As we approach the milestone of a New Year, remember that milestones are immensely important to women. Marketing to women during these moments increase the relevance of your brand, as women appreciate your notice (and are disposed to spend above and beyond their everyday needs!).
… When You “Pink It and Shrink It”
Back in the 1950s, when cars had tail fins and Saturday nights were spent at the drive-in, a car company stumbled upon the big idea of ‘gender marketing.’ Knowing that women were buying cars in greater numbers than ever before, the company offered a new model for female customers: it had pink floral upholstery and a matching parasol. The model was a dismal failure. Women weren’t buying it. Gender marketing didn’t work.
We may roll our eyes at this quaint tale today, but I can’t count the number of pink scissors, hammers, tape dispensers and other assorted products I’ve encountered. Women will buy the products you sell– don’t “Pink It and Shrink It.”
Women make purchase decisions a bit differently than men, in that they take a more meandering approach (instinctively, don’t we all know this?). But most brands don’t research how women buy differently than men before setting about creating a new product, marketing campaign or sales initiative.
Gender culture affects a woman during every moment of her life. What you, the marketer, care about, though, are the moments when she is thinking about your product, or your competitor’s product (heaven forbid). These are the consumer behavior moments you are trying to influence.
I simplify the consumer’s purchase process into five stages,
- Investigation and Decision
And here’s how that process looks for both men and women:
How Women Buy: The Spiral Path
As the Spiral Path graphic illustrates, from start to finish, women and men seek, search and research differently. Women have a more complex and detailed decision-making process when making a purchase. They tend to advance toward a decision in a series of cycles, often looping back to an earlier stage of the process as they reconsider previous decision factors and integrate new information, seeking the Perfect Answer.
So for the woman consumer, the group that makes 85% of all consumer purchases in the United States, how are you supporting her buying path?
Marketing to women who are approaching a milestone– such as a wedding, big move or graduation– is a powerful way to connect with women customers when they are ready to buy. Watch this Marti in a Minute video for more on milestone marketing.
Once a woman has purchased your brand, she converts from being a prospect to being a customer. Given women’s greater brand loyalty after the initial purchase, they’re basically yours to lose from thereon out-she did decide your brand is the “perfect answer,” after all. As long as you don’t do anything too egregious (she’s forgiving, but only up to a point), she’ll keep coming back.
Marketing to women after the first purchase has two objectives:
- Build the customer relationship and enhance her sense of brand commitment, so she returns to the brand for any subsequent or related purchases.
- Motivate her to become an enthusiastic brand ambassador and recommend the brand to her family, friends and acquaintances.
For Women, Marketing Incentives Can Be More than Just Discounts
Traditionally, the role of incentives has been to influence brand choice. By giving the customer a discount, or some added value, the company is giving her a reason to choose one brand over another. While that dynamic is still alive and well with women, there’s also another reason to provide incentives: to break through women’s Spiral Buying Path decision process. Women spiral through the stages of decision-making, re-evaluating previous research in light of new
discoveries and seeking the perfect answer. As you imagine, this process can be time-consuming.
Marketing professionals can use well-aimed incentives to deflect the urge to pursue “the perfect answer,” and encourage her to make a good move now. And offering a discount isn’t always the most attractive option to women. Instead, offer services that are even more valuable to women, pique their interest or capture their imagination. This marketing approach leads to different offers, different timing and different language.
Current car dealership promotions are universally the same: a cacophony of cash offers focused on financing and discounts (“Get $1000 cash back!” sound familiar?). You can’t tell one from the other, which makes you think they must all be ineffective.
A car dealership seeking to capture a high share of the women’s market could run a marketing promotion offering special service to everyone who buys during the promotional time frame, like free car pickup and drop-off at the office or at home for regular maintenance and repairs. Or a car company could offer a chance to win one year of unlimited access to a driver/errand runner who could chauffer the kids, meet you at the airport, pick up prepared meals, handle any little driving errand that comes to mind. Actually, a really cool prize would be to offer women a one-year contract with a service that could handle all those errands. I’ve so often heard women wish they could delegate to someone. And, to all my women readers, didn’t you start nodding along as you pictured the implications of this offer?
So save your discounts and offer women something with more appeal, something that will really help her out. Add a time frame, and she just might decide that “the perfect answer” is to buy your brand right now!
Word of mouth, this media vehicle unto itself, becomes even more important for Boomers for two reasons.
First, Boomer women have had a lot more experience in life, with shopping, buying, using and comparing products. So, they have a lot more information to share with their friends.
Second, with retirement approaching, Boomer women will be spending more time with their girlfriends and will have expanded influence on immediate and extended families. Therefore, they will have a lot more opportunities to use their word of mouth. Marketing professionals should care and beware! Word of mouth can be used to spread both good and bad brand experiences around this large network of Boomer women and the many people they influence.
Curves is a brand that really understands the marketing multiplier effect of Boomer women’s word of mouth. Members become Curves’ best advocates when they invite friends to join them. The Buddy Referral program offers members “Bring a Friend” coupons for one week of free workouts, so members can invite friends to give the club a try-and often, members themselves also receive a free month. Individual franchises often personalize this referral program for their members, like in this Facebook post promoting May as Referral Month:
Curves’ phenomenal conversion rate of 80%– 8 out of 10 referrals sign up to join as members-reflects the appeal of the concept and the persuasiveness of the “member ambassadors.”
Okay, retailers, you’ve started doing a pretty good job recognizing the importance of marketing to women. But let me give you a little tip-don’t waste a woman’s time. Women give more consideration to context and have a greater sensitivity to their surroundings than men. When a woman walks into a car dealership, a doctor’s office or a bank, she immediately starts receiving and assessing signals that will factor into her overall impression of the product and company. What a golden moment to send her a message! Instead, many companies let her stand-or sit-waiting.
