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Brain Sex: 5 Things You Must Know about Gender and Marketing

Brain Sex: 5 Things You Must Know about Gender and Marketing

Few small business owners give much thought to their customers’ gender. They’re too focused on sales to care who, exactly, is doing the buying. But the better you understand how each gender shops, the easier time you’ll have selling to both sexes.

Women make up just half the population, but they make over 80% of all household purchases. And they’re not just shopping for stereotypically feminine products such as clothing and cosmetics. Women also make:

  • 65% of new car purchases
  • 91% of travel purchases
  • 57% of electronics purchases
  • 63% of all purchases made online 

Despite their consumer power, most women feel that marketers and advertisers just don’t get them. (91% of women, according to one recent study.)

Marketing to Women? DON’T Think Pink

Some marketers ignore women completely. Others alienate them with hype-filled ads and high-pressure sales tactics. And a growing number of marketers offend women with well-intentioned marketing that horribly backfires.

Want proof? Just watch “Motrin moms.” This seemingly-innocuous ad sparked a online controversy that grew to a firestorm as Motrin rushed to pull the campaign from print and TV.

Motrin learned a valuable lesson: don’t think pink. In other words, don’t rely on gender stereotypes to inform your marketing.

To understand this, you have to understand the brain differences between men and women. For all our similarities, men and women’s brains create huge differences in the way we think, act, talk and buy. When combined with a lifetime of social conditioning from parents, the media, and other outside forces, men and women start to seem like they came from different planets.

Equal But Different

For starters, men’s brains are about 10 percent larger than women’s. In earlier centuries, scientists believed this meant men were smarter than women. Today, we know better. Despite the size difference, men and women have the same number of brain cells (women’s brains are simply packed more densely), and both sexes perform equally well on IQ tests.

Men do, however, have more gray matter: the stuff that gives the brain its intellectual processing power. This helps them in areas of logic and numbers—straightforward tasks that have only a few variables.

Women’s brains make up for this discrepancy by having more white matter: the connective tissue that lets messages travel from one section of the brain to another. They also have stronger connections between the two brain hemispheres.

This white matter helps women focus on the big picture and create connections between seemingly-unrelated information, because it can assimilate a variety of information from different parts of the brain.

To see these brain differences in action, just listen to the way we speak. Men tend to broach one topic at a time, relating the facts and moving toward a single solution. Women’s conversations scatter all over the map, touching on one subject after another in a seemingly endless web of opinions, situations and feelings.

Brain Differences and Shopping Habits

You could fill a book with the ways men and women’s brain differences affect behavior. But the real question for marketers is how these differences affect the way we buy.

Men tend to think linearly, so they often make purchases based on immediate need. They may consider a few variables (“Do I want this suit in gray or black?”) but overall, they’re more willing to compromise on specifics in the hopes of a bigger overall gain. (“This suit’s more expensive, but it seems worth it.”)

Those who try to entice female consumers with soft pastels and pictures of shoes not only turn off the very women they’re trying to reach; they also polarize their customer base by alienating men.

Successful women-centric marketing benefits male consumers too, as you’ll learn later in this post. But first—what is successful, women-centric marketing?

Women require more details to make a purchase. They buy not just based on immediate need but how well they think the product will fit their needs a month and even a year down the line. While deciding, they consider a wide number of variables, including the cost, brand, customer service, and what others’ experiences have been in the past. They may ask a friend or neighbor to offer suggestions. Their brain’s abundance of white matter makes it easy to analyze all these different pieces of information and weigh them against each other.

Women even consider the story behind the product, and make sure it aligns with their own values and beliefs before they make a decision. That’s where Motrin went wrong: women may have felt convinced that it could relieve their backaches, but they were offended by the idea of using infants as a fashion accessory.

How Marketing To Women Benefits Everyone

Since women tend to demand more from marketers, catering to them can improve sales to both genders. By offering more product details upfront, you can appeal to women while also strengthening your marketing’s appeal to men, who will pick up on the details that apply to them and simply forget the rest.

By selling to women’s immediate and long-term needs, you’ll be providing male consumers an added incentive to buy. And creating good customer service policies and positive word-of-mouth not only attracts female customers. It attracts men too.

Keep in mind: the goal is not to divide male and female consumers. It’s to understand their different buying styles, once and for all, and reflecting both in your marketing materials.

For centuries, marketers have been catering to men’s needs and men’s buying habits. But times have changed, women’s spending power has surged, and current marketing is only now starting to reflect that. No wonder Tom Peters, the business consultant famously known as the father of branding, said that “women are the economic world’s best-kept secret. Still.

Get a jump-start on your competition by making an effort to understand women’s different thinking styles, behaviors, beliefs, and values. Reading this report is step one. Step two might be talking with your female customers, and seeing which of your current marketing efforts they like best.

Start a conversation, and invite audiences to give feedback on things like your web site and customer service. Or create a survey asking them what they’d like to see more of in the future. You’ll not only be getting important data; you’ll be showing customers that you value their opinion. And who doesn’t love that?

Image courtesy of Hey Paul! Studios and used under a Creative Commons license.

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