What Do Wired Women Want?

I love it when my life and a big trend line collide. Not only does it provide ready fodder for this column, but it usually manages to shake up my brain enough to start thinking on a new track… always a good thing!

This most recently occurred last Friday when I took part in a day-long workshop hosted by Faith Popcorn, futurist, trend-maven, and overall really cool person. Her firm, Faith Popcorns BrainReserve, is probably THE company to which corporate America looks to identify new trends and opportunities in the consumer marketplace.

Since her successful identification of the “cocooning” trend several years ago, Popcorn has done an amazing job of identifying the trends that have shaped our lives no matter what we do, transcending details such as technology and the economy.

One of the major trends she’s identified she calls “EVEolution.” “The way women think and behave,” she says, “is impacting business, causing a marketing shift away from a hierarchical model toward a relational one.” It’s a pretty interesting and insightful notion with this major implication: Stop marketing to women the way you’re marketing to men!

Sounds simple, but a lot of folks aren’t taking heed… and it’s going to cost them. Just take a look at a few statistics from BrainReserve’s web site:

  • Women-owned businesses employ more than the Fortune 500 combined: 18.5 million workers.

  • They do $2.3 trillion in annual sales.
  • Women own eight million businesses in the U.S., or one-third of all U.S. firms. And by the way, this figure has risen 78 percent since 1987.
  • A woman opens a new business every 60 seconds. Women are leaving corporate America at twice the rate of men.
  • By the year 2005, 40 percent of all firms will be female-owned.
  • Four out of five Japanese small business owners are women.
  • As for women’s consumer power, they control 80 percent of household spending.
  • Women purchase 75 percent of all over-the-counter drugs.
  • Last year, women bought 50 percent of all PCs, and have reached parity in the online community.
  • Women influence 90 percent of all car purchases.
  • Women own 53 percent of all stocks.

Pretty amazing stuff. Now consider this information alongside a new report from The Strategis Group that finds that women are now the driving demographic on the Internet, and you’ve got the makings of a major trend.

The Strategis Group found that the number of wired women has tripled in the last 30 months, rising to 49 percent of all Net users. Women buy more stuff online than men: 40 percent of women web users reported buying versus only 30 percent of men.

So what does it mean to us web marketers that women are now a major force to be reckoned with online? In a word: Relationships. “What do women want?” asks Popcorn rhetorically. “Relationships!”

Of all communications media we have access to, the web is uniquely positioned to foster relationships. After all, the basis of the web is relationships the linkages between sites and data that allow users to jump from one related topic to another with the click of a mouse. No other medium allows this, least of all the one-way broadcast media that we’re used to. The web not only allows linkages between content but also between people… a key part of building relationships.

So what kind of tactics will work in this new relational world? Some are succeeding right now: affiliate programs, community features like bulletin boards and chat rooms, instant messaging and “buddy lists,” and “what’s related” technologies such as Alexa. All of these foster linkages of people and information that, if Popcorn is right, are right on trend with what women want.

Not being a woman myself, I’ll have to take her word for it. And her words are persuasive.

“Imagine that you’re out to dinner,” she says, “and the waiter comes up and introduces himself. ‘Im not really a waiter,’ he says, ‘I’m really an opera singer.’ What will the man at the table do? Act impatient and get right down to the business of ordering. What will the woman do? Ask him about opera and get into a discussion of what kind of opera he sings, what performances he’s been in, and what his plans for the future are. Relationships! She wants to know everything about him so that she can make a decision. That’s what women do.”

If you’re a guy who’s ever been in this situation, you know she’s right. And that type of insight, coupled with web trends and tactics, gives us a window into what type of tactics will work in the future.

Amazon.com is a perfect example: The combination of content (information) and relationships (reader-submitted reviews) is perfect for this trend.

Real permission email where the user has specifically requested the information is a good way to go. And my emphasis is on real: Tricking your users into “consenting” to marketing messages by presenting them with an already checked consent box is just plain cheating.

As more and more marketers take advantage of the porous, relationship-driven aspects of the web (as is taking place in many of the auction and community/commerce/content models out there), and more and more women come to the web, we’ll all prosper.

People are different take advantage of this and keep testing to see what works. Relationships are the key to profits in the future.

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