Winning Over the Softer Sex

Historically women have been characterized as the “softer sex.” And we still are today — stereotypically. Whatever is meant by the phrase, it’s clear that women are more likely to respond to subtle presentations of marketing or branding messages. Loud, obnoxious used-car ads or in-your-face print ads screaming, “We Are the Best!” not only make us run screaming in the other direction, they actually help remove that particular store or brand name from our consumer radar forever more.

As part of my woman’s way of wanting to educate and inform you, rather than proclaim things as fact and leave it at that, I’ll provide you with a couple examples of well-recognized brands/corporations that have fine-tuned the art of staying in our peripheral vision.

First, let’s take a look at Starbucks. After all, we must give credit where credit is due (even if it feels as if the world is being overtaken by green-and-white mermaids on every corner). Was it a matter of major television, print, and radio advertising campaigns that brought it from being one small coffee shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market in 1971 to having a global presence and (according to its web site) 3,300 locations today?

No, the company grass-rooted its way into our subconscious using powerful stealth tactics. By the early 1990s, it had perfected its new market strategy of scoping out a site in a new city and knowing exactly what emotion-tapping or cultural organizations to sponsor to appear in front of its target market.

Need I mention how successful it’s been?

Men and women coffee drinkers responded in all of these new Starbucks cities, obviously. Yet I suspect the softer persuasion of the Starbucks marketing team had the most influence on the development of this stealth strategy. Women can quickly tap into what they know to be true for themselves, and in this case they clearly realized that projecting community goodwill mattered just as much as location and quality of product from the get-go.

By now Starbucks has hit grocery store shelves, gotten into the background-music business, begun providing reading material at stores, developed even more convenient outlets in established grocery chains, and continued with its strong presence in local community organizations. Even if you never stop for a latte (is that possible?), you are likely to think positively of that brand.

The difference between the way men and women digest information is the difference between making purchasing decisions simply on price and availability and evaluating a purchase based on customer service, community involvement, a brand’s strategic partners, and something a neighbor once said about the product. Whenever possible, we women use all of our senses, and add intuition, to make purchasing decisions.

So on to the online realm: Companies that sell online cannot compete on price and availability alone. It’s the nature of the beast — the web, that is — to be super easy for any consumer to find the perfect price. You’ve got to provide more of that “whole body” customer experience if you want to attract your core consuming public — in most cases, women.

First, of course, your product has to be of high quality and fairly priced. Then it gets a bit tricky.

You see, we also have to see that you sponsor informative content on the community web sites we frequent. We have to see that you are involved in work with community service organizations and our favorite causes, such as fundraising for AIDS and breast cancer.

We also have to see that you have been thoughtful enough to provide in-depth information that helps our decision-making process, even if we’ll end up buying that item elsewhere. We have to see evidence that you treat your employees well, and we have to hear of the environmentally responsible decisions your company has made in its packaging development… and so on.

The Saturn Corp. is a great example of a company that has developed an online presence incorporating the “whole body” concept. First of all, you read on its Company Info page that it was created through a unique partnership between General Motors and the UAW. That fact of the company’s formation may seem insignificant and receive little more mention on the site, but a typical woman would put that into her subconscious for future use (good union karma).

The site also goes into some detail about its community partnerships, including the National Education Association’s “Read Across America” (good education/children karma), its sponsorship of the Saturn Cycling team (good athletic community karma), and the Saturn Mobility Program that “helps people with disabilities enjoy the freedom of the road” (good open access karma).

The overriding message presents a powerful punch, enhanced by advertising campaigns highlighting those same aspects of Saturn rather than hyping the latest model or big sale.

Have my subtle examples enlightened and informed you? Do you have a bit more background than you had before to help you make your online marketing decisions? Will you remember my Marketing to Women columns as a good resource and start to share them with your friends?

That’s my stealth plan.

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