Ask the experts: What are effective ways to market to women?

Monday, November 15, 2010
Professor of marketing at Southeast Missouri State University (John Cherry)

Q: From what I read, women make 85 percent of all the buying decisions. What are some effective ways to market my business to women?

Dana Hukel: With women controlling 85 percent of purchasing power, and female boomers expected to inherit more than 12 trillion dollars in the next decade, it is vital for you to research, understand and engage women and their buying behaviors. Here are just a few tips from successful women across the country on how to catch the ever-powerful eye, and pocketbook, of women.

1. Create emotional appeal -- Your product is viewed as ordinary without human context. It must relate to women personally or to their family in such a way to elicit a memory or create a new one. Tell a story with your marketing messages, whether on Facebook, in print, on air or online.

2. Offer visual appeal -- Advertising, product packaging and design should be highly visual and detailed. Make it stand out from the rest. Use "real/normal" people in your design, which allows women to relate. Women are detail-oriented and are proud they are masters of multitasking, so don't portray women who are frazzled.

3. Use social media -- Connect with women via Facebook and Twitter, even blogs. Make it interactive so women can share experiences with others, and use your social networking to share ideas and wisdom with others. Facebook's demographics are two-thirds women, with those age 65 and older being the fastest growing segment.

President and CEO of BOLD Marketing (Dana Hukel)

4. Give them a voice -- If women are the powerhouses of purchasing decisions, give them a voice in your product or service. Ask them how you can improve and what they want. Seems basic, but too often companies use a message THEY think is the right approach -- and the result could be a waste of advertising dollars. In addition, women trust the experiences and recommendations of other women just like them. Use the power of word-of-mouth marketing to encourage women to support, promote and become loyal with your brand. Then reward them for sharing this belief with others.

5. Go when women are listening -- When looking at a media buy, make sure you express to the sales representative that you specifically want to reach women when they are watching, listening and reading. We had a client express they purchased media to reach the male population, using most of their advertising budget, and had no response. After digging into the media buy they purchased, we learned their advertisement was presented to the public in the middle of a daytime soap. Not exactly a high male viewership.

John Cherry: Well, as a member of the "male community," I hesitate to imply that I have definitive insights into the female shopping psyche. I can, however, share some insights into women's shopping behaviors based on quite a lot of observational research on the subject.

We all know that women's roles have changed enormously over the past generation. While shopping was perhaps the first form of women's liberation -- it got them out of the house, into the world, and gave them an opportunity to talk to someone other than their children -- women's roles have changed profoundly. Where they once clipped coupons and sewed their families' clothing, that's all out the window in favor of convenience. So what do women want?

Convenience, value, and products and services that let them fulfill their roles, which are typically something like 50 percent homemaker, 50 percent breadwinner, and 50 percent family chief executive officer. Do the math: This is clearly a challenge for marketers!

But some broad observations: For women, shopping is still primarily a social activity. Women spend much more time at this than their "pick-and-go" male counterparts. So make the shopping environment welcoming and comfortable. Women like to take their time, examine a lot of options and make smart choices.

Crowded environments are a major turn-off for women. Can your store offer a more relaxed free-flow layout to encourage browsing? Time spent browsing requires space: cosmetic counters should be designed to provide niches of comfort and privacy; card shops should provide the opportunity for unhurried contemplation.

If you sell hardware or some of the traditionally "male" products, consider this: the most successful paint launches of recent years -- Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren -- are designer products targeted at women's domestic concerns. The woman who hangs a picture today will be drywalling and installing crown molding tomorrow. Men paint when the paint is peeling; women paint when they want better design and lifestyle!

So be sure you understand women's and men's roles and motives: women want to build a nice nest and line it with photos. While men want digital cameras with a billion pixels, printers with this or that capability, and computers with engineering specifications, women want, well ... pictures. They want these tools to stay in touch with their families and to excel at the roles that are important to them.

So sell computers, refrigerators and autos as "lifestyle" tools, not scientific instruments. And use lots of images of families, comfort and security. Obviously, this discussion will have missed the real needs of some female consumers, and is perhaps an oversimplification of gender roles. And just as obviously, marketing to women depends critically on your industry, your products. So keep your eyes wide open, and treat every customer as "king." Or "queen." And finally, be careful about stereotypes; I think it's safe to say that no consumer wants to be stereotyped or patronized. So let them tell you who they are and what matters to them. Half of marketing just comes down to careful listening.

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