If you've been paying attention lately, some companies are marketing to women very effectively, while others are not.

The smart ones are beefing up their customer service training, offering incredible return policies and providing intuitive "e-mail a friend" tools. The slower-on-the-uptake companies may do as little as use photos of women on their sites and call it a day.

The following mistakes, with tips for avoiding them, are meant to serve as a quick checklist to follow as you approach a new campaign or Web site redesign. So print it and tack these to your bulletin board!

Here we go:

1. Mistake: Thinking that women are a "niche."

Reality: Women are the primary consumers in the United States.

Women represent an economic powerhouse, making over 85% of the consumer purchases (in the United States) and influencing over 95% of total goods and services. 1 Women's consumer spending is $3.7 trillion and business spending is $1.5 trillion. 2 Women also purchase 50% or better in traditional "male" categories like automobiles, consumer electronics, and PCs.

Tip: Develop a visual image to represent how many dollars women consumers spend in your industry. This exercise should help your whole marketing or product development team to "get it" so they join wholeheartedly into the effort.

How: If your business generates $100 million a year and women purchase and/or influence 80% of all your goods and services, women are an $80 million factor in your business. Work the numbers into a visual comparison to give you and your management a clear, and dramatic, picture of the role women play in your current success and future growth.

2. Mistake: Thinking that the female consumer marketing opportunity requires less funding.

Reality: Women are no "specialty" market, so reaching them should be a budget priority.

As a consumer group, women have not been the "minority" for years. An initiative to reach a sub-specialty market like "senior women who drink scotch and ride motorcycles" can be treated speculatively, for sure. But, efforts to connect with your women consumers overall should have fully dedicated funds (and corporate commitment) behind them.

Tip: If securing marketing dollars for reaching women is a challenge, focus on budgeting around -- rather than trying to secure -- the illusive (and often tiny) "women's initiative" budget.

How: Identify the best ways to strengthen your customer touch points to the (higher) standards of women and seek approval on their own merit, as plain and simple customer service or marketing enhancements.

3. Mistake: Dividing markets along purely gender or demographic lines.

Reality: Within all those demographic categories lies the key -- consumer behavior.

Life-stage and the fundamental truths of consumer behavior will matter the most in reaching women consumers. Women, on the whole, cannot be expected to respond to gender-oriented "pastel" print ads or Web sites. Instead, think solid information, ease of use, stellar customer service, and simple design (no flash!). Web sites or marketing efforts meant to appeal to consumers, in general (male, female, old, young) must go deeper to develop a relationship based on interests, personal identities, and affinities.

Tip: Develop an in-depth knowledge of your customer group. Women are incredibly diverse and can be better defined by their interests and personal identities (musician, investor, collector of rare books, person interested in foreign adoption) than their gender alone.

How: Listening to women via small gatherings, focus groups, forums, e-mail surveys and customer feedback, will give you a clear understanding of their interests. Using such methods you may discover things like their passions, life-stages, the problems they need solved, their consumer sophistication level within your industry, and the role they want your brand to play in their life.

4. Mistake: More men are on-line than women.

Reality: Women have become the majority of Web users and do the most on-line shopping in the US.

According to the US Census in 2000, women became a slight majority of Web users in the United States for the first time in history (51% female/49% male). Women make up almost half of first-time Web buyers. 3 Women will continue to flock to the on-line platform that allows them to save time researching and buying.

Tip: Keep your eye on the on-line behavior trends of women consumers. Their numbers on-line will grow and their comfort with on-line shopping will only improve.

How: Even reading an occasional case study or tidbit can really help you stay up-to-date and thinking "fresh" about reaching women. Some suggestions for keeping your finger on the pulse without too much extra effort:

  • Sign up for our newsletter (you knew I'd say that) and check out the archives at: http://www.reachwomen.com/archive/ (I cull from a lot of the resources I recommend, so you can get it all in one place)
  • Subscribe or find in your library the print-only newsletter, Marketing to Women by EPM Communications
  • Read back issues of American Demographics
  • Check out MarketingSherpa.com's consumer marketing biz newsletter: www.consumermarketingbiz.com for some great case studies.

5. Mistake: Women like to browse and be entertained while on-line shopping (the same way they do at the mall).

Reality: Making informed purchasing decisions is an on-line woman shopper's goal.

If you truly understood the role women want your brand to play in their life, all of your efforts would focus on informing them as consumers. This includes any e-mail correspondence, site navigation, archives and customer service. Seventy-eight percent of women in the US use the Internet for product information before making a purchase and 33% research products and services on-line before buying offline. 4 So, it's actually quite different than their stereotyped, meandering and social, offline "mall cruising" behavior.

Tip: Pay attention to the clues women give in order to serve them better. Better yet, ask your customers directly what you can do for them.

How: Become a detective. Clues often come in the form of complaints, oversold items, e-mail feedback, products that don't sell, marketing content or programs that are flops, and the odd unattended area of the business that is generating a lot of consumer heat (like replacement washers for a particular plumbing fixture).

6. Mistake: Focusing on women will alienate men.

Reality: Focusing on women delivers the best to everyone.

Women are not afraid to stop and ask for help, so they will demand more, in terms of customer touch points, from any product, service or marketing campaign. If you incorporate the higher information-delivery and customer service standards of women into the development of your product or service, or its Web site, you are bound to give men a bit more than they even thought to ask for. And, of note: marketing materials that use cliché women's colors (filmy pinks and purples) or focus on "women's topics," do, indeed, alienate men. But women are insulted by that approach as well.

Tip: Survey your employees to evaluate your Web site's language, tone, overall "feel," and do some blind customer service inquires. Remind them to use their eagle eyes and be truly critical.

How: A quick comparison of slightly different versions of your homepage could do wonders. Use your existing homepage as one version, and develop an alternative mock-up of your homepage that has been tweaked to be more informative and "customer supportive." (Even moving the Customer Service link to a more visible spot is a worthy change.)

The above tips should help you save significant time and money whether you are examining your current marketing strategy, or building a new initiative.

Whatever you do, don't try the latest tactic or copy a program that seemed to work for another company before you learn more about the women who buy your product.

Reaching women more effectively ain't rocket science, but it is a little bit complicated. And so very worth the extra effort.


Notes:

1 Competitive Edge Magazine and EPM's Marketing to Women
2 Women's Market
3 WiredNews.com
4 Millward Brown Intelliquest


Andrea Learned and Lisa Johnson are cofounders of ReachWomen LLC, a marketing and research firm that helps clients tap the buying power of women by better understanding their consumer behavior. ReachWomen publishes its own newsletter, Reaching Women On-line, and its principals are working on a book or two.

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