The Fine Art of Marketing to Women Without Alienating Men

Marketers Take Heed: Men and Women Shop to the Tune of Different Drummers 

As the holiday shopping frenzy segues into after-Christmas bargain hunting, messages abound — all with the aim of getting consumers to stop, look, buy, repeat. Spend that Christmas cash! Splurge on that special something with your gift card! Cash in those department-store reward dollars! If marketers are savvy and heed the fact that women in the United States make 85 percent of the shopping decisions, they’ll speak our language — and get our business — without alienating the male shoppers out there.

Women would like associates to be knowledgeable about their products, and willing to answer questions and offer tips and advice, if asked.

One of the first lessons marketers must take to heart is that female consumers respond to messages — and products — that are targeted to their needs, not diluted versions of campaigns aimed at men. As Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa noted in a Forbes story, the “shrink-it-and-pink-it” technique is definitely not the answer. “This approach is everywhere,” she wrote, “but it hasn’t worked since Dodge tried it in 1955 with their La Femme car for ladies.” Quite the pink (Heather Rose, to be exact) sensation, this winged behemoth featured an accessory package that would be unheard of today: coordinating rain cape, hat, umbrella, leather handbag, compact, lipstick, lighter and cigarette case. (Please, no outcry about those last two last items. It was the 1950s, remember?)

Desktop layout - How to write copy for women without alienating men

Fast forward a few decades, and the message still hasn’t quite resonated. Dell, I’m talking to you. No sales pitches aimed at getting a woman to buy a laptop to match her nail color rather than for its processor speed or storage capacity.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but not every ad campaign has kept pace.

A Tale of Two Shoppers: What Research Reveals 

With women having a hand in the vast majority of consumer purchases in this country, it’s important for marketers to know what makes us tick — and what makes us tick differently than men.  

A study conducted by the Wharton School of Business Jay H. Baker Retail Initiative and Toronto consulting firm Verde Group found that female shoppers prize social interaction to a much greater extent than do men, who tend to view shopping as a mission. Men value convenient and plentiful parking, well-marked, in-stock merchandise, and manageable checkout lines. “Women tend to be more invested in the shopping experience on many dimensions,” said Baker advisory panel member Robert Price, chief marketing officer for CVS Caremark. On the other hand, “men want to go to Sears, buy a specific tool and get out,” he added.

The study, titled “Men Buy, Women Shop,” also revealed marked differences between the sexes when it comes to their view of sales associates. Men want store employees to help them find the item they’re looking for and speed them through the checkout. Women, however, would like associates to be knowledgeable about their products, and willing to answer questions and offer tips and advice, if asked.

Female shoppers prize social interaction to a much greater extent than do men, who tend to view shopping as a mission.

Delving even deeper into the shopping psyche of women, former General Electric marketer A.K. Pradeep, a neuroscience researcher, used brain science to get at what motivates female consumers. “Because the hemispheres in her brain are so connected, she filters ideas and concepts through the lens of the emotions,” he told Joanne Cleaver, for CBS MoneyWatch. When it comes to women shoppers, “the number one thing marketers need to know is that it’s better to come in through emotions than through facts and figures,” said Pradeep, author of The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind.

He recommends that companies reach out to women by depicting a product in a social setting, and demonstrate an understanding of their target female audience by injecting some good-natured levity into their ad campaigns. “A little humor about the tedium of household chores; a flash of empathy for the tuckered-out mom who sees her minivan as a personal retreat; even a little sentiment delivered by the Pillsbury Doughboy in the form of the crescent roll — all convey that your brand is in sync with the emotional rhythms of your customer,” Cleaver wrote in reference to Pradeep’s suggestion that companies demonstrate to female consumers they’re on their side.

The Power of Price + Emotion

Beyond their feelings about the shopping experience itself, women and men have different mindsets about the bottom line. Research from Nielsen NeuroFocus as reported in MediaPost.com’s Marketing Daily, indicated that women are more apt to look for discounts and special promotions than men are, suggesting that retailers should make certain their female customers know about sales and savings opportunities. But price alone shouldn’t be the focus. Thought should also be given to evoking a feeling. As Pradeep noted, “A low price is a fact. A happy price is one that is low, and also emotive.” 

