Gender-Based Marketing

The Ins & Outs

Of Enticing The Sexes

By Karen Akers


Even before John Gray informed us that men and women hail from different planets, we knew it instinctively from our first forays into the sandbox. Little boys gravitate to the dump trucks; little girls to the dolls. So why should the differences be different now that we’re adults? Tailoring a promotion to a specific gender can give you huge response rates and big-time bang for your marketing buck.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget about the different ways that men and women see the world; other times it’s inescapable. Anytime you need a quick reminder, try telling the same story about a bad day at work to a man and a woman. Chances are the woman will try to empathize with your situation, agreeing that your boss is unreasonable or your customers unrealistic. A man, however, will probably reply with a list of solutions: hire an assistant, set the client straight, find a new job, etc. It may seem sexist, but in many cases it’s true. Whether it’s due to nature or nurture, the majority of men and women have very different ways of approaching the world and consequently very different ways of reacting to it.

So, why do so many companies only create one promotional campaign, hoping both genders get it? Try breaking down your audience, refocusing some of your campaigns to appeal to men and women separately, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Vive La Différence

Some products or services naturally appeal to one gender or the other: clothing, shoes, grooming items, fragrances – for the most part, they’re specifically made for a man or woman and are positioned accordingly. But what about the million other products and services out there? Are they doomed to a lifetime of middle-of-the-road blandness – afraid of appearing too masculine or too feminine and scaring the “neglected” gender away? We certainly hope not.

But if you’ve never sharpened your focus to target one gender or the other, why start now? Well, we can think of a reason or two …

What Women Want

For much of the modern era, it seems that the only products specifically marketed to women were those made for women’s use: laundry detergent, sewing machines, clothing, etc. That was fine when most women didn’t work and had to depend on their husbands for support. Girl, how times have changed!

Women now make up a significant percentage of the American workforce, marry much later in life (if at all) and contribute significantly to the nation’s economy. Still, many companies continue to underestimate their influence and buying power. Consider:

  • Women buy or influence the purchase of 80% of all consumer goods and 51% of all consumer electronics.
  • Women influence 80% of all family health care decisions and buy 75% of all over-the-counter medications.
  • Women accounted for 65% of new vehicle purchases in 2002; they also made just slightly less than half of all used-car purchases.
  • In 2002, there were 6.2 million businesses owned by women, which is about 38% of all businesses. Annually they contribute $1.6 trillion to the national economy and employ 14 million workers.
  • Adult American women outnumber adult American men (106.7 million women to 98.9 million men) according to the U.S. Census.

Women have clearly become a dominant force in the American marketplace, and any company that isn’t considering their presence when planning a promotion is neglecting a potentially significant group of prospective clients and their disposable incomes.

Women can also work as a potential gateway to other people in the home or office, explains Sharon Ross, a promotional consultant. “If you can get something into the woman’s hands, like a keytag or something that can be used in the home, a refrigerator magnet, Post-it notes, that kind of thing, it may ultimately fall into the man’s hands or make its way to the family desk or computer,” Ross explains. “If it makes its way to the computer, where everyone uses it, it’s not just the woman, but the husband, the kids. It’s almost a subliminal marketing technique if you can get something into the home.”


It’s EVEolutionary
But targeting women can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve never ran such a promotion or, even worse, failed in an attempt. Luckily, there’s lots of reference material on the subject, and your promotional consultant has the knowledge and experience to help you target specific groups.

In her book EVEolution: The Eight Truths Of Marketing To Women, Faith Popcorn offers the following tips for reaching the female audience:

* “Connecting your female consumers to each other connects them to your brand.”

Yes, most women like to talk; it’s a stereotype that’s well-founded. Women are quick to share information with each other, including experiences with your company. Cultivate a positive image by using promotional products to associate your brand with women’s gatherings. Try sponsoring a local reading club by supplying logoed bags or bookmarks, or providing promotional notepads, portfolios and pens to a women’s networking event. Car dealerships or auto-parts superstores may hold female-friendly repair classes; swim clubs might have leagues or times set aside for women only; same goes for bars/nightclubs, bowling alleys, movie theaters – anyone who has female customers. Put your name where they are, and it won’t take long for it to get noticed.

* “If you’re marketing to one of her lives, you’re missing all the others.”

Women have so much going on in their lives. They could be business owners, corporate or retail workers, mothers, wives, sports coaches, volunteers, collectors or most of the above. So, don’t just settle for getting her attention at work or at home – there’s so much you’ll be missing. “[Women] have to be the command center of all the information in the household; the mediator of the most complex negotiations among family, friends and business associates; the appointment maker; the taker to lessons; the keeper of the pet – all while squeezing in time to go to the gym and get their hair cut,” says Popcorn. “Because women lead these 24/7 multiple lives, a marketer needs to be there to help women integrate home and work more seamlessly, or miss out on creating a loyal bond.”

