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Marketing to men, women and couples

Marketing to men, women and couples Joseph Carrabis

How do you get men to gather on a site? What about women? And couples? How do you get couples to shop together?

In what follows, we're going to explore how to make commerce and related sites "social" in the sense of making them places to gather as groups, and how sites can tailor themselves to males, females and couples in order to encourage engagement.

I'm going to make some generalizations about men, women and couples that are just that: generalizations. These generalizations are not universal, nor do I mean to suggest that all men do things in one way, or all women in another way. So please don't be offended.

Giving couples a reason to shop
How do you know a couple (gay or straight, doesn't matter) are comfortable with each other? More specifically, how do you know they're comfortable with each other in a social setting?

They touch.

Touch is perhaps the most primitive demonstration of our emotional selves that remains unchanged throughout humankind's evolutionary history. All humans -- regardless of language, culture, education, vocation and avocation -- carry with them a sense of personal space.

People touch when they're comfortable with each other, and the degree of comfort is shown in shared body postures, shared eye focus, shared facial expressions and so on.

How does this apply to marketing? Let's talk about different ways to encourage visitors, readers and viewers that they should purchase some jewelry.

When it comes to creative for jewelry, forget showing an image of somebody surprising that special someone with a specially wrapped box. Instead, start the visual sequence with them both looking at the jewelry in question, make sure they're both staring at it, show that they're talking about it, smiling and laughing gently. The visitor, reader or viewer doesn't need to hear their conversation. In fact, it's probably better that they don't.

Western culture recognizes the giving of jewelry -- especially expensive jewelry -- as a demonstration of possession, not love, and the metaphor we use for this bridging of the old and the new is "by love possessed." The giving of expensive jewelry is Caveman Og throwing a side of mastodon onto the fire and bellowing in defiance at the night -- a demonstration of the ability to provide, not the ability to "love" in the modern sense. Love, as we think of and demonstrate today, is an extremely modern concept in the Western world, probably no more than a century and a half old at best.

So the visitor, viewer or reader not hearing the conversation, or at best being aware that the conversation is being carried out in whispers -- another demonstration of intimacy, safety and trust -- is important.

The killer element, however, is that their other hands -- the ones not holding the jewelry -- be touching.

The visual elements are as follows:

  • They share visual focus (they're looking at the same thing)

  • They share facial emotional focus (they're both smiling, whispering)

  • They're both holding the jewelry in the foreground. If not holding, their hands are near the sales element. One could be holding for the other to see better, but both foreground hands must be near the sales element.

  • They are holding each other's hands in the background. If not holding each other's hands, they must be shown touching as equals. This is usually demonstrated by leaning into each other and touching along the length of the arms, as if huddling.

  • The whole of the spatial and physical relationship the couple has with the sales element is a circle. It doesn't have to be a neat, obvious or exact circle, but a circle it does need to be because the circle -- in almost all cultures that have access to modern information technologies -- means continuity.

These elements are aptly demonstrated in the following images taken at random from various websites. None of these pictures are the ideal, and we're not worried with hitting the ideal. Think of this as theory versus application. I often tell clients, students and co-workers that it's better to understand the theory because mastering the theory equates to knowing how to apply it to various situations. Knowing only an application is like using Maslow's Hammer: everything looks like a nail. In this case, understanding the theory allows you to apply it to ecommerce as well as traditional social sites.

Let's start here:

The circle is formed, the sales element -- jewelry -- is obvious and in front of the couple, facial expression, tonus and shading are equivalent, as are dress and image style.

This next image is a bit different:

Again, the circle is formed. There is no sales element per se, but the shared mutual focus, body postures, dress, hairstyles, even the fact that they both wear glasses, all work to communicate a shared message.

This image is a masterpiece in many respects:

The circle is implied and is out of the frame, implying mystery. The hands and arms are displaying the symmetry demonstrating mutual trust and respect. While we can't see the male's dress, etc., the color of his hand tells us enough so that we can imply the rest. This is a beautiful piece of work, and my hat is off to them.

Likewise, here:

This last image would work on any site targeting couples, and it is another fine execution of the principles I'm describing in this piece.

Author notes: Joseph Carrabis is CRO and founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He was recently selected as a senior research fellow and board advisor for the Society for New Communications Research. Read full bio.

Maurice Chevalier said, "Vive la difference" and most people agree. Yet the greatest mystery about the differences between the sexes is that most businesses market to them so poorly. The information about their differences abounds: how they conceptualize and internalize information differently (i.e., how they "think" differently), how they express themselves differently, how they make and keep friends differently, the list is next to endless.

