ‘A Guidebook to a Female Interaction Strategy’ and presented it at an international conference at the Danish Design Center in Copenhagen. This 70-page practical guide presents the project findings along with the innovative user experience concepts developed by the research and design team – concepts that help companies visualise how a focus on female preferences can dramatically improve their innovation and marketing efforts.

Female Interaction – key findings
• Most companies have a limited understanding of female values and preferences in their business sector.
• To attract more female customers, a company should make sure that its products and services:
• Contain a meaningful benefit story that tells the potential customer how she will improve her life.
• Can be used quickly and intuitively in everyday life.
• Make her look and feel right in social situations.
It is important to test concepts, products and communication with women according to these criteria.
• Women are not a homogeneous group, but they do share common values. To avoid stereotyping, effective segmentation and a targeted approach are required.
• Products and services created with a female benchmark tend to be attractive to men too.

Critical gender differences
Design-people suggested to Vifa that they should put their audio expertise in the service of female user preferences – and build the brand around both. As target customers, Vifa chose independent women with large disposable incomes. The branding, development and marketing efforts were inspired by the gender differences that the Female Interaction project had identified as crucial. For example:

Social interactions matter more to women than men, who for instance are significantly less active on Facebook. In designing and marketing products and services, it is therefore important to address the social context of how they might be used – and how potential customers become aware of them.

Men tend to focus on one thing at a time, while women think more holistically and take more aspects of a situation into consideration. This is reflected by the observation that in trying on a new set of clothes, 72% of men will buy it immediately, while the corresponding figure for women, who prefer to consider more options, is only 24%.

With respect to tech products, Design-people discovered that women and men are often motivated by different factors. Since most tech designers are men, the resulting products typically reflect male motivations and end up being feature-rich, leading to the widespread impression that women do not understand technology.
Yet women have no difficulty using tech products in professional settings. In the private sphere, however, technology has to motivate women with real life benefits – and it needs to be easy to use.

Of course, there is a tremendous variety within each gender. To avoid simplified stereotypes of women and technology, the Female Interaction team developed a segmentation model, based on quantitative studies, that combines generic female preferences with life stages. A cluster analysis resulted in the following female tech user profiles for Danish women between 18 and 60:

• The young communicator is characte-rised by a strong sense of belonging to different communities. They are open to new products that either make a statement or take communication to a new level.
• The aesthetically aware woman represents the majority of women in their early 30s. They seek identity through products, including tech products, that match their aesthetic preferences.
• The organiser is typically in her 40s and has children, a husband and a full-time job. She appreciates technology that will help her manage the balance between her busy work and private life.
• The traditionalist is strongly skeptical of new technology. The few tech products she appreciates build on traditional values and are reassuring to use.

During the Female Interaction project, detailed versions of these four user profiles were applied successfully to projects by the three participating companies. The profiles have also proved useful not just as strategic benchmarks, but also in recruiting women for user insights and concept testing.

In addition, the project R&D team crea-ted a series of 58 method cards based on what they learned about gender-responsive innovation. These cards provide the people who develop and market products and services with a wealth of practical techniques and tools.

One example: Real-life user insights remain critical to understanding a target group’s situational and social context. The Female Interaction team held ‘value workshops’ to explore the emotional dimensions of the experience of both users and ‘not-yet-users’. To analyse and process these insights, the team developed a motivation and barrier analysis – the MOBA™ tool – which maps out key emotional factors of the user experience through the entire course of the customer journey, from awareness to purchase to daily use. This analysis presents the emotional dimensions of users so that they can be readily utilised as innovation drivers in the subsequent development process.

The Female Interaction project’s combination of gender know-how and practical methods for implementing it in product development and communication makes it possible for companies to respond to female business potentials. For instance, Danfoss, one of the companies participating in the project, has subsequently adopted a female benchmark strategy with great success. They now test new concepts within residential heating with both men and women, using a scenario-driven development process. This approach has enabled Danfoss to provide their customers with more attractive benefits and greater situa-tional ease of use.

