What do Target, iPod and Hoover have in common? These brands have learned how to catch a woman's eye.

I know. Enough already about Target and iPod, you say! Still, for those of you interested in the women's market in particular, the connection between increasing sales with your female customers and the rise of aesthetic value is worth a closer look.

Product design matters 

Why do a fair number of women buy Aveda products over the shampoo at the grocery store? And what is all this buzz about Method, a natural cleaning product brand with the tagline, "People Against Dirty"? It's all about package design.

In general, a shampoo is a shampoo and the value is the same, so we'd assume that women would forever choose the Suave thing and go for the cheapest. But it ain't necessarily so.

If that's the case, how is a brand to compete in the milquetoast, everything-is-equal, marketplace? Add a touch of the aesthetic to the experience. The beautiful, simple shapes of the Method bottles with clean labels are so unusual, for example, that they simply draw the buying eye.

Women, who are looking to find the brands that seem to "know" them best, will find some of that in products that appeal to their senses. Things that look and feel like they are hip or luxurious in some way add value beyond the direct purpose.

If there must be bottles on a bathroom counter or in the shower, then why shouldn't brands that stand out from the sea of competition align their packaging with their core customer's idea of beautiful or fun?

Women are surprised and delighted when a brand conducts a bit more research to produce some form as well as function, like the relatively new Hoover EmPower. The features and benefits are on par with those of other vacuum cleaners, but the fun factor is increased.

Just as the iPod Mini could really be any other MP3 player when you get down to it, it is the style, weight and color choices that have driven the unending buzz and unyielding devotion.

The reality is that the products with some aesthetic value have more than likely heard, directly from the source, what their core women's market wants and how they want it.

The design of the retail environment also counts

Like the more-designed products, retail environments that make more of a commitment to their women's market in the interior design and layout are catching many a woman's eye.

Eq-life, Best Buy's new concept store for Baby Boom-aged women, is an example of a store that may take a bit of getting used to, because it does incorporate so much attention to design. The scale of the first store, outside of Minneapolis, is more human. The palette of the walls and interior design are akin to a high-end spa's (one of which also resides within the space), and there is space to meander, ponder and read the product information about the mix of health, wellness and consumer electronic products.

The store designers also knew, right from the start, to plan for an edited product mix—so even the laptops and other electronics are displayed in a salon-like, uncluttered way.

Other retail environments that reflect significant women's market input include your local high-end women's clothing retailer. This is an obvious one, I realize. But wow, what things any other retailer might learn from their example!

And, finally, the oft-cited Lowe's and Home Depot stores widened their aisles, improved lighting, and got more creative with merchandise displays, among other things. Such retailers may still feel like large, industrial warehouses, for the most part. But the little changes in design are pleasing many a DIY [do-it-yourself] woman and inspiring her to spend more time there.

Design inspires emotion

Plenty of women would love to indulge in a pedicure or enjoy the idea of going right out and buying the latest great pair of jeans they saw in a Gap ad. But those things still seem unnecessary.

Using a bit more design in everyday products, however, adds that bit of fun to a woman's daily life, turning those products into must-purchase items. Those items, as well as the stores that pay attention to design and layout, come to have more intrinsic value than the usual choices.

As Donald Norman puts it in his Emotional Design (Basic Books, 2004): "The objects in our lives are more than mere material possessions. We take pride in them, not necessarily because we are showing off our wealth or status, but because of the meanings they bring to our lives."

Emotion connects women to your brand

All cleaning products being the same, and all being intended for the most mundane of uses... is it really worth going the extra mile with design? Yes.

Even though the design increases the retail price as it increases the value, the emotion piqued in will often have a positive impact on women's buying mind. Some of the things "she" might be thinking as your well-designed packaging catches her eye:

Wow. What's that next to the Lysol?

The way that bottle is shaped makes it so pretty! Plus, I bet you can get a better grip on it that way.

I've got to try that wine. It's got the fun label my friends have been talking about.

I don't even know what this gadget is, but I have to pick it up! The shape just begs to be held.

The next thought in her head may well be: "I wasn't even thinking I needed this, but now I have to try it to see if it works as well as the other brands."

Design is for women

A recent issue of Creativity magazine reviewed Target's "music-video style ode to design," and summed up its view: "We really have to admire Target for branding itself in such a way that it comes off as a cross between Kmart and the Museum of Modern Art."

I concur. (But don't get me started on advertising or Web site design.)

The lesson here: You simply can't assume that all women everywhere are looking for the lowest bottom line in terms of price. Rather, when you take a look around, you can see that the most successful brands have learned that a touch of design will persuade a fair number of women that function plus form makes a product worth a bit more.

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image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.