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Marketing To Women: What Women Really Want!

Are women different from men? Do they behave differently when they are buying? And if they are different, should we be marketing to them in a different way? The authors examine current marketing practice in respect of female consumers and sets its shortcomings against the facts of female buying power.


Women spend lots of money; in fact, they make the majority of buying decisions.  Meanwhile male-dominated businesses try to sell to the women’s market.  If men and women behave and act differently from each other then maybe their approach to marketing and selling, and more importantly to buying, is also different.  The women’s market is an under-developed opportunity, possibly the number one opportunity, for those that can really understand what women really want.

Women are now the key decision-makers.  Faith Popcorn, one of America's foremost consumer trend experts, says in an interview with Tom Peters that ‘Fortune 500 companies think they're marketing to women — who buy 80 percent of the products and control 80 percent of the money — but they're not. They're not talking to women. They don't know how to talk to women. Just like they have no clue what to give their wives for their birthdays. They really don't realize that women have a separate language and a separate way of being.’ 

Women are the primary decision-makers

Research from NFWBO (National Federation of Woman Business Owners) shows that women are the primary decision makers for consumer goods in 85% of households, and women make 75% of decisions about buying new homes, make 81% of the decisions about groceries. They influence at least 80% of all household spending!  According to Verdict Research women now spend 10% more than men, on average, on the intenet  (£579 against £541 for men).

And women are not the same as men… 

Martha Barletta in ‘Marketing to Women’ explains why marketing professionals should focus their undivided attention on women.  She explains how women reach purchase decisions in a different way from men, ‘Men and women don’t communicate the same way, and they don’t buy for the same reasons’. She continues, ‘He simply wants the transaction to take place.  She’s interested in creating a relationship. Every place women go they make connections…’, “91% of women say that ‘advertisers don’t understand us’”.

Meanwhile men dominate!

Men dominate most industries and the advertising industry is no exception. Although roughly half of advertising staff are women, recent IPA studies (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, ) show that men monopolise the coveted creative positions. 

So, to set the stage, we have magazine advertising departments selling advertising space to male-dominated advertising agencies that have sold ‘beautiful’ concepts to male company executives and boards to help sales to females (who we all acknowledge are not the same as men…).

All bad news?

Thankfully, rising female consumer power is changing the way that some companies design, make and market products – and I have to say that this is more than just ‘making it in pink’ (although by last year’s pink sales one has to say that this simple strategy can pay off big time!)

The recognition that women buy differently is being acknowledged in America.  Women do buy differently from men – they like to research more and are less likely to be influenced by ads!  So, one lesson is that less direct/print/traditional advertising will be effective… and subtler ways of communicating might work – word-of-mouth marketing, viral marketing.  To go one stage further, it is time to  design products (and marketing campaigns) that actually appeal to the buying needs and habits of women. There’s a thought!

Products for women – edgy or patronising?

In the States, women are dramatically changing how products are designed and marketed.  It is only a question of time before this theme reaches across the Atlantic.

In 2001, 3.6% of all new products were specifically tailored to women.  That number more than doubled to 7.9% by 2005 according to Datamonitor’s Productscan Online.  Some were great but some were just a marketing hook to target women.  Do you remember the Samsung SGH-E530 mobile which came in lavender pink with women-friendly features like a calorie counter, fragrance-coordinator and a menstrual cycle calendar… is this product edgy or patronising?

Other offerings that seem better to me included:-

Meanwhile, research is starting to show that women trust editorial content more than ads.

A brief summary… the story so far…

So the situation is as follows:

This is not a feminist thing but a straight down the line business/commercial argument.  The women’s market is not a niche, a speciality group or a minority – they have wallets, and for many businesses, women as decision-makers and consumers hold the key to future success.

Marketing to Women at Barclays Small Business Banking

John Davis, Marketing Director at Barclays Local Business, working with start-ups and existing smaller businesses, comments:
“We know that women small business customers are less risky and  more profitable for us – and their survival rates are better than for men - so it makes business sense to attract women to buy from us.  We do put effort into communicating specifically with women, examples are sponsoring the ‘Women In Business Awards’ and running a number of our ‘Bright Marketing’ seminars specifically for ‘Women in Business’ audiences.  And, we will do more of these types of activity as time goes on.

“What we do not do is provide specific financial products aimed at women only; our range of products has been deliberately designed to be flexible enough to accommodate the individual requirements of each customer according to their needs (whether they be male, female, single, middle-aged and so forth). We have put a lot of effort into understanding the needs of women customers and ensured that our offering does meet their needs (for instance, in the type and flexibility of products that are available, and the type of customer relationship that can be provided)."

