How to market to women, what works and what doesn't.
by Brad Hines 3.14.13
Is there a difference between marketing to men and women in general? If so, what is it? Hotly debated amongst marketers, some claim that there is no such thing as "marketing to women" and that for that matter, there is only marketing to your primary market, where sex is considered your secondary market. As both a marketer and someone long fascinated with gender differences, I knew there were a lot of general differences with how men and women think, and therefore how they should be marketed to on the whole. Making the matter more confusing still, plenty of the guidelines typically offered for marketing to women either are pure myth, or simply would double for marketing to men as well rendering the whole conversation null. Unfortunately, many companies that are well aware they need to be marketing to women for one reason or another, are still failing to do so, by making sweeping generalizations. Putting ad copy in Handwriting-Dakota script typeface in pink (as shown right) is hardly a panacea for female-marketing, in fact, many find it off- putting. So I spoke with many other experts in marketing, and certainly a lot of females, and this is what I have found about marketing to women.
Ask if you need to be targeting women better
So a company needs to know who it should be marketing to anyway, right? Yes. however, many a business is losing sales by turning off large groups of women unknownigly. Or in other circumstances, like if you're a seller of a highlyfemale-centric product like women's fashion, jewelry, health, etc., it is certainly in your best interest to have a general feel for what women as a general group are looking for. Like any market segment, "knowing" can be fraught with catches! Read on.
There are no rules, only guidelines
The most important aspect to marketing to the genders is to have an understanding about what may be flawed about the idea of 'rules for selling to women' to begin with. Ali Maadelat, president of The Lorenz Marketing Group had something well-put to say on this: "The problem many people have with marketing is that they think it is a "one size fits all" type of deal. They think that if they find out what makes men different than women, their campaign will be phenomenal." He goes on, "There is no 'one size fits all' campaign when it comes to marketing, because there is no one size fits all person. People aren't just split into men and women. They are split into men who have recently lost their jobs and women who have recently lost their jobs, men who are looking to regain some of their youth and women who are looking to regain their youth. Men who want to lose some weight and women who want to lose some weight. Men who want to keep their kids safe and women who want to keep their kids safe."
One of the first steps to marketing to women is just to be aware of how they perceive the world around them differently than men.
Elle Kaplan, CEO of Lexion capital management echoed a similar sentiment: "Female consumers often relate and interact differently than male consumers and do not respond well when flattened into tired, traditional stereotypes. There is no "one-size-fits-all-women" approach. Female consumers are a diverse group with many specific demographics, so successful marketers will recognize and approach women in their target audience holistically, and address their needs as individuals."
Understand how women are typically different to begin with
One of the first steps to marketing to women is just to be aware of how they perceive the world around them differently than men to begin with, for example, a tendency to be more visual, symbol interpreting, stronger sense of smell (think using ambient scenting in stores), more likely to feel physically cold quicker than men, and more (some of those seemingly irrelevant differences are important, as store layouts are part of the marketing mix). Women also typically have a larger vocabulary than men, especially regarding description-for example a woman on average can name more colors then men. When was the last time you heard a guy say chartreuse or cerulean?
How they communicate is different too. "Women’s spoken sentences are longer than men’s and may contain several subjects including her feelings and emotions about those subjects. Avoid getting to the point quickly, pushing for a fast solution to a problem, or ‘closing the sale’. Be more friendly, relaxed and agreeable." say Barbara and Allan Pease, two of the world's top communication experts and author of Why men don't listen and women can't read road maps. I highly recommend their book, which I read about a decade ago, and I believe serves as a classic for outlining the actual biological and psychologically proven differences between men and women. Many of these biological and very real differences between men and women which I've briefly touched upon, can certainly be applied to smart marketing.
Know where they hang out
With any target market, of course you'll want to know where to find it-that is, where those folks spend their time both in real life, or online. However, If you are simply in need of a broad approach to find more women in general, especially online, a big no surprise perhaps, is that women are on Facebook, Pinterest, and The Fancy, in a huge way. Forbes magazine online also has an excellent comprehensive list of websites women frequently patron that includes 100 sites.
It is important when trying to reach any audience not to patronize them, women aren't special in this sense, however there are ways not to patronize a woman that are different than that of men. Especially Generation Y woman who are more and more marketing savvy than any generation before them-this has brought about the meta-marketing campaigns like the one Kotex® brilliantly started a few years back mocking other tampon companies for their pretentious and flowery marketing. Young women in particular need your brand to be more no-BS than how their mothers expected marketing to be."Women want to be marketed to their minds. They want to be considered intelligent beings. They don't want to be talked down to" says Miram Silverberg of Silverberg PR. Touching Silverberg's comments, a great example of a female-marketing fail, as alerted to me by Susan Baroncini-Moe-author of Business in Blue Jeans Founder-was that of the Bic pen "For her". Nevermind that it was also an example of brand dilution, the pen bombed from the marketing. Simply read the reviews of it on Amazon left by women. Unlike, for instance, a bicycle for women, which physically makes sense; making a pen bespoke for woman is really unnecessary and therefore just perceived as blatant pandering.
