Growing up, I navigated the worlds of men and women with equal ease. Several indigenous peoples I've studied with have told me I carry my grandmother and grandfather energies reversed. Perhaps that accounts for my facility, I don't know. I do know that the differences and similarities between the genders have always fascinated me and became part of NextStage's marketing research a few years back.
A recent conversation caused me to revisit and update that gender-based research, correlating it with some research by Sibylle Moser and Donna Haraway. I'd like to explore some basic concepts of gender marketing design in this week's column.
(Note: I cover this subject in detail in "Reading Virtual Minds, Volume II". All the data I talk about in this column is aggregated from NextStage client sites and used with their permission. The data presented here is general information, rather than site- or market-specific information. I remind readers that there are no evaluations made in this research, no indications or statements about which shopping algorithm is better, only that this is what we found and it might prove useful in your marketing efforts.)
The three main online gender differences
The differences between men and women show up in so many ways that to ignore them in marketing is to defeat marketing's purposes. Three differences that directly apply to designing marketing material are:
- Women purchase strategically; men purchase immediately.
- Women are cogno-emotionally placial; men are spatial.
- Women consider other's opinions as a guide to making their own decision; men consider others' decisions as a guide to forming their own opinions.
What I found fascinating about item #1 was that, once I looked at the data as an anthropologist, it was -- duh! -- obvious. Item #2 is something I was taught and teach in evolutionary biology. Item #3 is the new one, and it intrigues me as it applies to marketing methodologies.
Women purchase strategically; men purchase immediately
The fact that men and women shop differently is well recognized and documented in retail anthropology and is known as the "shopping gender gap." This term originated with the work of Paco Underhill of Envirosell and William Whyte. One demonstration of the shopping gender gap involves the concept of serviceability over time, or how long something will return good to reasonable value.
Figure 1 charts general male and female shopping patterns when serviceability over time is the main purchase influencer. The vertical bars indicate how much influence serviceability over time has in each gender's purchasing decisions: the taller the bar the greater the influence.
The left most vertical bars are labeled "Now", as in "Can I use this now?" and indicate that men make purchasing decisions based strongly on immediate or present needs. Is there a use for the product or service in some indeterminate mid-term future (middle bars)? Maybe yes, maybe no; in either case the possible mid-term use for a purchase is not as strong an influencer as the purchase's ability to address some immediate concern or need.
What about far-term usefulness (the right-most bars)? Studies indicate that far- or long-term usefulness isn't a strong determinate in the male purchasing persona.
Compare male purchasing strategy to female purchasing strategy when serviceability over time is a consideration. Women want to know that today's purchase will meet their immediate needs, mid-term and even their needs long-term needs. Long-term and far-term usability can even be a stronger consideration for the female purchasing persona than immediate need. Consider an implication of this: a single purchasing decision may create loyalty long after that single purchase has faded from the female consumer's mind.
Women, it seems, are more aware of servicing needs through time than men are. This comes across as women being strategic purchasers and investors while men are tactical purchasers and investors.
Putting gender differences into practice
If you know your target market is women, don't sell them on now, sell them on now (the near bars) and again (the middle bars) and yet again (the far bars), or make sure they buy enough so that what they buy is useful again and again and again.
If your target is men, make them happy now because they'll probably forget you before the next page loads or they leave the store. This plays into branding in that men are more difficult to brand than women in an open, competitive market.
There's a scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in which Prince Herbert is talking with his father. The classic dialogue is "Someday, all this will be yours," to which Prince Herbert replies, "What? The curtains?" The conversation degenerates into gender confusion with father being called "Mother" and Herbert being called "Alice." This scene amusingly demonstrates cogon-emotive placial and spatial concepts in the human psyche. The male time sense might be fixed on the now or near-now, but the male spatial concept extends as far as the eye can see. The female time sense extends through time, but the female spatial concept has a strong boundary, and that boundary is (metaphorically) within arm's reach.
Gender-based spatial concepts play directly into marketing design. Consider a webpage or a brochure as an example. It's well understood that the material must capture the eye before it is acted upon. Gender-based spatial concepts also indicate that women will give that initial interaction -- the capturing of the eye -- much more weight than men will.
Women, the strategists supreme, want to know now that something will be worth their time and energies later. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to pick up and scan a brochure or click on a link to the next page. A way to think of this is that women want to know more up front than a man does; men are more willing to gamble a bit in the hopes of a greater reward.
Advertising designers have known this for a long time. It can be summed up with the old adage, "sex sells".
Another way in which spatial concepts come into marketing design is in story telling, and gender-based studies of humor are replete with examples.
Males will pay attention to a story in order to get to the end, and often they forget the details that got them there. Women pay attention to the details and want to make sure there's a good cause for the story's end. Both genders want a reward: men tend to pay less attention to rules than to outcomes; women are more comfortable with lesser rewards if the rules are fairly applied.
The marketing middle ground is to have a good story arc that satisfies the emotional requirements of both genders, if that's your audience requirements.
Women's decisions and men's decisions
Women consider other's opinions as a guide to making their own decision. Men consider others' decisions as a guide to forming their own opinions. Again, this seems a contradiction to the male "now" and female "not-now" time sense. It does play well into the female and male spatial concepts, however.
Men are willing to make a purchase once it has been demonstrated that someone else was successful with the same purchase; kind of a, "that worked for Joe, so it'll probably work for me" mentality.
Women posit things differently. It's good to know if something worked for Sally; it's better to know what Sally's motivations were for her purchase. Success in itself isn't meaningful unless the conditions leading to success are the same. (So much for women not being cut out for the sciences!) This can be thought of as, "it may have worked for Sally, but Sally bought it for reason A and I'm interested in reason B, so the same purchase might not work for me."
This kind of thinking is another example of how loyalties can grow. Men tend to stay away from something if it caused someone else's failure regardless of the reasons failure occurred. Women want to know the reasons for the failure and will decide accordingly.
This information violates typical gender stereotypes. Women will gather together but will make their individualized decisions in the end. Men, on the other hand, will make "individual" decision based on following the herd. Men may be the explorers but more often than not they're exploring where women lead them (way to go, Sacagawea!).
The moral on this one is simple and easy enough:
Marketing to women: show women together with some other element indicating the reasons they acted upon marketing information as they did.
Marketing to men: show a single male or small group of males using the product or interacting with each other about the product, and add to this some other element listing the successes this individual or group of males had based on the marketing information.
Men and women shop and make purchasing decisions for different reasons, that's not new. Understanding the gender-based differences in serviceability over time, spatial concepts and purchasing rationale is new and can be quite helpful when developing marketing and campaign specific material.
Listen to MarketingMonger Eric Mattson's podcast with NextStage's Dan Sobotincic, Joseph Carrabis, Susan Carrabis and Dr. Cindy LaChapelle.
Additional resources on gender-based behavior differences:
- Social Development
- Journal of Applied Communication Research
- Journal of Pragmatics
- Psychology of Women Quarterly