The truth about marketing to women

Contributor - Robert Craven

Fashionable women wearing a head scarf on a call

Men and women are different as consumers, and respond to different marketing tactics. Controversial? Marketing expert Robert Craven explains why he thinks businesses need different approaches for male and female customers, and the dos and don'ts of segmenting your marketing by gender

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.

Understanding what female consumers want

If men and women behave and act differently to each other, then maybe their responses to marketing and selling, and more importantly their buying process, are also different.

The female segment of the 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 when it comes to buying. Faith Popcorn, one of America's consumer trend experts, says: "Companies think they're marketing to women - but they're not. They're not talking to women. They don't know how to talk to women. They really don't realise that women have a separate language and a separate way of being."

According to Marti 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 81% of the decisions about groceries. They influence at least 80% of all household spending.

Marketing to women: creating relationships

All marketing professionals should consider whether their approach is truly inclusive of women and the way they think. This is not simply a big business issue; this applies to your small enterprise and how you talk to 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. 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.

Marketing to women: how to get it wrong

Women, as consumers, are clearly not a homogenous group that behave and act in a predictable way. Being patronising, smug or insincere will not get you more sales. Women will spend more with a brand that ‘gets it’ without trying too hard.

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 social 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.

Why speaking to women makes commercial sense

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 marketing for women is, to be frank, pretty patronising.

So, there's your opportunity. Do I have to spell it out to you?

This is a straight-down-the-line commercial argument. Women are not a niche market or a minority - they have significant purchasing power. For many businesses, women as decision-makers and consumers hold the key to future success.

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.

Women are now the key decision-makers and purchasers to be courted. Ignore them at your peril.

Do we really need to market to women differently?

"It'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, 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 and income are often far more important."

But not everyone agrees. "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' - it's about building relationships.

"Although our members are all confident women used to standing up and presenting, we don't know anyone who actually enjoys doing the 60-second elevator pitch - so there are no formal pitches or podiums. Nothing is prescriptive, everything is intuitive. It's about collaboration, not competition."

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 positive reasons to buy.
  • Be aware that women usually shop around and do their research before they buy. Be sure to promote added-value details such as after-sales service.
  • Don't stereotype women (no downtrodden mums, knitting grannies or pouting reality TV wannabes).
  • 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.

Written by Robert Craven of The Directors' Centre.

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Robert Craven

Robert is a man who has been there and done it, having set up his first business at the age of 21. Having run restaurants, sound recording studios and training companies, he went on to become Director of Entrepreneurial Business at Warwick Business School.

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