Gender Marketing Web Design Differences

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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:

  1. Women purchase strategically; men purchase immediately.
  2. Women are cogno-emotionally placial; men are spatial.
  3. 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.

Next: Women are placial; men are spatial