“How and Why Do Women Buy?”

A woman wanted a cell phone that would work anywhere, not rack up high roaming fees, and be “cute,” according to Martha Barletta, author of _Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach, and Increase Your Share of the World’s Largest Market Segment. 

Her husband researches various plans and finds the one that most matched her calling and financial criteria. 

“What kind of phone comes with it?” the wife asked. 

“What difference does that make?!” replied the husband. 

His wife looked at the information he’d gathered and discovered that Nokia had a model in “ocean blue,” although the nearest store carrying one in that color was an hour’s drive away. 

She drove. 

“The color of the phone is the most important thing?” asked her astounded husband. 

No, said Barletta, it wasn’t the most important thing, but while this woman was buying, “she wanted what she wanted.” 

To women, details of beauty, simplicity, and practicality matter. Says Barletta, “A woman might choose a Jeep Cherokee because it’s the only one whose hatch she can easily flip open.” 

Studies have shown, writes Barletta, that the male sees his relationship to others in terms of higher/lower, faster/slower, first/second. 

A female sees her relationships in less competitive terms: similar-to/ different-from, know-her/don’t-know-her. Thus advertising that says others will be jealous if you own this product works with men but is off-putting to women. 

Women, says Barletta, want to be able to say, “Yep, that’s my life. If that product works for her, it’ll probably work for me.” 

Thus the power of cultivating the mavens –- the trusted people to whom your market of women turn for advice — can be the key to increasing your profits. 

More than half the U.S. population is female, and women purchase or influence the purchase of more than 80% of all products and services. 

Women are the majority decision-makers today, not only in the traditional areas of fashion, food, and cosmetics but also for such big-ticket buys as automobiles, financial services, home improvement, computer electronics, and travel. 

So you might think there would be nothing about the buying habits of women that American businesses don’t know. 

However, Barletta and Mary Lou Quinlan, author of _Just Ask a Woman: Cracking the Code of What Women Want and How They Buy_, believe that many marketing and sales strategies are more likely to annoy their target audience than to attract them. 

“You might feel that you have already evolved into the most politically correct person you can be. Your ads are not offensive, your products keep improving, but that’s not enough to lure a woman to buy your product rather than a competing brand,” warns Mary Lou Quinlan. 

Both Quinlan and Barletta point out that women are especially valuable customers. More than men, they typically ask for recommendations from friends and acquaintances before they buy and, if they are happy with a product or service, will recommend it to others. Again, this highlights the powerful influence of mavens on buying decisions. 

According to Quinlan and Barletta, women – especially working mothers – lead time-pressured lives and therefore appreciate products that simplify tasks and relieve anxieties. 

They prefer product warranties and service guarantees more than extra bells and whistles. 

Women don’t want to be told a product is “cool”; they want to hear specifics about how it serves their needs and their families’ needs. 

Both agree that women want marketers to be patient and helpful. “It’s frustrating to marketers of high-stakes or big-ticket services such as financial services or cars to be asked to meet with women several times to go through alternatives,” writes Quinlan. 

But from a woman’s point of view, it’s necessary: “Women judge the quality of the relationship as well as the quality of a product. They ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening before they form a trusting relationship to believe what that person is saying about the product,” she says. 

Quinlan and Barletta reach many of the same conclusions but disagree on some points. 

For example, Quinlan says women today – especially working mothers are stressed out. 

Barletta believes the opposite: “In fact, women today are proud of how well they cope with stress.” 

In another point of disagreement, both authors describe a current ad for the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, reaching opposite conclusions as to its effectiveness. 

In the ad, writes Barletta, a “gracious, glamorous, silver-haired woman is coming up a red carpet as if to the Academy Awards. Suddenly, she trips and falls flat on her face. 

The message: Cholesterol doesn’t care who you are; it can even bring a princess down.” 

Women don’t like the ad because they “don’t like to see anyone get hurt, even for a good cause,” says Barletta. “All I can think is, ‘Oooh that poor woman, is she okay?'” 

Quinlan praises the same ad for being “cliche-smashing.” She says the way to get women’s attention is to play against type. “How often have you seen the gray-haired grandmother walking the beach and worrying about her incontinence or arthritis?” she asks. 

According to Quinlan, the Lipitor ad is an example of letting older models “be silly and not just sentimental,” which, she implies, appeals to women. 

On this point, I agree with Barletta, not Quinlan. What do you think? 

But the books differ most significantly in how they present their material. Quinlan is CEO of Just Ask a Woman, Inc. (http://www.justaskawoman.com/) a marketing research firm she founded in 1999. 

Her main research method is a TV-show format in which Quinlan plays “Oprah” to elicit candid views and opinions from an all-female audience. In her book, Quinlan shares the insights from her interviews of more than 3,000 women. 

They have told her that, in their stressed lives, they would appreciate having bank statements that are “understandable” and instructions for cell phones “written in English” (as opposed, presumably, to techie talk). 

Surely, a wise bank or cell phone manufacturer would provide the same. But a reader can’t help wondering, wouldn’t men like understandable bank statements and cell phone manuals too? Wouldn’t anyone? 

Barletta is president of The TrendSight Group (http://www.trendsight.com/), a marketing consulting firm that also was founded four years ago. 

Its patented product, the “GenderTrends Marketing Model,” provides a process for analyzing how to mesh what you sell and how you sell it with, as Barletta puts it, “female gender culture.” 

Barletta’s book not only describes what women want, it also shows many scenarios where no rule applies to 100% of either gender’s buying behavior. 

Barletta notes that it is not that women want better products and better service while men don’t. It’s that women will go to more trouble to obtain what they want. 

She points out, for example, that Wyndham Hotels put magnifying mirrors in bathrooms based on suggestions from women who wanted them for applying eye makeup. 

Men didn’t request the mirrors and probably never would have, according to Barletta, but they appreciated them when they appeared, because it made shaving easier. 

One reason it takes women longer to make a buying decision, Barletta explains, is that women want the “perfect answer.” 

Men will buy a workable answer rather than continue to shop, while women will continue to shop in the hope of finding that perfect answer. Now that sounds familiar. 

Women also relate better to “warmer” than to “winner.” A Nissan print ad stating “horsepower increased 17%, torque increased 6%, bragging rights increased 100%” is a male-only ad. 

Women (even those who know what torque is) don’t care as much about bragging rights, says Barletta. But an ad for an SUV that says “Think of it as a 4,000 pound guardian angel” is an ad that resonates with women. 

Both books were helpful to me, but Barletta’s book contains more information for marketers regardless of gender.

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