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July 2001: Volume 43, Number 7

Creative Marketing: The Right Tools For Selling to Women
by David H. Martin

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Do you consciously market water treatment to women? Do you have the right selling tools to appeal to female customers? Do you try to balance your presentations to couples, taking into consideration the gender-based preferences and buying patterns of each individual?

These are just some questions for both the water treatment manufacturers who develop and provide selling tools -- professional literature, CDs, websites, displays and in-home sales presentations -- and for dealers who depend on these to help close sales.

'Venus & Mars' approach

Ellen Baker, general manager of ABC Supply Co.'s AmCraft, a national building material products company that sells direct to homeowners through in-home sales presentations, believes that closing ratios can be improved by using marketing tools that take gender preferences and differences into careful consideration. Her gender-based strategies apply to marketers of all big-ticket home improvement products sold in the home, including point-of-use water systems.

Last August, Baker presented her case for what she calls "co-mingled" marketing approaches that appeal to both male and female attributes, in an address to building material manufacturers, distributors and dealers at The Hardware Show in Chicago.

"As marketers," said Baker, "we constantly wonder whether the tools we use to sell our products to different types of customers (males and females) are doing just that. Because our marketing materials meet the needs of some customers but not others, we’re missing selling opportunities every day."

Processing information

Baker believes that everything in the selling process should start with the customer. She believes men and women process the information you give them differently.

"If we understand how he or she processes information, we can design a system of communicating that will meet her needs for information and performance criteria, in a presentation style that makes her comfortable enough to move forward in the buying process," Baker said.

Since men and women process information differently, it stands to reason that if you fail to deliver product and performance information in a way that both genders find meaningful, it will negatively affect your ability to sell either (see EXTRA: Seven Tips below).

It begins with biology

There are literally hundreds of scientific studies that document biological and psychological differences between men and women. Some scientists believe these subtle differences in the way men and women organize their thoughts stem from differences in a particular portion of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, as well as the connections between the brain’s right and left hemispheres. The prefrontal cortex controls our ability to keep track of many bits and pieces of information including detecting patterns in information, using these patterns to predict outcomes, and planning for the future.

In addition, said Baker, the tissue that connects the left/right and front/back portions of the brain is larger in females than it is in males. These thicker connections allow for increased communication between the brain hemispheres, which make it easier for women to access, sort and store information, she claims (see FYI -- Differences below).

In males, each side works more independently, so each hemisphere is more strictly committed to doing one task or another. As a result, asserts Baker, men tend to have a more black-and-white perspective, whereas women are able to see more gray areas. Is it any wonder that these differences cause men and women to view the world differently?

In the past, most selling messages in the home improvement industry were geared to a male-buying audience; however, the world has changed a great deal in the last few decades. Women now make 80 percent of buying decisions, according to Baker, who said, "This is a customer segment we can’t afford to ignore. So we’d better understand how to sell effectively to her, based on an understanding of how she makes buying decisions."

Male/female buying patterns

Understanding how the genders process information differently is nice to know, but how does that translate into understanding how buying decisions are made? Let’s start by understanding how each gender tends to buy.

The male customer prefers to be in control of the buying process. He will define the parameters of the discussion and expect you to adhere to them. He has limited patience for "the story" or "pitch" and prefers a limited number of options. He doesn't want to linger in the process. He wants a technical, structural selling story. Finally, he likes selling tools that allow him to touch and feel the product.

In making a buying decision, men will often arrive at the solutions so quickly that they don’t consider all the diverse options available to them. Said Baker, "Our job in sales and marketing is to get in the game with the male customer and share our selling messages before he jumps to a solution."

With women, the process works differently. Baker believes women prefer to gather a great deal more information before they purchase: "They want the whole story. They’ll shop around for information if it's not offered to them on the spot. And they’ll spend as much time as it takes during this "gathering" stage."

Women value "quality of life" family issues, including security. Women want products that will protect their families, said Baker. They have stronger concerns for the environment than men, including their personal environment.

So it follows that women are concerned with how the buying decision will affect them, their families, the planet, etc. Finally, the female customer wants and needs abstract concepts to be visualized. "So, for a woman," said Baker, " the challenge is to give her sufficient information, support and attention to make her comfortable enough to move to a point of action."

Develop marketing materials

Since most "big ticket" selling situations involve both genders in the purchasing decision, Baker believes the marketing support materials should contain content that appeal to both genders, not just one or the other. Usually, this involves co-mingling your marketing approaches to hit both customer segments.

Where do you start when you need to please both? "The best solution," said Baker, " is to create materials that are more female-oriented. At the same time, you should include technical and structural information to appeal to the man." Balance is important because "women simply won’t respond to a selling or marketing approach that is too male-oriented."

What women want

Women need help visualizing how your products will look on and inside the home. Baker believes that, in easel presentations, the use of acetate overlays are a good tool to help women imagine how your products will enhance her home environment. This technique also appeals to her desire to see a number of options before she finally chooses. Women are especially interested in color photos of room interiors, showing the product in use. Women like to see other women and children pictured with the products, or illustrating consumer benefits. Security features are of special interest to women. Baker also claims that a woman’s desire to protect her family also creates strong female interest in written product warranties.

At the same time, the presentation should include male-oriented information, such as product samples, performance certification and installation data.

Conclusion

Because men and women have different thought processes, the residential water treatment industry needs to develop dealer marketing tools that communicate to both genders in a way that's comfortable and meaningful, and that gives them what they need to make joint buying decisions.

About the author

David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be contacted at (708) 848-8404, email: newage@mediaone.net or website: www.lenzimartin.com

EXTRA: Seven tips to look for when selling to…

Females:
* Like a circular process
* Need assistance visualizing abstract concepts
* Like having options
* Are able to multi-task
* Process information externally (verbally)
* Tend to work in teams
* Take their time in making decisions

Males:
* Follow a linear process
* Understand spatial relationships
* Prefer limited options
* Focus on one task at a time
* Process information internally
* Make decisions alone
* Tend to make decisions quickly

FYI -- Differences in Male/Female Thinking

The best-selling book by John Gray -- Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus -- offers a humorous, pragmatic look at the age-old battle of the sexes. His website is rather commercial, though, so here are a few alternatives that run the gamut from scientific to philosophical on differences in male/female thinking and gender marketing:

* www.epub.org.br/cm/n11/mente/eisntein/cerebro-homens.html
* www.netsonic.fi/~jade6/empiric/malevsfemale.htm
* www.cyberparent.com/gender/fallacy.htm
* www.msosingapore.org/news_e1.html
* www.psychologyhelp.com/gend131.htm
* http://neptune.spaceports.com/~words/malelogic.html
* www.theangle.com/news/1998_1201/gender.html
* www.gendermark.com/GenderMarkarticles.htm