The subtle approach
So all that said, one of the best ways to market to women-for gender neutral brands- is to simply not even let the women know you are marketing to them at all. Depending on the demographic, this might be more important in certain circumstances. An example I would give is that of a hypothetical marketing campaign that would be a print ad for a Porsche®, showing a female driver-perhaps the market segment's general ideal self depicted-winding down a coastal road in a 911 convertible. That is fine. But when that same ad dawns ad copy being 'specially' in a script handwriting, or the ad copy reading something about making it to Yoga, as though all women who buy Porsches are also into Yoga, this is where you are going to star having larger numbers of annoyed women, and perhaps alientated and annoyed men as well.
By the way, as I briefly mentioned, in most but not all marketing to women (think female-centric prducts again) it is still tried and true approach to use a female 'voice', whether it be a voiceover, spokesperson etc. It is also still particularly savvy to use a woman's ideal self, so depending on the campaign, "she" should usually project being fairly but not ridulously beautiful in and out, strong, compassionate, and "speaking" to the reader/viewer like her close girlfriend, confidant, and or mentor. This "bestie" charachter advisably is in place of a mother figure, girl percieved as "having it all", or certainly a male. Perhaps you'd agree, it makes more sense for a woman to pitch a male-centric product like a razor, ever, than for a man to be spokesperson for a female centric one like Women's Centrum® vitamins as an example.
Don't assume that male-bashing is an instant win
Never mind that you don't want to alienate yourself from men who could be the decision makers for a 'female' purchase as well, but some women simply don't subscribe to bashing men just for the sake of it, say in a TV commercial for a cleaning product, health food etc. If you've watched TV, you have seen one of these, where the inept man has to be corrected by a woman because he's using the wrong version of the product. "Not all men are dumb, not all husbands are dumb", says Eileen Zyko Wolter, blogger at www.asuburbanstateofmom.com. When you use this approach, you run this risk of offending women who are crazy about the men in their life, and or come off like you are pandering to those women.
Women are natural relationship builders, yes more so then men-sorry guys, and in order to build relationships you have to make sure that you have an authentic brand. An authentic brand means one that actively engages with customers, and one that totes that companies' story and their actions are aligned with that story. Lorrie Thomas Ross, Web marketer, author and speaker; advises: "Why did you start your business? Why are you unique? Why are you passionate? Why should someone work with you? I liken this "why" story telling with "story selling". Women are big on relationships, maybe more so than men, so maximize your marketing and get to the core of your story and communicate it! Use your website, video, about page and more!" Marketing consultant Diane Conklin also cautions me that women sometimes need to be invested-in a little longer marketing-wise: "Women, more than men, are about building relationships and you typically have to have built more trust with women than with men. All of that means that sometimes, the buying cycle is longer when women are you target market."
Be more descriptive and emotive in your language
Although anyone can appreciate it, women tend to put more of a premium on poetic and romantic language, or sometimes, simply softer language. Conklin chimed in here as well stating: "Marketing is filled with more male-dominated words, that with a little imagination you can soften and make more user friendly to women..." Word choice can be all the difference sometimes. She goes on "Instead of talking about a success as "crushing it" or "killing it" women would say something more like 'we did really well' or 'it was a big success'..." Says Conklin.
And Yes, Re-think the pink
As the founder of Teachgirls.org and Teachboys.org, recently I re-thought my approach to distinguishing between the two graphically. For five years I'd had the boys site decked out in blue, and then the girls in pink. Finally the gender stereotyping got to me, and last year I changed TeachGirls.org to a more gender neutral color for the site. It's not that nothing should ever be pink again, but it should be asked of your specific market within women as a larger group-whatever you sell- "do most of our female audience really want to be distinguised by and spoken to with pink? Holly Palvika of MOMentumNation puts it: "Use pink sparingly, and watch your language. Pink is for little girls, we have outgrown that stage. Pink ribbons makes sense for breast cancer awareness, but pink cars or tablets that 'fit in our purses' is just wrong." By the way, that aforementioned Bic pen 'for her', it was in pink and purple-wait for it-but I hear the company is writing that one off ::rimshot::
For more on Marketing to women, I recommend the books 'Why She Buys', 'Why men don't listen and women can't read maps', and 'Marketing to Women: How to increase your share of the world's largest market'.
About the writer: Brad Hines is the president of YumDomains.com, and the founder of HungryKids.org. He is a digital marketing and social media strategist. A writer as well, he typically writes about internet, business, and science trends. He can be followed on Twitter: Follow @BradHines
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