It’s a Woman’s World

The importance of marketing to women has been an obsession of mine since December 1996, when the woman who was president of my training company dragged me to a meeting of 25 powerful women she had assembled. Without emotion, they described the degree to which women were disregarded as purchasers and leaders.

For some reason, it clicked with me.

There is no way to accurately capture the enormity of the opportunity. Women aren’t a market segment; they are the market. That’s a critical distinction. Today, women are the market, and marketers should have a men’s initiative for the residual male.

Women buy the great majority of products and services. They not only purchase consumer goods, but they also make up more than 50 percent of administrative managers, human resources managers and even purchasing managers.

Look at it this way: A woman is as likely to sign the five-year, $5 billion IS/IT outsourcing contract as choose the place for the family to vacation.

The differences between men and women are more than a source of jokes; they’re science. Within the last 10 to 15 years, as the neurosciences and brain sciences have lept forward, we’ve learned an incredible amount about gender differences. We have it pretty well pegged now—for instance, why a woman would choose to buy an automobile or whatever else versus the choices a man would make.

One of my strongest beliefs (from which I will never budge) is that if you want to effectively exploit the women’s market, then the majority of your executive team (and I’m talking about a 20-person business, as well as a 2,000-person business) had better be women.

I am a great deal more intelligent about women’s issues than I was 12 years ago, but in terms of really “getting it,” there’s no way I’ve improved at all. And so to some signifi – cant extent, the only people who are going to understand women really well are, by and large, women. Incidentally, you can say the same thing about men.

So, one big part of the answer here is, if you’re serious about marketing to women, then you must start with the appropriate configuration of your management team. That doesn’t mean the token woman.

As important as that configuration is in finance, it is in marketing as well. I say that because we’re talking about the way an organization looks at the world. One other way that I like to talk about it, which is slightly broader than what we’re talking about here, is by using the “squint test.” If I’m looking at the executive committee or board, I should be able to squint and it oughta-sorta look like the market.

The other giant market that is underserved is made up of baby boomers and what I call “geezers,” who are just older than boomers born between 1946 and 1964. I read recently that people 55 and older use the Web for shopping and information more than people younger than 55. The important thing about the boomers and geezers, other than the sheer number of people and their wealth, is that, by and large, people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s are a lot more active and healthier than we’ve seen in the past.

If you marry the boomer-geezer idea to the women idea, then you are talking about someone who is really serious because women’s control of wealth, as time goes by, goes from significant to overwhelming. I read something a few years ago that says it all: The sweet spot of sweet spots is boomer women.

In his book Selling to Men, Selling to Women, author Jeffery Tobias Halter describes selling to men as a transaction model and selling to women as a relational model. Men, Martha Barletta writes in Marketing to Women, study facts and features, while women ask lots of people for input.

Women, relative to marketing and sales strategies, are word-of-mouth fanatics compared to men. Typically, a woman will ask friends and colleagues for an opinion about something, and the man will grab 27 brochures and look at charts and graphs. That’s not much of an exaggeration.

So, there is a relationship-based sale that is more characteristic of women and a specifi cation-and-technical-attribute sale that is more significant to men.

As a variation on this theme, a few years ago, I ran into a man who had been a successful financial planner in Manhattan. He had shifted his practice in the direction of women, and one of the enormous differences he said was that his average male client would recommend him to about three people; whereas, his average female client would recommend him to more than 20 people.

Sales is all about relationships, and obviously in this financial planner’s experience, devoting the time to developing relationships with women clients is well worth it.

Another seemingly obvious tip when selling to women: Give them respect for being the savvy purchasers they are. Halter, in Selling to Men, Selling to Women, warns of this trap: “[The female buyer] knows more about the [Volvo] than the salesman who greets her at the door. But how is she treated? As if she has a low IQ, is slightly hard of hearing and really has no right to be buying a luxury car; and if she brought a male friend with her, odds are 10 to 1 that the clueless salesperson spent most of his time speaking to him.”

This isn’t only the case with cars. It’s the approach you shouldn’t take, whether you are selling a woman power tools or makeup.

To market to women, you need to know the different purchasing patterns between the genders. Barletta writes that women are harder to convince but are more loyal than men once they are convinced. Men are more likely than their female counterparts to make snap decisions and be fickle.

It’s worth your while to capture women’s loyalty because, after all, loyalty is a marketer’s dream. IBM’s Robin Sternbergh once said: “Every research study we’ve done indicates that women really care about the relationship with their vendor.”

When I talk to audiences of men and women about the differences between the genders, the guys in the audience are often the ones who start with the jokes. OK, some of this is funny, but in terms of the dollars that are at stake, there’s nothing funny about it.

Fara Warner wrote about case studies in her book The Power of the Purse. She gives the example of McDonald’s, which has based its turnaround to a signifi cant degree on focusing on women. The marketing director at McDonald’s said the corporation’s customers were children and males, and McDonald’s treated women as human conveyor belts who would deliver small people into its stores. McDonald’s has since changed its attitude, treating women as the primary consumer—whether or not they are accompanied by children.

Nike has added sports like yoga to reach more women. I did a television show three or four years ago that included a male Nike product developer, and his wonderful line to me was, “Tom, until a couple of years ago, we treated women as small men.”

Marketing to women is not all about social conscience; not marketing to women is all about stupidity. There’s truth to all of today’s talk about each of us being in our own separate market segment. But there remain the main dimensions of marketing. One focuses on women. The simple answer is that you are a woman and I am a man, and that’s the most important thing to understand when we put product and marketing campaigns together.

Remember, I don’t care what your social views are. I don’t care whether you are dark-blue or bright-red; I don’t care about your religious views, etc. What I care about is: Why are you so stupid as to not see this opportunity?

Tom Peters has been called the “uber-guru” of management, and he is the best-selling author of many books, including In Search of Excellence. He is a renowned business consultant and founder of the Tom Peters Company.

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