For example, tell a male a joke -- even a harmless joke -- before a relationship has been agreed to and that joke will be interpreted as either a sign of weakness or as a warning that the joke teller is dangerous.

On the other hand, a male can see a group of physically homogeneous males -- males of the same body size, type, color, etc. -- and will feel threatened because they might not fit in. Even if they do fit in, they will demonstrate a need to determine their hierarchical position in that group.

These two elements can be used to attract and keep men on websites in some very obvious ways:

Text-based jokes should be reserved for sites that are clearly defined as humor sites. The exceptions are sites that require some kind of signup (an assignment of relationship or an agreement defining a relationship). These sites can quite easily show one face to the casual observer and a completely different face to those who've accepted some kind of defined relationship. Think of this as whether or not you're allowed entrance into the "club." NextStage refers to such things as: "You have to be this tall to get on this ride".

Visual jokes (slapstick especially) can appear before a relationship is clearly defined, provided the humor is target-specific or in cartoon form. The latter must be cartoonish in the sense of classic Warner Bros. or Disney. Make the characters too human or too real and you've torn the veil. Also, visual humor is acceptable if it is so commonly understood within a given demographic that the joke, its predicates and antecedents, are lingua franca with the given audience.

Portraying groups of men. Males are more likely to be drawn into conversation with a heterogeneous group of unknowns than with a homogeneous group of unknowns, unless the homogeneous group is of the same demographic as the target male. This research element is one of the clear taxonomies that maps one-to-one between physical- and cyber-realities and has been documented as far back as the Peloponnesian War.

In other words, males are more likely to engage with an unknown site's offerings if the images on the site are of a mixed (age, physical characteristics, ethnic origin, etc.) group of males rather than a single male demographic.

As the male's time on a site increases (either in a single session spanning several hours or in several sessions over several days or weeks) the introduction of a demographically homogeneous group matching the male's demographic will increase their comfort level and willingness to interact on the site.

However, one big exception is if a site's target audience is a specific demographic: for example, 35-55-year-old white males. In that case, heterogeneity can be shown by differences in height, weight, dress, ornamentation, accessories, facial tonus and features, skin color shadings, etc. Note that these same elements can be used in any cultural or ethnic setting to demonstrate heterogeneity. Homogeneity can be demonstrated by having the same height, weight, build, facial tonus and features, skin color shadings, ornamentation, dress, accessories, as well.

Here is an excellent example of heterogeneous males demonstrating continuity and acceptance: different clothing, hairstyles, facial features and body postures:

In contrast, this example is not as good:

The clothing styles are too similar and there isn't enough difference in hairstyles to create a true sense of comfort for the initiate male. However, if a site were to use this picture after someone has "signed up" and for a more obvious demographic -- getting into the use of homogeneity upon acceptance into a group -- it would be a killer.

Joke telling and physical presence are recognized and interpreted very differently by females than by males. You can tell a joke to a woman and it will disarm her. You can tell a borderline risqué joke, one with a mild double-entendre, and it will be an indication of safe intelligence on your part, someone they can possibly confide in -- during the relationship-building process -- because you have made yourself vulnerable. But there are rules in how this knowledge can be applied.

The first rule is that males cannot make jokes with females at all until a relationship has been established and the rules of the relationship define what types of jokes are allowed. It is a sad and very real fact that until the early to mid 1960s, men largely considered women as their prey, and forty years isn't going to change the Western non-conscious mind.

Females, however, can share jokes with females much more easily. One joke form that can be sustained through all phases of a relationship is the joke that is directed at an unknown, neutral third party. This is often demonstrated in movies and TV shows to indicate the level of friendship; females A and B are sitting in a restaurant and one of them makes a comment about another female, C, who is either not present or is in the frame and at a distance (obviously not involved in their communication). The rest of the interaction between A and B lets the viewer/visitor know how safe these two women are with each other and, by extension, how safe the viewer/visitor is with them.

However, females A and B can share a joke about a present or non-present male and the dynamic changes from safety to trust very rapidly. This metaphor is expanded to female-oriented social sites by the use of "male-rating" games and "dressing" games. The latter involves deciding what type of clothing best suits a given body type and leads us to our next female networking site concept.

Women see differently-shaped women and start comparing themselves to determine if they're safe. Note that this is very different from the male physical identification conceptualization. Men need to see differently shaped males in order to feel safe and that they will "fit in" in general. Obviously, this rule changes as mentioned earlier when going after more targeted demographics.

Women need to see women closer to their own self-concept in order to feel safe. This is an aspect of what is known as "mirroring." Women will more quickly involve themselves in sites and online social activities if a homogeneous group is depicted and that homogeneous group matches the viewer/visitor's demographic. This is another study that goes back before the internet age and maps very easily across market spheres: women prefer models with self-similar body and ethnic types most like their own dress style.

