Seven principles for marketing to women

In my work as a cognitive anthropologist I study how the mind works, how people "make meaning," how people form attachments to things (brands), and how people make decisions. Decisions like how to select what to invest in, whether stocks or mates; why and under what conditions, people prefer Coke over Pepsi (or vice versa), Charmin over Cottonelle; why a person believes in one God over another.

In that search I have inadvertently uncovered something about viva la difference: women cycle, men consummate.

Marketers need to understand the implications of this difference.

The male is oriented to the present, the concrete, the visual, the "hit," the win, the "me." Evolutionarily speaking, the male must bring home the bacon. No dilly-dallying. No excuses. The male is in the now and, above all else, is a pragmatist.

The female is oriented the conceptual, to underlying dynamics, to the relationship between things, and to stability over the long-term. The female understands and sees patterns over time.

Males act and say things like: "You've got to act, you can't wait too long." "You must know how to look at the environment, know what the data and specs mean. Then pounce." "My goal is feeling powerful and getting peoples' attention."

Females act and say things like: "It takes time to have things in order." "I want to feel good about where I am and what I've done." "My goal is continuity, building positive relationships, and long-term stability."

A Seattle couple that started a small business together have different ideas about inventory. Wife: "I live to reinvest in inventory when I have cash, so I can buy stuff off-season and sell it next year at a bigger profit. I also like to have inventory just as a customer service." Husband: "Get rid of inventory as fast as possible."

More examples that highlight the distinctions:

  • Male: Do what you set out to do and finish the job. Female: Evolve.
  • Male: Achieve. Female: Experience.
  • Male: Stay on top of things. Female: Create good relationships.
  • Male: Get the biggest piece you can. Female: inner peace.

Females want to understand things and want to be understood. Males are more focused on explanation.

Explanation entails seeing the world as governed by finite laws that humankind can direct through successive approximations. Understanding requires comprehending meaning from the inside out, in its unfolding. To understand, the world can't be approached from solely an intellectual stance.

In general, the two genders have different ways of perceiving causality, time, and power. This implies seven principles for making your brand more appealing to women:

1. PATTERN, not just point. Recognize that women have the ability to perceive more than the metric of a product attribute or an instance in time; they appreciate the underlying pattern (idea) that gives rise to the fleeting moment.

2. AUTHENTICITY, not just immediate appearance. Recognize that persona, biography (or history), and current contingency must all be factored in, and that universal principles underlie particularities.

3. QUALITY, not just quantity (size). Recognize that for women bigger and more is not necessarily better; and that a steady build is often better than an impulsive response.

4. CONNECTEDNESS, not just individuals. Recognize that communality can reign over dominance. We are all bound together.

5. SOCIETY, not just markets. Recognize that markets are numbers, and that markets can be counted and the goodies duly noted. But numbers are not people. Women are people and people have personal feelings and social intentions.

6. QUALITY OF LIFE, not just accumulation. Recognize that there are material and spiritual needs made up of individual wants and musts, but that are cast in the context of a social matrix.

7. REASONABLENESS, not extremism or absolutism. Recognize that all issues have grays, and exaggerations to one side or the other only cover-up the reality of subtlety and nuance.

Marketing to women is not as easy as "pretty in pink" or "basic black." But knowing the inner reality of women can help marketers feel more in the pink and put them in the black.

Dr. Bob Deutsch is a cognitive anthropologist, founder and president of Brain Sells, a strategic branding and communications consultancy.

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