Women are the ultimate target market, lording over the purchase of everything from toothpaste to travel agents. It's no secret that women are powerful and influential. They account for an average of 80 percent of household purchasing decisions and -- in 30 percent of U.S. homes -- women bring home the majority of the income.
Today's women report that one of their most important resources is the Internet. According to a Burst Media study, women rely on the Internet so much that 66.1 percent said their "lives would be disrupted" if they were without it for even a week!
While it's not surprising that the Web is the "go-to" place for women, it's important to understand why women go online in the first place. Women seek two different types of opinions: advice from experts and input from peers. The blending of these sources is what helps women make informed purchase decisions -- and where the opportunity resides.
Women seek expert opinions
Reflecting on the social psychology of influence and Dr. Robert Cialdini's "Principles of Persuasion," when there is no personal experience to guide a complex, objective, or fact-based decision, consumers look to a recognized "authority."
Take Lynne Johnson, a stay-at-home mom: Lynne and her husband decide it's time for a new car, so Lynne immediately starts to research. She visits Edmunds.com, a trusted industry resource, for a full overview of the vehicles she has in mind. While there she sees banner ads for several other car sites and visits three to get comparisons in preparation for a visit to the car dealership.
Although the Johnsons ultimately purchased their vehicle from a brick-and-mortar dealership, it is typical for consumers -- particularly women -- to gather opinions from experts or authorities online.
Women seek advice from peers
Duncan Watts, a professor of sociology at Columbia University and author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, has conducted studies showing that when faced with uncertainty in cases of subjectivity -- in matters of taste, for example -- a consumer is influenced not by "experts" but by people similar to oneself. This is one major reason that social networking is on the rise.
Lori Smith, new to jewelry design, relies on sites such as People magazine's online presence to stay abreast of new styles. She also frequents Google's YouTube for entertainment and style reports. Lori recently researched purchases for her newly renovated kitchen. She first visited several stores to get a sense of what products were available and what she liked -- then she jumped online to price-check. Her purchases ended up being a combination of online and offline. She appreciated sites that directed her to other online resources for help with remodeling. She also looked for sites with an available hotline with a live person and a good response system to let her know when her product was shipped and, later, to make sure her purchase was satisfactory.
How marketers respond
How are marketers reaching out to women on the Web? In December 2007, Datran Media conducted a survey of 2,000 industry leaders. While some marketers pay attention to the how and when customers want information, there are still tremendous gaps:
- 82.4 percent of companies plan to increase their use of email marketing.
- 55.3 percent of marketers expect their ROI from email marketing efforts to be higher than other channels.
- 80.0 percent of companies use email to send newsletters.
- 78.8 percent use email to drive sales.
- 70.6 percent of companies use email to enhance customer relationships.
Relevancy is critical, but many miss the mark. Women especially appreciate and respond to information that is pertinent to their lifestyles. Targeted campaigns based on past behavior are an art form at companies such as Amazon.com, yet Datran Media reports that only 46 percent of companies that regularly use email utilize information based on previous purchases or actions. The other 54 percent represent a collective of missed opportunity.
In addition to behavioral marketing, brands should also leverage social networks to promote products or incorporate expert testimony. While social marketing is especially effective for viral campaigns, marketers must be wary: Some companies find themselves attacked on blogs, with the negative stories picked up by the press. Smart companies will directly address unhappy customers to quickly resolve the issue and avoid having their brand labeled with the moniker "sucks" and rated in a Google search.
Some effective ways that marketers are reaching women on the Web:
- Testimonials -- women trust recommendations from both like-minded individuals and credible sources.
- Engagement -- participation and meaningful involvement increase brand loyalty.
- Dialogue creation -- women expect and demand multiple options for communication (phone, email, Web, mail). Open communication channels create an element of trust and comfort.
- Relevant, simplistic messages -- even complicated information should be presented and communicated effectively, but not in a patronizing way. Remember that every communication is an extension of a brand and creates an opportunity to acquire or retain a customer.
Marketing to women on the Web can be a lucrative investment, if done well. Smart marketers will remember what a woman seeks on the Web and deliver it to her in a way that complements how she makes purchasing decisions.
About the author
Lisa Formica is vice president of fmi direct, a family-owned and -operated direct mail and fulfillment company located in Philadelphia. She is also president of the Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association and on the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation board of trustees. She can be reached at 1-215-464-0111 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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