* “If she has to ask, it’s too late.”

Yes, another stereotype based in reality – because women are so good at figuring things out from nonverbal clues, they expect everyone else to do the same. It may seem like a daunting task, but if you can anticipate women’s needs and cater to them with your product or service, you’re halfway there. Then, don’t wait for the customers to come to you – work with your promotional consultant to get the word out by using promotional products.

* “Market to her peripheral vision, and she will see you in a whole new light.”

In-your-face advertising isn’t the way to go when targeting women, Popcorn cautions. A high-profile TV commercial? She’s not impressed. But market your business in a way that’s integrated with a woman’s daily life, and she won’t fail to notice it. Something as simple as a refrigerator magnet with the phone number of the local takeout, or a sunglass holder that she can use in her car, is a practical but nonintrusive way to remind her of your brand.

* “Walk, run, go to her – secure her loyalty forever.”

If you’re hoping a woman will just suddenly discover your brand, you might have a long wait ahead of you. Make it easy for her to take advantage of your product or service, and then make sure to let her know about the added convenience. Round-the-clock Internet banking, extended doctor’s office hours and late drop-off/early pick-up for car repairs are just a few things that women might appreciate with their busy schedules – so don’t keep it a secret.

* “This generation of women consumers will lead you to the next.”

Few things can match the emotion or nostalgia that go with the idea of “mom.” Wouldn’t it be great if your business could share in those positive feelings? Try positioning your products as something to be passed down from mothers to children (or even from older sisters/aunts/cousins to other family members) and you can build long-lasting loyalty. How about a “my kids” photo frame or keepsake mother/ child book that also sports your logo?

* “Co-parenting is the best way to raise a brand.”

Women are very protective of things they hold dear, and if you can get her to care about your business, you’ll likely benefit from her loyalty. “Whether it’s a child, puppy, cockatiel or brand, nurturing women will protect their own. So, why don’t marketers recognize that parenting is part of females’ makeup and leverage that part of them?” Popcorn asks.

* “You can’t hide behind your logo.”

No matter how big the brand, how slick the campaign, you won’t fool women for long if your company is lacking. Many women expect excellence from all aspects of a business – from customer service to employment practices to the environment. So, if your company excels in an area, be sure to let women know.


Why Men? They Spend!

There are many reasons why men have remained a primary target for marketers. A few include:

  • Nearly 85% of top officers in Fortune 500 companies are men.
  • 54% of privately owned firms are owned by men.
  • Men make up approximately 53% of the U.S. labor force.
  • In 2000, the average annual salary for men was $37,339, an average of $10,000 more than women.
  • 16% of men who work full-time earn $75,000 or more annually.

Tried & True

If you’re anything like me, what springs to mind when someone mentions traditional male-focused advertising involves scantily clad girls, fast cars or some combination of the two. Really, it should come as no surprise because, according to marketing expert Rodman Sims’ article “So You Want To Sell To Men, Huh?” attractive women and fast cars represent three things that are most important to a majority of men: sex, toys and freedom. Sex, meaning a preoccupation with it; toys, which speak to the continual quest for bigger and better ones; and freedom, which connotes the ability to just do whatever you want to do. Think about most ads targeted to men and they probably appeal to one of these desires.

Sure, it sounds stereotypically sexist, but it’s hard to deny, especially since mainstream media has been doing it for decades. And, when done tastefully it can work in the promotional arena, too. For example, when an optician turned to promotional consultant Joe Scott to help attract more male clients, Scott suggested playing on men’s well-known disdain for shopping. “The optician’s competition was a mall-based location that offered ‘glasses in one hour,’” he explains.

Using a list from the DMV, the company sent eyeglass cases to men in neighboring ZIP codes who wore corrective lenses. Enclosed was a letter that read: “Hate going to the mall? Me too. You know you can get an eye exam and great eyewear nearby …” While it relied on a traditional male stereotype, it worked. “Sexist? Yes. Effective? Yes,” says Scott. “The business has since doubled its space, although we can’t take all the credit for that.” By letting men know that they had a choice, that they didn’t have to go to the mall to get new glasses (i.e., freedom from shopping), they responded positively.


Break From Tradition

Then why target a promotion toward men? Isn’t most marketing already angling for that demographic? Well, yes and no. With many companies now “discovering” the women’s market, or at least making their advertising not gender-specific, men can sometimes be overlooked. The distinction now comes with approaching men in new ways. Whether a company’s working on a new image, trying to boost stagnant sales or looking for new ones, taking a closer look at emerging trends in the men’s market might provide that promotional spark.

* Doting Dads. Statistics say dads are spending more time with their children than ever before. American Demographics reports that about 38 million men have kids under the age of 18 and recent studies found that men say they spend more time with their children – up to four hours a day in 1998 compared to just 2.7 hours in 1965. And, they’re also sharing more in child-rearing tasks: Yankelovich Partners found that 69% of fathers say they share equally with mothers the responsibility of playing with their children; 60% equally share disciplining their children; and 54% share caregiving.

