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The truth about marketing to women

Woman carrying shopping bagsMen and women are different and businesses need to market to them differently. That’s the controversial view of marketing expert Robert Craven, who believes firms which don’t change their approach to marketing to women will get left behind. But it’s not a view shared by all small-business owners, as we discover

Question: Are women different from men? Answer: Yes.

Do they behave differently when they are buying? Yes.

And if they are different, shouldn’t we be marketing to them in a different way? Yes.

Enough of this equality and sexism nonsense, women are not the same as men. At last, I’ve said it!

What I really, really want!

Robert Craven of The Directors' Centre(Spice Girls, 1996)

If men and women behave and act differently from each other then maybe their approach to marketing and selling, and more importantly buying, is also different.

The women’s market is an under-developed opportunity, possibly the number-one opportunity, for those who really understand what women really want.

Women are now the key decision-makers. Faith Popcorn, one of America’s consumer trend experts, says: “Companies think they’re marketing to women — who buy 80% of the products and control 80% of the money — but they’re not. They’re not talking to women. They don’t know how to talk to women. Just like they have no clue what to give their wives for their birthdays. They really don’t realise that women have a separate language and a separate way of being.”

Martha Barletta

According to Martha Barletta, author of Marketing to Women, women are the primary decision-makers for consumer goods in 85% of households. They make 75% of decisions about buying new homes, and make 81% of the decisions about groceries. They influence at least 80% of all household spending.

Dos and don’ts for marketing to women

There is no one-size-fits-all guide to marketing to women. Every customer base is different, but here are some general dos and don’ts:

  • Build relationships. Gather customer intelligence and use personalisation tools to target female consumers with specific messages.
  • Avoid negative campaigns — give women positive reasons to buy.
  • Don’t forget that women usually shop around and do their research before they buy. Make sure you promote all the details such as after-sales service and warranties.
  • Don’t stereotype women (ban Oxo mums, beauty queens, greying grannies and senseless secretaries).
  • Don’t go to extremes. Marketing to women is about catering to all their needs ― not just focusing on the ways in which they differ to men.

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?

(My Fair Lady, 1964)

All marketing professionals should focus their undivided attention on women.  This is not simply a big business issue, this applies to you and how you do business with your customers.

Barletta explains how women reach purchasing decisions in a different way to men. “Men and women don’t communicate in the same way, and they don’t buy for the same reasons,” she stresses. “He simply wants the transaction to take place. She’s interested in creating a relationship. Every place women go they make connections… 91% of women say ‘Advertisers don’t understand us’.”

Men dominate most industries and the advertising industry is no exception. Although roughly half of advertising staff are women, men monopolise the coveted creative positions.

Thankfully, rising female consumer power is changing the way that some businesses design, make and market products — and I have to say that this is more than just “making it in pink”.

Female consumers want to know what the product is going to do for them. How will it help them or make their life easier? And how do women get this information? They do lots of research.

Women, as consumers, are clearly not a homogenous group that behave and act in a uniform way. Being patronising, smug or insincere will not get you more sales. Women will spend more with a brand that acknowledges their lifestyle.

It’s important to think of each potential female buyer as an individual and focus on her needs. What stage of life is she at? How can your product make her life easier?

So, one lesson is that traditional sales-based advertising will be less effective and subtler ways of communicating might work better, such as word-of-mouth and viral marketing.

To go one stage further, it is time to design products (and marketing campaigns) that actually appeal to the buying needs and habits of women. There’s a thought!

The times they are a-changing

(Bob Dylan, 1964)

So the situation is as follows:

  • Women are the number one business opportunity. As business guru Tom Peters says: “They buy lots of stuff”.
  • Men and women are very different.
  • Men are (still) in control and are totally, hopelessly, clueless about women.
  • Not enough “stuff” is designed for women or communicated in a way that appeals to women.
  • Most stuff for women is, to be frank, pretty patronising.

So, there’s your opportunity. Do I have to spell it out to you? I don’t think so.

This is not a feminist thing, but a straight-down-the-line commercial argument. Women are not a niche market or a minority — they have wallets and, for many businesses, women as decision-makers and consumers hold the key to future success.

It’s a man’s world

(James Brown, 1963)

Men, stop singing those dodgy James Brown songs. Those businesses that do not change their male approach will get left behind. More importantly, some of your competitors will take the importance of communicating effectively with women on board ― and will take business away from you.

So, what’s to be done?  Women are now the key decision-makers and purchasers to be courted. Ignore them at your peril.

Robert Craven is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut. He runs The Directors’ Centre and is the author of business best-sellers Kick-Start Your Business and Bright Marketing.

The small-business view

Elaine Clark, Managing Director of Cheap AccountingIt’s far too generic to split the whole population into two groups,” says Elaine Clark, managing director of Cheap Accounting. “Different women have different needs and wants.

“They are all in different situations, depending on age and whether they have families and so on. If you focus on one type of woman, you risk alienating large sections of the female population and the male population as well. Everyone has demands on their time, for instance, even though we’re not all necessarily juggling children and work. For many products and services, gender doesn’t even come into it. You actually need to go deeper to find out what motivates your target market. Issues such as age, circumstances and pocket are often far more important.”

Hela and Annie of Sister Snog“We believe you should market differently to women,” say Annie Brooks and Hela Wozniak-Kay, co-founders of the women’s business club, Sister Snog.

“Our business is focused exclusively on businesswomen and our marketing is tailored accordingly. What’s different about our approach to networking for women is that there’s nothing forced about it. In fact, we prefer the term ‘connecting’, because that’s about building relationships. Although our members are all confident, savvy women used to standing up and presenting, we don’t know anyone who actually enjoys doing the 60-second elevator pitch ― so no formal pitches or podiums at Sister Snog. Nothing is prescriptive, everything is intuitive. It’s about collaboration, not competition.”

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