Barclays research suggests that the majority of women do not want woman-specific products. Female owners have a continued desire to be treated as equals with their male contemporaries (March 2004).  Most women don’t want such exclusive products but would prefer products aimed at the broad definition of business people (rather than aimed at women as a sub-set of the whole).  While there is a widely held perception that female business owners are discriminated against by ‘the banking establishment’ (gaining less favourable terms than their male counterparts), market research (June 2004) did not provide evidence to support this view. 

At Barclays, when comparing male-female cohorts, female business customers tend to be younger or older than the men (probably because of child responsibilities in the middle years).  As a result, products that appeal to the younger, eg online banking, are more likely to appeal to women. Also, on average, women tend to socialise/network differently from men. A result of the different ages represented? A result of the implication of children?
John Davis continues: “What all customers need is good basic banking services that work.  They also need business advice and guidance, so our people must be knowledgeable and trained to provide this. Finally, customers need empathy and support – this is what we call our ‘service heart’ - we are employing people who love spending time with customers. We are communicating our commitment to work with women customers through our brand values rather than though creating specific products.  Our internal commitment to working with diversity is reflected in how our people see and deal with the outside world; the bank is well-placed to empathise as the staff is female-oriented. And so, we have chosen to demonstrate empathy in our actions rather than create products that might be perceived as patronising.

“At the heart of the matter, Barclays Small Business proves itself to be genuinely different by being genuinely interested in customers as individuals – we recruit the right people and reward the right behaviour. We realise that we are in business to help people to live the lives that they want and that each customer will have a different dream.  Our products and service can be tailored to enable that to happen.”

A little PS

Before attacking the female market segment there does need to be some understanding of how it operates – women as consumers (like small businesses so often referred to as SMES!) are not a homogenous group that behave and act in one uniform way – we have not yet got to the stage of the Stepford Wives where they all behave as one.

Nicola Armstrong from Iris Female points out that the women’s market must be segmented into separate stages . Lifestyle transitions – the movement from one life stage to the next – represent powerful marketing opportunities.  If you can gain the trust of a consumer at one life stage and in subsequent periods of transition then you can keep them literally for life.  If a brand fails at  the moment of transition then that trust may never be regained – it is doubtful whether you will go back to a bank that refuses you a  student loan or account.

Marketers who want to sell to women need to recognise that being patronising, smug or insincere will not get you more sales.  Women will pay more and spend more with a brand that acknowledges her lifestyle and treats her well.

‘It’s a Man’s World…’

Those businesses that do not change their approach to the market will get left behind.  More importantly, some of your competitors will take on board the importance of communicating effectively with women and will take business away from you. (Good examples of well-known brands that run ‘women-friendly’ campaigns include: Dove, Nike, Ford, and M&S.)

So, what’s to be done?

At the root of the debate about pandering to the needs of women is the fundamental question that we have to ask of all businesses, both large and small..
‘Why should people bother to buy from you when they can buy from the competition…? Why should they buy from you when your competition probably offer a similar product at a cheaper price?’

People, especially women, are not simple, rational, economic decision-makers.  They are emotional beings and will respond to calls on their attention that communicate in a way that fits with their ‘map of the world’.  There will be winners and losers, we know that, but there seems to be such a vast, untapped opportunity waiting for those who want to create a dialogue with women.

Anyone working on product design, brand reputation and how to sell to women without seeing the female point of view is missing a huge trick!.

It’s too late to stop

Women are now the key decision-makers and purchasers to be courted. Lest the stale, male-dominated boardrooms still can’t hear the message, it is repeated one more time, ‘Women make the majority of buying decisions’. Ignore them at your peril  - you have been warned! 


about the authorS: Robert Craven

 Robert Craven is a keynote speaker and author of the business best-sellers ‘Kick-Start Your Business’ and ‘Customer Is King’. He has been described as 'one of the UK's leading marketing specialists' and 'the entrepreneurship guru'. He runs The Directors' Centre, helping growing businesses to grow.
He can be contacted at

about the authorS: KiKi Maurey

Kiki established her own consultancy business over 13 years ago working with a range of private, public and voluntary sector organisations. She is a founder member of the Southampton Black Business Development Group, a graduate of the University of Southampton and of Warwick Business School where studied full-time for her MBA in 1990. Kiki is Senior Consultant at The Directors' Centre.
She can be contacted at

About The Authors: John Davis

John is Marketing Director for Barclays Local Business, the part of the Barclays group that offers banking and wider business services to small and medium-sized companies in the UK. John is also Managing Director of ClearlyBusiness, a 100% owned subsidiary of Barclays that produces innovative services designed to give small businesses a better chance for survival and growth.
He can be contacted at

publication details

Published in Issue 15 of CriticalEYE REVIEW: The Journal of Europe’s Centre for Business Leaders

Any further queries, please contact Charlie Wagstaff at or +44 (0)20 7350 5103.



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