How to Connect With the Heart and Mind of the Male Shopper

Brands, Retailers Need to Understand Underlying Emotional Motivations

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Simon Goodall
Simon Goodall

Men are shopping more than ever. In 2002, 64% bought their own clothes; four years later that number was 84%, according to GQ. Around one-third of primary shoppers for groceries reportedly are now men. Yet 40% of men feel unwelcome in retail stores, we have found.

How can brands and retailers better meet male shoppers' needs? It is not about creating male stereotypes. Some men shop like women, some women shop like men and all of the suggestions below should be seen as statements of how men are, on average, more likely to behave than their female counterparts. It's important to understand why they shop. That said, here are male shoppers' five emotional drivers:

1. Men need to demonstrate their mastery of shopping.

Men like doing things they can do well. And hate doing things they aren't good at. It is not that men hate shopping, it's that in many categories they have never had the opportunity to learn how to be a good shopper. U.K. men are reportedly 3% more satisfied than women with shopping experiences because their expectations tend to be lower. So empower him to demonstrate his mastery of your category and he will come away feeling he has done a good job.

Amazon has enabled millions of men to master buying music. Consumer reviews and lists provide the bite-size analysis and context he needs to feel confident about his choices. And the recommendation engine gives him the feeling that he is discovering interesting new music for himself, a key part of feeling like an expert music shopper.

2. Performance is emotional.

Men want to know how products perform. Reasons to believe are truly reasons to buy. Performance provides a kind of "emotional functionality." It helps men feel that their choice is more efficient, powerful or technologically advanced. Performance is the way to a man's heart.

Dyson has focused on powerful suction and great design, turning the humble vacuum cleaner into an object of desire for men; it's more of a power tool for your carpet than a domestic cleaning aid. That explains why if a couple buys a Dyson, more than 50% of the male partners reportedly will take over vacuuming duties.

The second in Ad Age Insights' series of quarterly reports on Shopper Marketing will publish April 18, and examines how retailers and marketers can use digital, social media and mobile tools to influence consumers at the point of purchase. The first issue in the series, available for sale here, explores how agencies and marketers are organizing to implement effective shopper marketing practices.

3. Men don't browse, they carry out reconnaissance.

Men have evolved as directed hunters, not inquisitive gatherers, so when they find themselves popping into a computer store or surfing through 3-D-TV reviews online, they are not browsing -- they are carrying out important reconnaissance. Perhaps that explains the drift from generalist to specialist stores. The number of men shopping at department stores has dropped consistently from 23% in the mid-'90s, to only 7% in 2005, with 45% reporting they had left because "no one was available to assist with their purchases," according to America Research Group. Men need ammunition to win in the sport of shopping (and to excel in the post-game analysis) and they seek out expert advisers and technological proof during their research.

In the past few years it has become increasingly common for specialist running shops to offer "gait analysis" in-store. One of the first was Jack Rabbit, a New York chain founded on principles of "great products, great service, great tools." Its treadmills with still-frame video enable expert store staff to recommend the most suitable footwear with plenty of supporting data and technical-looking graphs. Such personalization also plays to the fact that men are more willing to pay for products and brands that are customized to their needs, according to the Futures Company.

4. Men want products that reflect their progress in the world.

Sixty-eight percent of millennial men and more than 50% of Gen X men state a preference for brands that "show I have good taste," and more important, they are more likely than their female counterparts to do so. Similarly, men are more likely to seek out brands that offer exclusivity; have market-leading position; suggest to others that they are successful; and have a "members-only feel," according to the Futures Company. When shopping, men look for proof of quality and their good taste in the details. They connect with stories of craftsmanship and provenance that help to demonstrate their discernment.

The "care-and-repair" booklet inside every box of Oliver Sweeney shoes provides 10 tips to ensure your shoes remain a lifelong companion. The British shoemaker even offers to remake your shoes around the original anatomical last for 125 pounds (half the price of a new pair), suggesting you are just the kind of man to reject disposable fashion in favor of timeless classics.

5. Men want sanctuaries where they can be men again.

While the modern man is happy in the 21st-century, gender-blurred world, he is also yearning for the simple masculinity of the past. When it comes to shopping, the majority of men still do not view it as a leisure activity, perhaps because it still carries connotations of femininity. Yet the resurgence of traditional barbershops and emergence of male beauty zones suggests a boom in retail experiences that create a sanctuary for maleness.

Kesner's, an upscale New York outlet, has a full bar with five kinds of scotch, inviting guys to hang out rather than shop. Changing the pace and the aesthetic reframes shopping and has the effect of increasing dwell time and loyalty.

So what's key to winning his heart, mind and wallet? Understand the underlying emotional motivations for why men shop.

Simon Goodall is director-strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi X, London.
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