Pen and typography - How to write copy for women without alienating men

How they ultimately make purchasing decisions also sets men and women apart from one another. Men tend to shop by process of elimination, deciding which characteristics of a product are most important to them and eliminating those items that don’t measure up. Women approach the process in a more comprehensive way, incorporating all the options before a final decision is reached. “For marketing purposes, men eliminate the competition before everything is considered, while women only reach a decision when looking at the overall picture,” according to Richard Morgan of Demand Media, writing for the website SmallBusiness.Chron.com. Companies and their sale associates should respect this, giving women all the comparison information they need and plenty of time to contemplate. Car salespeople, are you listening?

Social Media Connections Foster Customer Loyalty

Brands should also keep in mind the role social media play as they target their campaigns. Women, who are more active on social media than men are, tend to purchase brands they follow. As Bonnie Kintzer, CEO of Women’s Marketing Inc., told Mashable’s Stephanie Buck, “women are primarily on social media to forge meaningful connections with their personal circles, but a similar set is also willing to interact with brands.” Kintzer recommends businesses create a social media presence that women can relate to and connect with. That, in turn. will likely lead those women to share that connection with friends, thus widening the circle — and for brands, the potential customer base. In a recent Britton Blog post, “Talk Girly to Me,” Emily Richwine looked at additional ways brands can make a connection with women.

“A low price is a fact. A happy price is one that is low, and also emotive.”

It goes without saying that no one — male or female — appreciates being stereotyped in marketing. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.org, believes that messages need to move past gender stereotypes, especially when aimed at females. “Either we continue marketing in ways that perpetuate stereotypes or, instead, we can use messages that educate and empower,” she wrote in a story for AdWeek.

Avoid Stereotypes — And Reap the Rewards

The start-up GoldieBlox, which makes engineering toys geared toward girls, has taken this lesson to heart. The company earned a free 30-second ad spot during the 2014 Super Bowl (worth approximately $4 million) after its video featuring young girls constructing a Rube Goldberg–type contraption went viral. Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign was another winner — in more ways than one. Debunking stereotypes about female attractiveness, the online video, in which an artist sketched women based on their own and others’ descriptions, took top honors at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2013.

No one — male or female — appreciates being stereotyped in marketing.

On the flip side, many of the “manly man” ads aimed at male audiences also fail to hit the mark. Editor and journalist Dana Jenning, a male, told Forbes’ Mathews-Wadhwa, “For me, most ads on NFL games resemble funhouse mirrors. The marketers think they know the men who are watching — and it is still mostly men — and what their deep-down desires are: tank-like trucks, Arctic-cold beer, smoldering chicks (and the occasional pizza). But I just don’t see myself when I peer at these commercials.”

Writing - How to write copy for women without alienating men

Men’s grooming stalwart Old Spice took a different tack in its recent “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign. Rather than aim its body-wash ads at men, as it had traditionally done, the company targeted women, who its research showed were primarily the ones purchasing the product. The result? Increased sales and satisfied customers — and some pretty entertaining TV commercials.

Ford’s ads for its 2013 Escape hit the mark with male and female TV viewers. Highlighting an EcoBoost engine, four-wheel drive and an aerodynamic silhouette, Ford let everyone watching — men and women — know about some impressive performance features of the redesigned crossover SUV. Demonstrating the unique foot-activated liftgate (think arms loaded down with a child, groceries, a gym bag and a briefcase), Ford set up a context many women (and for that matter, a lot of men) could relate to.

As marketers turn their calendars to 2016, it’s clear that brands need to move past stereotypes, reflect gender proclivities and build meaningful connections. Successfully marketing to women shouldn’t alienate men. Stephen Reily, founder of VibrantNation.com, summed it up perfectly: “Companies (or their male leaders) may believe that paying ‘too much’ respect to women may alienate their male colleagues. But companies that embrace women without that fear do better in our diverse culture. So do brands.”

Photos: Shutterstock

Chip Compton

Chip Compton

Chip Compton has written on a variety of marketing and design topics and personalities, including Stefan Sagmeister, female creative directors, and luxury brands. His work has appeared on “Get with the Confusion,” Medium, and Pop Matters.

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