Marketing to All, Great and Small

I was on the phone the other day with a marketing-savvy colleague who admitted to “taking issue” with the whole “marketing to women” thing, because, come on, isn’t it all just plain old marketing? Yes, it is.

Where on the business shelf in your local bookstore are the “marketing to men” titles? When was the last time you heard a radio interview with an expert on the male consumer? Well, not lately. So if niches are not made along gender lines alone, why speak of “female consumers” as if we were some archeological field of study?

Because — we can all face it by now (right, guys?) — our world has been male dominated since the dawn of time. Women have been around just as long, yes, but no matter how far we’ve come, we’ve usually been in the background making things happen, not front and center getting the acclaim and power. Things are ever so slowly evolving, but the debate deserves more words than I can afford in this column.

So why are female consumers so confusing to marketers? Women tend to be more relational. And they have very particular needs and interests at different phases of their lives, with no easy rhyme or reason to the segmentation. Men are all individuals as well, but it’s probably safer to assume that a man of a certain age and background likes this car or that beer, while it would be almost catastrophic, in market research terms, to make such assumptions about a woman. There are simply too many variables swinging around in her head, and that’s not even taking into consideration the basics: her age, upbringing, current environment, marital status, and so on.

Then why pretend that you’ve got them all figured out? Just admit it. There is just no way you’ll ever figure them all out, so just focus on the specific consumers, male or female, who you know will want your product. If you don’t have tons of cash for high-level, exhaustive research and focus groups, my advice is to go the route of the highest common denominator (HCD). All consumers can tell if you are talking down to them, but most of those same consumers will appreciate and respond to the best — in customer service, background information, complementary offerings, ease of shopping, and so on. (Fair pricing is assumed in this time of snap online price comparisons.)

One be-all, be-everything store that appears to strive for the HCD of male and female consumers yet works for a very broad market is Target. Its customer service area online is called “Guest Services.” I feel special already. The navigation is clean, simple, and straightforward. “Community Giving” is a prominent tab, not hidden in an “About Us” page — a small detail to note if you make your purchasing decisions with an eye on community goodwill, as a lot of women do. And I suspect that a guy with a pickup and an interest in rider mowers and a woman with a need for workout gear and a camera would feel equally well addressed by this site. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a few gift cards I haven’t yet used from the holidays… But I digress.

To wrap it all up: Neither I nor any of my female friends spend hours on sites that target our womanliness or market “to” us. We do like similar sites, however — those with informative and brief content and with good selection and great customer service. Basically, we frequent those retail outlets, online and offline, that provide — without our asking — all we would think to demand. And although the male consumers you want would likely never ask for these “extras” — just watch them respond (it’s akin to getting directions without having to ask for them!).

Marketing is marketing, indeed. Really paying attention to who your consumers are — men, women, or all, great and small — should be core to your strategies. If you feel the need to brush up, find your dusty consumer behavior textbooks in the garage or read Blake Rohrbacher’sMarketing for the User” column in ClickZ.

In the meantime, let me know if you think “Marketing and Women” might be a more fitting title for my column.

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