“I am not surprised that the focus on benefits has helped us get it right for all users – including men. I have never met a man who said, “I do not like this product because it is too easy for me to operate”.
Søren Hesseldahl, Innovation Director, Heating Solutions Division, Danfoss

Creating a holistic user experience that attracts women
Design-people’s Awareness–Buy–Use tool is a spinoff from the Female Interaction research. It starts by defining at least one key user profile, for example an ‘organiser’, that will form the strategic benchmark for the user experience. Focusing on the values and preferences of the key user profile, both the design and the marketing teams then translate the corporate brand values into user experience goals for each stage of the customer journey: Awareness-Buy-Use.

For the ‘Buy’ phase, this means answering the question: How do we encounter a busy female organiser with our pro-duct or service in a situation where she will be able to appreciate our offerings? And how can we visualise the real-life benefits our product provides her so that she will decide to purchase it when she has the opportunity? Are there after-sales services that would appeal to her?

Once they are approved by top management, the user experience guidelines align the contributions of the development, marketing and sales teams in a holistic branded user experience. Vifa applied the Awareness–Buy–Use tool with resounding success. Among other things, it informed their decision to use the Stockholm Fair to launch their new speaker. It proved as an excellent platform to connect to a new key target group.

The loudspeaker goes interior
The actual design of the Vifa speaker line is inspired by a recent trend reflected in many of Design-people’s projects – a trend that originates in women’s preferences. Design-people calls it ‘appliances go interior’.
The extensive field studies Design-people conducted in the Female Interaction project revealed that women often hide tech appliances in their homes.

This insight has inspired a design approach that utilises materials, surfaces and patterns from interior design – at the same time downplays technological and interaction features and incorporating them into an attractive whole that is readily integrated into the home. For instance, the Copenhagen speaker foregrounds premium fabrics that Design-people developed in close collaboration with Kvadrat, a Danish textile firm with an international reputation in high-end interior design. The result: A well-crafted interior design object with an exclusive appearance that understates the speaker’s superior technical capabilities.

When marketing the new speaker, special attention was paid to packaging, which was inspired by elements used in packaging of handbags and shoes. And deciding to launch the speakers at a furniture fair proved to be a game changer in order to address the female market.

The market responds

“A speaker that is actually beautiful. Scandinavian design, with an elegance that will fit in most homes. Created for the female segment – who ought to be seriously addressed anyway – but not so feminine that men will not be able to live with it too.”
Designermor, design blog

By lunchtime on opening day in Stockholm, people were already clustered around the Vifa stand. The response from women was particularly striking – and the buzz spread online in the weeks and months that followed.

“In all my time in the design industry, I have never seen such a tremendous response to a new product. Social media, web forums and the blogosphere have embraced us, and we have been getting inquiries from around the world – it has been just stunning.”
Lena Hansen, Marketing Director, Vifa

The success was anything but random, a result of the strategy that Vifa’s CEO, Michael Sørensen, created together with Design-people. No audio brand had ever addressed itself so consistently to the female consumer – a segment that Vifa aims to own. And Michael Sørensen is the first to give this approach credit for a large share of Vifa’s success:

“Focusing on women as a benchmark for the Vifa user experience has given us the competi-tive edge we need. As a new player in a well-
established market, we need to differentiate ourselves – and we have done that by making the Vifa Copenhagen speaker an exclusive lifestyle statement with a high-quality sound core. With this strategy, we have embraced the emerging buying power of women, while still attracting male customers.”
Michael Sørensen, CEO, Vifa

Online resources

• – information on the Female Interaction project, including a toolbox of method cards and excerpts from ‘A Guidebook to a Female Interaction Strategy’.
• – website of Design-
people with selected cases and details of the company’s gender-driven approach to innovation, strategy and design.
• – details on Vifa’s exclusive speakers.
• – info on the second international Women Buy conference, to be held in Munich on 26 and 27. February 2015, with presentations on the emerging buying power of women and how to tap into it through innovation and marketing.
• – info on an European Gender and Innovation program.