Do men and women behave differently on the Internet?
"Yes," say several reports released this year.
In August, Forrester Research published the report, "Men Are From CNET, Women Are From iVillage - Gender Roles Persist Even As The Technology Adoption Gap Closes."
Here are some key findings from the report:
Finding 1: Men Value Technology More Than Women
Finding 2: Men Are More Active Online
Finding 3: Men Outdo Women When It Comes To Media Consumption
Finding 4: Women Favor Media Content About The Home, Fashion, And Family
Seems obvious, right? But is there more to the story?
Men Value Technology More Than Women - Not going to argue with you there. Men probably value the actual technology itself more than women. But women value what technology can do for them. They are still interested in researching it, seeing how it can improve their lives and purchasing it.
Men Are More Active Online - I don't know what criteria they're using to judge "more active" - do they mean spend more time, visit more sites, spend more money, take more actions? All of the above? Something to keep in mind is: women often use the web to research and narrow down choices, then take actions offline.
Women Favor Media Content About The Home, Fashion, And Family - Those are certainly subjects women care about. Fashion is a no-brainer. The Home and the family are usually under her care. But does that mean she has no interest in....say...B2B sites?
Let me be clear - I'm not arguing with the findings of the report. What concerns me is what companies will do with these findings; how they will try to apply them to their own websites.
If you're a financial services site, should you focus your site mainly on men since they're the ones checking stock quotes while women are busy downloading recipes? You'd miss an entire market of divorced and widowed women planning their own financial futures, not to mention the 27% of all households in the U.S. headed by a single woman.
Is your electronics website ignoring or misunderstanding the needs of women since the majority of people who purchase online are men? You'd miss out on $55 billion of the $96 billion spent on electronics.
Are you tracking if she's calling in orders by the phone? Is she coming to your website to do research and narrow down her choices, then purchasing offline? Are you measuring how online clicks result in offline Ka-chings?
Are you a phone systems company focusing on selling systems to businesses - those businesses must be owned by men, right? If so, you've just cut off half your audience. 10.6 million firms are at least 50% are owned by a woman or women. Women are business owners, purchasing agents, HR directors - yet many B2B sites don't take that into consideration.
Imagine you are a woman with a full time career and a family. What are you thinking about right now? Probably the holidays and holiday gift giving. Sound reasonable? So let's look at what your experience would be on the home page of CNET and the home page of iVillage.
You read and think: "Holiday Gift Guide" - Wow, perfect! "Who has the Xbox360 in stock?" - It's the only thing on my son's list - and I've heard it's selling out everywhere - where can I get one now? "Hot gifts for less than $100" - Maybe I can get some ideas for my brother's family. "Small cameras with big potential" - I'd love to get a new digital camera for Christmas. Maybe I can get some ideas and leave my husband a hint as to what I want.
You read and think: "Rentals to the Rescue" - Maybe I can get some DVD gift ideas. "For Your Metrosexual - cosmetics for him so he'll keep his paws off yours" - Thank goodness...I'm so tired of Frank always sneaking off with my best lipstick. Geez...that's one thing I know he WON'T want. "Oprah gives out favorite things" - I'm not really sure what this video is but I can give it a try.
You may be crying "Unfair - you purposely picked a topic you knew CNET would do better on." Yup, I did. But is it too much of a stretch to think one of the biggest reasons women are online right now is to do holiday shopping or get gift ideas? Is it a wild, delusional thought that she might be interested in electronics as gifts since iPods, DVD players, flat screen TVs, cell phones and digital cameras are at the top of almost everyone's list?
Sure, a lot of women may want to know all about "Branjelina's first public outing." But what about the busy women who only have 20 minutes of their lunch hour to go online to buy gifts or get holiday gift ideas. Instead of finding out what dress Angelina was wearing on her night out with Brad, it might be more important for her to find out where she can get an Xbox in time for Christmas so she won't disappoint her son. Call me crazy.
One quick design note: I'll give iVillage better marks for not having a home page so cluttered you barely know where to start. (How many elements does CNET have on its home page??) But I have to question why iVillage devotes the prime area in their active window to an advertisement.
Here's the bottom line....men and women DO act differently on the web. There are a lot of obvious generalities you can make.
I'm more interested in the less obvious.
I think a much more interesting report would be, "Why Women Visit Harley-Davidson.com and Men Love CookingChannel.com."
Holly Buchanan, VP for Client Services at Future Now, Inc., is currently co-authoring a book with Michele Miller on marketing to women. Visit Holly's very popular blog, Marketing To Women Online - How To Shatter Stereotypes and Understand what She Really Wants.