Marketing is from Mars, clients are from Venus

Women make an estimated 83% of all consumer buying decisions, so why aren't companies better at targeting them?

by Gloria Moss
Last Updated: 15 Feb 2014

Today is Valentine's Day, second only to Christmas as a red-letter date in retailers' diaries. In America, lovestruck shoppers will part with a whopping £11bn.  So how well are companies on this side of the pond gearing up for this bonanza?  And what does this tell us about their efforts at targeting women?

You might expect businesses to be expert at targeting women since they make an estimated 83% of all consumer purchases. A snapshot of Valentine’s Day offers provokes massive disappointment. Take Volkswagen. Their Polo look-alike, the ‘Up’, comes in a special pre-Valentine’s offer, with free servicing for three years, and their website celebrates the ‘Love Up’ event with foliage and (non-traditional blue) flowers.
So far so good, until you catch the accompanying radio advert featuring an unedifying conversation littered with abundant double entendres:

Dealer:  Why don’t you tell me what you’re looking for?

He:  Well, looks are very important to me. Petite, curvy, a bit of a mover.

Dealer:  OK. Any ‘no nos’?

He:  Low maintenance would be good.

Dealer:  I’ve got the perfect match. Start her up. Shall I leave you two alone?

How many women do you know who like to be compared to a car? According to AT Kearney women directly purchase 60% of cars, and website estimates that women influence many more - up to 80%. And yet this ad still speaks to the minority male market – perhaps even less than 40% in this case since the ‘Up’ is a small car and probably bought by a higher than average proportion of women – and excludes, or even alienates the female 60. Incroyable! 

Just a blip?

Maybe this is just a one-off. But neither M&S nor Tesco do a great job either. My research over a very long period shows that women like colour. So why, M&S, make those heart-shaped Valentine’s Day coasters out of dull grey slate? Or, Tesco and M&S, wrap the inevitable red roses in black plastic bags?

The car business remains a big problem area. A Forbes survey in 2010 found that 74% of women surveyed said they felt misunderstood by car marketers. Nissan’s global marketing chief, Andy Palmer, stands out in stating the need for Nissan to reshape its approach to marketing to target women ’dissatisfied’ with the industry.   

However, there is still only one car that has ever gone into commercial production whose exterior is designed by a woman. This is the beautiful BMW Z4, retailing at an average of £35,000 and rated 8 out of 10 in the New York Times. The exterior was designed by Juliane Blasi, an alumna of Germany's Pforzheim University, which offers one of the oldest design programmes in the world.

German bosses should be lobbying to increase the percentage of women on boards to encourage the creation of more cars like this. Instead, the country’s four biggest car manufacturers – Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler and Opel – have threatened to move production out of Germany if a 30% female quota is introduced for supervisory boards in the country.

Mars and Venus

Time magazine referred to the ‘Sheconomy’ in November 2010, stressing that women not only make 85% of the buying decisions, but also hold 51.5% of high-paying management and professional positions in the US. These are the reasons why Stephanie Holland of Holland and Holland advertising agency writes, ‘If you want your company to shoot for the stars, you may want to aim in the direction of Venus’.
My own research, summarised in my book Gender, Design and Marketing shows it is all-important to have people on your team who can mirror the visual preferences of your target market.  Men and women’s visuo-spatial skills are not the same – study upon study in psychology has proved this to be the case – and men and women’s preferences, in my view, have their roots in hunter-gatherer days.
He needed excellent 3D vision and targeting skills to hunt and bring home the bacon and she – as gatherer-in-chief - needed excellent close up and colour vision in order to discern, for example, ripe from unripe berries. This division of labour still makes its presence felt today - too many products are aimed at gatherers but probably have a heavy input from hunters in their creation.

To stay ahead of the game, organisations need to ensure that hunter and gatherer customers are offered products created by hunters and gatherers respectively. Failure to do so means missing a trick - and not just on Valentine’s Day.

- Dr Gloria Moss is Professor of management and marketing at Buckinghamshire New University and visiting Professor at ESG, Paris.

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