This is a powerfully well done example of how to make women feel more comfortable with women in the initial stages of site acceptance and network building, while still allowing some diversity:

The different facial features, hairstyles and colors are minimized by the black background and dress, angling of the heads, use of lipstick and lighting to create a fairly consistent skin tone. Kudos to the team that put this image together. As a selling point, it will capture both male and female eyes quickly and easily. Males will linger with desire, females with acceptance and familiarity.

Here's another example:

Again, there is just enough difference in the shades of the jeans, hair colors and styles, facial features and tonus, all minimized by distance from the two "mirror" women in the center and general similarity of physical form.

This is an excellent example of females finding homogeneous safety in a heterogeneous group.

Several years back, NextStage worked with a GenY etailer and made a suggestion that was revolutionary at the time: create a social shopping cart.

A social shopping cart?

People will spend more money when they are together than when they are shopping alone. Our suggestion was to create directed chatrooms where visitor A could open chat sessions with online friends, drawing them into the shopping experience. The client could brand the chat session and use it as an advertising vector. Visitor A originally "owned" the session, and visitors invited to the chat session could only respond to what Visitor A was considering. Later, the chat session became more open so that it more closely emulated a physical shopping experience, including the ability to invite a sales associate to take part, to create multiple shopping charts for a single chat session, etc.

Sales skyrocketed. This same metaphor has been successfully extended into virtual worlds such as Second Life. This methodology also works for both genders (I was shocked at its success rate among males, to be honest).

There is more to this research and how we've been applying it around the globe than there is room to describe here. We've seen these concepts successfully applied in North and South America, Europe, Australia, China and Japan. Each socio-cultural demographic makes use of different elements -- what are called ability-distribution, differential-dropout and participation-rate hypotheses. The rules supplied above are, again, demonstrations of the theory and are intended to create social networks -- gatherings of individuals on a single site, be it a traditional "social site" or ecommerce site. Use the theory to determine applications wisely.

Additional resources:

Joseph Carrabis is Founder and CRO of The NextStage Companies, NextStage Global and NextStage Analytics, companies that specialize in helping clients improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior. He's also applied neuroscience,...

View full biography


to leave comments.

Commenter: Joseph Carrabis

2007, December 22

(written phonetically and please don't be offended)
Ya atsyeneeveyeyou vash komentareeee. Saabsheetye minye yeahslee ya magoo bwitz palaznim.
(please feel free to tell me that a) you don't speak Russian and definitely feel free to tell me that b) I don't either).
I was attempting "I appreciate your comment. Let me know if I can be of service."
Seriously, thank you for your comment. Please do let me know if there's something more or other you'd like me to write about. NextStage's research is very extensive and often we have answers to questions people haven't thought yet to ask. - Joseph

Commenter: Valery Shaposhnikov

2007, December 12

Dear Joseph,
Thanks for your for this report.
Valery Shaposhnikov, Moscow, Russia
Jupiter Managment Group, Ltd

Commenter: Joseph Carrabis

2007, December 06

Thank you also, Ms. Abbot. I appreciate your picking up my work in your blog. Please send me a link and I'll pick up the thread in my BizMediaScience blog.
Thank you also for noting that I went insight to application. That's one of my goals in these columns; to share "how" as well as "why". Along those lines, please let me know if you'd like me to write something more or other on this topic.
Thanks again - Joseph

Commenter: Joseph Carrabis

2007, December 06

Catherine, thanks for your comments. Yes, despite the technology we surround ourselves with we are still dealing with a few million years of social behaviors pretty much hard wired into us due to our evolution as a species. We still behave as if we're dealing face-to-face in many cases.
For what it's worth, much of my presentation at the SNCR conference today deals with these issues. Wish you were here. - Joseph

Commenter: Susan Abbott

2007, December 05

Great article, and I'm riffing on it in tomorrow's blog post at www.customercrossroads.com.
What I particularly enjoyed was the transition from the insight to the application. Would love to hear more on this topic, and I think it's an area that a lot of marketers make missteps on. Good communication creative is subtle, not heavy handed. It doesn't lose power by subtlety, it gains power. Your examples are wonderful illustrations of that.

Commenter: Catherine Mcquaid

2007, December 05

Great observations Joseph!

Why would we think that behaviour in any medium is different than face-to-face?

Once again, you've pointed us to "man (or women or couples) is the measure of all things". How come that bard is right so often?

Catherine McQuaid
Big Game Hunting