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Website marketing across genders

I'd like to start by describing something that often happens when I talk with clients about gender-based marketing. It has to do with knowing whether or not someone visiting a website is male or female and designing information to appeal to one gender primarily or both genders equally.

Men are men and so are women, sometimes -- get over it!
There are certain things that happen in the human mind-brain that are gender-based but have nothing to do with physical gender. It may seem difficult to believe, but it's true. The human body's largest sex organ is the brain, and most of the time its being sexual has nothing to do with having sex.

One of the points we stress with clients is that gender-based design and marketing has more to do with someone's neurology -- how they think, how they make decisions, what pulls them in and pushes them away -- than their physiology. The way I choose clothes is very feminine, behaviorally. If NextStage technology were on a clothing website and I was navigating the site, the technology would report that I'm using the "feminine" aspects of my brain, not that I'm a woman.

However, knowing that I'm "thinking like a woman" gives the client a great deal of power in the design process regardless of what I'm purchasing. I may be purchasing a monster truck, but if I'm using feminine neurology to make that purchase then the marketing material had better address that feminine neurology to make the sale.

Making consumers change their minds
The next piece involves knowing how to get consumers to think the way you need them to think so they'll take the actions you want them to take. The human brain-mind is remarkably adept at changing what and how it thinks about things. Have you ever met someone who just wouldn't change their mind about something?

In reality, that's simply not the case. Those people are constantly changing their minds. They wouldn't be so adamant about not changing their minds if they didn't first switch what they were thinking and second strongly decide they didn't like that new way of thought. Similarly, people who can never make up their minds are actually constantly making decisions and sticking to them. They simply have the ability to quickly identify best case scenarios and align with them.

What we're talking about goes back to our old friends, . The examples here are of people who are AwayFrom (won't change their minds) and Towards (can't make up their minds). Normally it's much easier to work with the Towards kind of people. You can find out what they like, point them towards it, and your work is done. Not so here. This type of Towards behavior means you have to keep pointing them in the direction you want them to go.

AwayFrom behavior, in this case, is the easier strategy to make profitable. Someone comes to your site or booth or whatever and seems very adamant that they're not interested. The simplest, best and easiest way to start them down a sales path is to ask "What could we change to make you interested?"

This is easy to do on a website and take the form of options such as "Choose Color," "Choose Fabric," or "Choose Style."

Take-away No. 1: If your site isn't doing the business you'd like, and you're presenting products without options at the start, put the options up front. Chances are the majority of your visitors are AwayFrom thinkers and providing them options at the start allows them to explore without (as far as they’re concerned) making up their minds.

A minor variation of this method works with the Towards folks, those who can't make up their mind therefore never complete a sale.

Take-away No. 2: If your site isn't doing the business you'd like and you're presenting products with options at the start, start with an optionless product with a link that starts them down the option selection process. Put one option per page. Too many options will stop these thinkers dead in their tracks because, like a crow with a bright-shiny object, they'll start playing with the options and not deciding which one to go with.

Men move Towards, women AwayFrom
Yes, this is a great generalization, but it's not true in all gender-based things. Fortunately, it can be a safe generalization that is often true when it comes to designing sites and marketing material that will be used by both genders.

Let me give you an example of an automotive retailer site that also works in print. The goal is to have the visitor purchase a new vehicle. Place an image in the upper part of the screen or print piece. The left of the image is the owned vehicle, the right of the image is the desired or target vehicle. Just right of center is the couple or an individual facing the desired vehicle and walking towards it.

The web's media capabilities allow the message to get across very well because the couple or individual can be seen actually moving towards the target vehicle. In a static image that implies walking have the right hand swinging towards the target vehicle, the left hand swinging towards the owned vehicle.

Side note: this works well in both the U.S. and Canada, with the exception of British Columbia, but less well in northern Europe with the exception of England (and I mean "England," not the U.K., not the Republic of Ireland); it works very well in Italy and Spain and poorly if at all in India, China and Japan. Alas, we're not monitoring enough sites in South America to provide real data or suggestions.

Gender-based marketing is only gender specific in certain ways.

Women have the ability to think "like a man" far more often and far more easily than men can think "like a woman" (sorry, guys). This gives marketing designers leverage and may account for why so many sites have a male gender bias (based on our latest research).

In all cases, the overriding take-away is simple: know your audience before you design for it. The more you know about your audience the more you can direct them to act as you wish.

For example, NextStage was recently asked to help a financial institution with its website. We asked for all their promotional material: traditional materials like print, TV and radio, as well as links to radio, TV and print media websites in their target areas, plus links to malls. That's the sort of data you need in order to get a 360 degree understanding of your target audiences and the environments that influence them.

Not having a 360 degree understanding of your audience puts your marketing efforts at risk.

Final note
This will be my last iMedia column for a while. You can keep up with NextStage's and my research, applications, trainings and appearances by signing up for The NextStage Irregular, a newsletter I'm sending out.

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.

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,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Joseph Carrabis

2008, April 27

Drew, so sorry for not seeing this post here sooner. I know it's late to respond and I do appreciate your reading and commenting on my work.
Email me your site. I'd love to know how this works for you. - Joseph

Commenter: Drew Canole

2008, March 30

Thanks for the great information. I am going to impliment this on my website.

Commenter: Joseph Carrabis

2008, March 14

Bonjour, Michele! C'est vrai!
Yes, what you say -- especially about it bleeding back into the offline world among the young -- is exactly true. Both NextStage and several other groups have observed this time and again.
This has to do with what is called "evolutionary psychology" and its applications to both online and offline are staggering. Let me know if you'd like me to write some more on this subject. Also, you can find a fairly good list of my writings on gender based marketing and social media use at How Men and Women Differ in Online Social Interaction.
Thanks again. - Joseph

Commenter: Michele Bartram

2008, March 14

I agree! Since I started working with the web in 1995, I have noticed a significant change in men and women's shopping behaviors- both online and off. Traditionally, in the real world, women saw shopping as entertainment and sport, and would hunt all day for the "perfect" item across multiple stores. Men "hated" shopping, and would buy the first item at the first store. Now online, I've observed a co-opting of the other gender's behavior. Male shoppers online will comparison shop, since many options are a just few clicks away. At the same time many women now see online shopping as just another chore to complete in an overly busy day, and want "in and out" as fast as possible from their web store. Some of this cross-gender shopping role-swapping learned online in etail has bled back again to the real world of retail. This is particularly true in the younger generation, with more males enjoying shopping, and in the rise of lifestyle malls where busy women can go "in and out" fast to a particular store without traversing the entire interior old-style mall. Vive les différences et les similitudes!
- President/ Founder, WebPractices