Waiting Time Can Kill Your Brand
Studies show that waiting time is overwhelmingly the single most important factor affecting a shopper’s opinion of store service. It’s likely that it affects women even more than men, because multi-taskers (most likely women) feel they’re being kept from moving ahead on several additional projects. To “uni-taskers,” (usually men) waiting, though frustrating, is still on task and still oriented toward the sole goal they are pursuing.
A few principles of retail design, office décor and even common courtesy can go a long way toward overcoming her sensation of wasting time-and your mistake of wasting opportunity:
1. Reduce waiting time for routine tasks by providing alternatives. An example would be check-in at a business hotel, where there are always long lines around 3PM when rooms become available. Instead of having customers wait in line to obtain a key from a desk clerk, why not set up kiosks in the lobby? Guests could insert a credit card and receive an e-key plus directions to the room.
2. Make waiting time more productive. Some places, like Jiffy Lube, and doctors’ offices, have waiting time built-in. In that case, help her make good use of it. Recognizing that 65% of auto repair/maintenance visits are handled by women, Jiffy Lube offers free Wi-Fi and HD TV in many locations.
3. Offer some modest amenities and courtesies. Jiffy Lube, as part of its very savvy program to capture the women’s market, redesigned its waiting rooms to make them more appealing to women with new furniture and color schemes, free bottled water and Starbucks coffee, and women’s interest magazines.
As you see, it doesn’t cost a lot to make waiting time more amenable for women-just pay attention to how women prefer to spend their time.
Women-only focus groups will yield more honest answers from women-the best group of customers for helping you differentiate your brand on the details. Here are three nontraditional research approaches to help you conduct better focus groups with women.
1. Girlfriend Groups
Developed and refined by the LeoShe division of the venerable Leo Burnett advertising agency, these girlfriend groups are like a new generation of the Tupperware parties of old. The researcher meets with a group of women who all know each other at the home of one of the group’s participants. A familiar environment and a known group make the members more relaxed; they feel more able to be themselves rather than focusing on delivering answers to a moderator.
In addition, in the home environment women are closer to the point of usage of the product-and therefore more likely to be in touch with the details that make a difference.
Because they all know each other, they keep each other honest. Admit it: if you believed everything you heard in a conventional focus group, you’d think no woman ever fed her child those “evil” sugared cereals. (So who buys them, the little Irish elf on the box?) But if Melanie hears Joanne saying that she always feeds her kids the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, Melanie is likely to call her on it, “Oh please,” she’ll laugh, “You may be serving Alex two helpings of vegetables each night, but he eats dinner at my house with Simon two or three nights a week, and I guarantee you he isn’t eating them.” That’s when the researcher learns that Melanie has been hiding the vegetables by pureeing them into spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, and even waffle batter-an interesting idea, if you’re a food company looking to build share among moms.
2. What We Learned from Oprah
This type of group is a provocative and highly effective format developed by Mary Lou Quinlan, founder and president of Just Ask a Woman. Modeled on the television talk-show format, 35-40 women in the target segment are recruited to be in a mock TV audience.
Quinlan hosts the show herself, leveraging her lively wit and sparkling personality to charm the candor out of her guests. The show is taped, just like a broadcast and edited to highlight the key revelations that come out of the session. In this way, the “folks at home”-whether that means sales personnel in the field or senior executives at headquarters-can hear what their customers have to say “in-person” instead of on paper.
3. Brand Champion Focus Groups
In this approach, brand fans talk to nonbelievers. It’s an innovative and excellent way to learn the language and priorities that women bring to your brand. Find a group of women who love your brand, and put them in a room with people who either haven’t heard of it or are predisposed against it. Give them a little time to get to know each other. This is important because without some points of commonality, your enthusiasts won’t have a feel for where to start or what to emphasize.
After some time together, switch the group dynamic from “tell me” to “sell me.” Ask your brand champions to talk about how they heard about the product, why they tried it, and what happened the first time they used it. Let the “prospects” ask questions and raise objections-and listen to how your advocates answer. This insider’s look at women’s word of mouth will help you develop marketing communications content and approaches that are compelling and on point with the reality of women’s interactions with your brand. In effect, your group will tell you how to overcome resistance to your product or service.
Even for gender-neutral products, conduct some focus groups for “women only.” Why? In “Marketing to Women: Communication Keys” I explained that male and female communication styles are considerably different. Sociolinguists like Dr. Deborah Tannen have found that groups of mixed gender default to male patterns of conversation and interaction. Women become more reserved and less participatory. They don’t play the competitive “game” that prevails when men are expressing divergent opinions, and because they are less likely to interrupt, hold the floor, or insist on their opinions, they simply won’t offer as much information.
And you need that information. While men can give you the big picture, the broad brushstrokes about a product or marketing response, women can give you something different-and more helpful to your marketing research.
As we know, women are more likely to perceive detail and nuance and to think in the context of people and lifestyle. And the details that are important are the ones that related to people and lifestyle, not technical specs or performance stats. In these days where every marketer is trying to differentiate his brand from a host of very similar products and services, it’s the details that make the difference.
If you structure your research to let them, women can give you feedback and ideas to help you improve your product, merchandising, store environment, delivery, customer service and online presence. Talking to women-or rather, listening to them-is the best way to provide yourself with the points of difference that will make or break you versus the competition.
Because make is definitely preferable to break, in the next article, we’ll look at three nontraditional approaches to market research. These are designed to tap into women’s energy and honesty when they’re talking to each other.