In addition, over the past decade, the number of single dads has also increased 62% to more than 2 million fathers being the primary caregiver of one child or more.

Businesses that have traditionally marketed to mothers should probably consider making room for dads, too. Grocery stores, kids’ apparel shops, restaurants, doctors’ offices – anyone who would target stay-at-home moms or moms in general can benefit from telling dads that they know they’re out there.

* The “Metro” Movement. Chances are you’ve heard the term “metrosexual” dissected in the news over the past several months. It refers to men who are more concerned with their appearances, living environments, clothing, etc., than most men would readily admit in the past. Whether this male subculture is something that will last is uncertain, but it does point to a broader trend among American men: the realization that it’s OK to care about their appearances, to buy items like lotions, hair dye, designer products and more.

So don’t be afraid to consider cremes, soap and stylish accessories in your next appeal to men, especially when targeting those in urban or affluent areas. Do, however, remember to keep it masculine. For example, when Nivea introduced its Nivea for Men Revitalizing Lotion Q10, it focused on major metro areas and used street teams to hand out product samples. In addition, they gave men co-branded CD samplers and playing cards.


Rules Of Attraction

Think about it: Gender-based promotions are much like other targeted marketing campaigns cultivated around a specific demographic. But rather than focusing on age groups, professions or geographic locations, they simply qualify people by gender. “A lot of gender marketing is more fine-tuning. Targeting a specific client base [makes] promotions more personal,” explains promotional consultant Liz Polo. “Not every promotion can or should be one-size-fits-all. By trying to target everyone, you can end up diluting the message and attracting no one.”

Karen Akers is associate editor/multimedia of Imprint. She can be reached at

Targeting With Taste Offers Food For Thought

While the statistics for gender-based marketing may be alluring, many companies avoid focusing on one gender because they’re afraid of alienating the other. But with careful consideration and well-planned execution, problems can be avoided.

One simple way to safely recognize one gender is to base a promotion around a gender-specific day or event. Two obvious examples are Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but others exist as well. Many cities host women’s expos, men’s health fairs, women’s networking events, etc. Companies can use these special events and holidays to get men’s and women’s attention, then benefit from the exposure all year long.

When Italian eatery Buca di Beppo wanted to increase return business on Father’s Day – which in the restaurant world falls far behind seat-fillers like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day – it invoked dad’s sense of humor. “We wanted something that would be fun for the dads, because it’s always the mothers who get the attention on Mother’s Day – and dads like to get presents too,” says Randy Lopez, Buca’s vice president of marketing.

Buca chose an item that played up the restaurant’s kitschy atmosphere, but that also would remind the many visiting dads to think of the restaurant between holidays. It decided on a car air freshener that featured a humorous photo of a moving car with a fully set dinner table on the roof, with the words “Burn rubber, not dinner” below. On the back it had a simple reminder: “Eat in or take out” with Buca’s logo.

By appealing to men’s sense of humor and giving out small, but well-thought-out gifts (the year before it gave dads small squeeze-to-open rubber coin purses to house toll money and collect those plentiful but pain-in-the-butt pennies), Buca found its repeat-business for Father’s Day growing each year. “We’re seeing some wonderful numbers with Father’s Day because [having dinner here on that night] is becoming a tradition for some families,” Lopez says. “They’re coming in because of the fun and the food, and also because of the fun little gift. It becomes something that they do every year.”

Mother’s Day provides a bit more competition, though. As one of the busiest restaurant days, each eatery is competing for families’ business and hopes to start a tradition that will keep diners coming back for years to come. In the past Buca lent its sense of humor to its Mother’s Day gifts, too – raffling “feminine” gifts like electric turkey roasters, vacuum cleaners and ironing boards, and even giving moms turkey basters, oven mitts and sewing kits.

But one year it stepped things up a bit by changing the focus to diamonds. Not only did each Buca branch raffle a diamond necklace on the day itself, but they reinforced the concept throughout the month preceding the holiday. “[It] was the year of the diamond,” says Lane Schmiesing, Buca senior vice president of marketing. “The diamonds in our business, and certainly on our menu, are the vegetables with which we cook.” Any mother who dined at the restaurant twice during the 30 days before Mother’s Day received a special diamond-inspired gift: three packets of vegetable seeds. Each packet carried the Buca logo and all three were packaged together with a band reading, “Plant these ‘diamonds’ in your garden and enjoy the riches of Buca di Beppo at home.”

The promotion helped Buca’s Mother’s Day sales reach record numbers and the unusual promotions help keep families coming back year after year. “It does spark interest, and I think that’s largely because it’s a little bit different and unique,” Schmiesing says.

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