Marti Barletta: Marketing to Women


Understanding and Exploiting Female Buying Behavior

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What women really want ... drum roll, please ... is EVERYTHING!

Good enough just isn't enough when you are selling to women. When men set out to make a purchase they are looking for a good solution, something that fulfills their top two or three criteria. They shop by process of elimination and like to get their shopping done quickly so they can move on to other activities.

Seeking the perfect answer
Women, on the other hand, are seeking the perfect answer -- the optimal solution. When she shops it's a process that begins with a broad survey of all available options. After all, if you haven't looked at everything how do you know you've made the best choice?

If a woman discovers a new feature or brand mid-search she may go back to square one and begin again. Her male counterpart might consider that backtracking. Take a look at how, on average, the spiral purchasing path of a women compares to the linear purchasing path of men:

The difference is in the details. They can be deal-breakers when your prospect is female because she wants whatever she's buying to fulfill every wish on her list. What's more, that list is longer than his.

Details add richness
Women generally pick up on things that men often don't even register. Men generally prefer to peel away what they consider to be extraneous data because they find detail smothering and simplicity soothing. From a woman's viewpoint these details add richness and texture and help her understand the big picture.

In recent research studies, anthropologists, biologists and psychologists have confirmed numerous differences between the sexes. Each gender comes equipped with a different set of abilities and priorities; appreciation of detail is one of them. Marketers and advertisers who understand, and act upon, these gender differences are far more likely to experience success than those who do not.

Back to the Perfect Answer. Are there moments in her busy life when good enough is just that -- good enough? Sure, especially when the purchase is relatively small or routine. But for a more involved, big-ticket purchase she's willing to do the extra work to achieve her goal, even if it means visiting an extra store, driving a little further or doing a bit more research.

More discerning customers
She doesn't want to compromise or settle for a 90% solution. Does that make her a more "demanding" customer? I suppose that's one way of looking at things. But savvy marketers recognize that this makes women more discerning customers and use this knowledge to follow women shoppers along their spiral path to a purchase.

What can marketers do to enhance the lure of their wares for female customers?

Market research –- and not just any research. You've got to capture everything on her list, not just the "most important" benefits. Chances are many of your competitors offer the same top three features that you do. It's the price of entry into the marketplace. Emphasize the benefits that are further down the list –- they are the ones that set you apart.

Listen for what you don't know
Try asking some open-ended questions in your surveys or leaving blank space for comments and you'll likely learn something you haven't heard before. If you confine her answers to just a few choices you won't be able to identify the differentiating details that will lead her to choose your brand over your competitors.

Look at Westin's Heavenly Bed. Research shows that location and price are the most important criteria when choosing a hotel. It's a given that they all have beds. Do I need to sleep in a Heavenly Bed to get a decent night's lodging? Not really. But if I have a choice of 15 hotels, with similar pricing, in a three-block radius, why not go for the one that offers the more indulgent experience? Moral of the story: It's not the "most important" detail but is the deciding factor. And whereas a man will likely book the first hotel that met his must-have criteria, a woman will look at all the options and sort out which one is closest to the Perfect Answer.

Easy comparison
Make it easy for her to compare -- she's looking for assurance she's made the best decision, particularly when the purchase something big like a car or an appliance.

Provide her with comparison-shopping information so she doesn't have to leave your site or your materials. At first this may seem counterintuitive, but remember, she is going to compare anyway. By providing the information she wants you'll be able direct her perspective and keep her within your brand's framework.

Salespeople, be prepared to listen to the details she's sharing (they are clues about what she's seeking) and to present at least three options so she has choices. Help her find the Perfect Answer and you'll close the sale.

There are bonuses beyond immediate sales increases for the company that provides her with the Perfect Answer: brand loyalty and word of mouth referrals. Because they invest so much time in the initial purchase decision women are more inclined to long-term brand relationships. And they want to share the good news about brands they love with friends and family.

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Marti Barletta's book, "Marketing to Women," will be released in its second edition in January, and her new book, "Trends," co-authored with Tom Peters, was released this July. Ms. Barletta is president-CEO of The TrendSight Group, a Chicago-based consultancy specializing in marketing to women.

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