Many organizations now recognize women as an important and growing segment based on factors such as income, workforce participation, and influence over purchase decision-making. In the US, for example, women make over 85 percent of the consumer purchases and over 50 percent of purchases in traditional “male” categories such as automobiles, consumer electronics, and PCs. Yet there is clear evidence that women are often dissatisfied with products and the way in which organizations communicate product benefits to them. It is little surprise then that 80 percent of new products fail and only nine percent of women feel that brands are effectively marketed to them.
This post outlines five Dos and five Don’ts on how to market to women. The list of Dos begins by reminding readers to first understand their customer profile and the profile of competitors’ customers before revising or crafting a marketing to women strategy. Specific advice is then given on how to market to women. The overarching conclusion is that by doing a better job of marketing to women, organizations will improve the way in which they market to men.
- know your customers
- know who influences decision making
- know why she buys
- use technology to support your strategy
- incentivize brand advocates
- gender wash – not all women are the same
- focus on a woman as an object
- forget about the changing roles of men
- use stereotypes and avoid the “shrink it and pink it” mentality
- be data wary
Ask yourself, where does the money come from? Identify your organization's most important customers; identify your organization’s most important products, and know who buys them. To do this, run the numbers and look at sales, profit, and market share. Also, step back and ask whether certain customers and/or products are strategically important (if they are not financially important).
How does your customer profile compare to the population at large? How does your customer profile compare to the profile of competitors’ customers? Do you under or over represent women customers? Why is this? Does it matter?
In addition to knowing your customers, understand the consumer decision making process.
Data suggests that women are responsible for 85 percent of all household purchasing decisions (and often veto around 65 percent of other purchase decisions). Take automobiles as an example: women are known to do more prior to purchase (i.e., gather information and evaluate alternatives), yet women allow men to be more visible during the sales process (e.g., to negotiate a sale). This gives the impression that men are more involved in purchase decision making overall even though women heavily influence the brand choice and purchase timing. It’s hardly surprising then that 74 percent of women feel misunderstood by auto marketers.
Simply recognizing women as important customers is insufficient. Understand the needs women have for which your organization's product is a solution.
A market segment is a group of people who have the same need and therefore “hire” a product to perform a task. In addition to understanding consumer needs, ask yourself whether there are gender differences with respect to consumer needs, or whether both men and women in fact have similar needs.
If you have identified different needs for women compared with men, then marketing directly to women is an appropriate pathway for your organization to consider. But as you start to put together a marketing strategy, remember that the key is to focus on her needs first and gender second.
Women are more likely than men to adopt technologies that enable customer engagement. For example, more women than men use QR codes, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Women also feel it is their responsibility to help friends and family make smart purchase decisions. A recent study, for example, suggested that 92 percent of women pass along information to others about deals and 76 percent want to be part of a special panel or group. Women are known to ask more questions and gather more information than their male counterparts and collaborate more than men before arriving at decisions. Women also self-disclose more than men and so willingly share stories of successes and failures, including good and bad brand experiences.
What this means is that women engage with brands differently than men. It doesn’t mean that women are more brand engaged, it simply means that women use technology to stay in touch with the brand, recommend brands to family, friends, and colleagues, maintain relationships, and share stories of success and failure (often including references to brands).
As mentioned above, women are more likely to share information with family and friends but they also rely on family and friends for information about products and brands. Research shows that this is partly because women feel responsible for others’ brand choices and also because women mistrust brands. As a consequence, only nine percent of women believe brands are effectively marketed to them.
Peer to peer communication is, therefore, important when marketing to women and so incentivize women to be a brand advocate to others.
Avoid stereotypes by seeking to identify differences between women. Not all women are the same – some women stay at home full time, some women work; some women have children, some women do not; some women have ambitious career aspirations, some do not; etc. Yet marketers often treat women as if they are the same, and this results in the use of stereotypes that can push customers away from a brand.
Pay attention to the different needs of women along with other demographic differences.
Women take on multiple roles, such as partner, parent, and paid employee, and the boundaries between these roles are ambiguous and fluid. Furthermore, women move between these multiple roles based on context and time.
Marketers can portray women as a stereotypical homemaker if trying to appeal to her as a mother and yet she also identifies as a business owner or employee. The solution to this conundrum is when you market to her, avoid focusing on her as the object and instead focus on the subject(s) of her interest, such as her children – something called “Just in Time Marketing”.
Not only are more women found in the non-traditional role of paid employment but more women are employed in jobs that were once the sole domain of men, just as more men undertake roles that were the sole domain of women. In addition, men want to spend more time with their children and, in a growing number of households, it makes more sense for men to do more around the home and with their children because many women out-earn men.
This leads to “Gender Convergence”. Against this backdrop, marketers are encouraged to consider masculine and feminine behaviors rather than male vs. female as a binary choice and to acknowledge that many societies are moving toward the feminine.
When organizations finally realize the importance of women customers, the first tendency can be to make things smaller, pink, and sparkly to signal that the product is “female friendly”.
The use of pink plays into stereotypes because pink is currently associated with femininity and femininity is associated with being tender, nice, sweet, friendly, compassionate, nurturing, loving, harmonious, and approachable. Therefore, by making products pink, the organization is signalling that women are, or should be, feminine, kind, and nice. The danger, therefore, is that women feel insulted by the brand (just as the brand can alienate men).
Data and evidence based decision making can be helpful. But, in an attempt to gather data, many organizations do not question the quality or usefulness of the data collected.
When gathering data on consumers, potential consumers, and decision making influencers, the tendency is to identify the respondent as male or female. Depending on other questions asked, the organizations might fall into the trap of assuming all men have the same needs, as do all women. This leads to gender washing and the use of gender stereotypes.
Another concern is with sentiment analysis, a cornerstone of big data. One problem with sentiment analysis is that not all sentiments can be linked back to the person posting comments. Therefore, organizations gather sentiments without knowing whether, for example, a man or a woman is behind the comments.
To market effectively to women means to understand market segmentation. Irrespective of whether your organization has a marketing to women strategy in place, or is developing one, organizations must understand who its customers are and why they buy. Put another way, what needs are your many customers trying to solve when they buy your products?
By taking a needs based approach to marketing to women, an organization first identifies customer needs and then determines the importance of gender differences – i.e., needs first, gender second. If the organization does in fact find different needs exist between male and female consumers, then by taking a needs based approach the organization minimizes the risk of falling into gender stereotypes.
To conclude, by doing a better job of marketing to women, the organization will improve the in which it markets to men. That is, marketing practice will, overall, improve.