If 80% of spend is driven by women then is it not time we had a better understanding of women?

If there is one guiding principle behind the customer-centric philosophy it is simply ‘treat different customers differently’.  In my Peppers & Rogers days (some 10 years ago) we used to call it ‘1to1 marketing’ and it was rarely practiced.  Often it became ‘treat different customer segments differently’.  The human race is naturally segmented into male and female and you will have noticed that we are different.  Back in 2010 I listened to Prof. Moira Clarke of the Henley Management Centre spell out that some 80% of spend is made by or influenced by women.  So should we be thinking about, engaging and treating male and female customers differently?

One of the most interesting books I have read in recent years is called ‘Inside Her Pretty Little Head’ by Jane Cunningham & Phillipa Roberts.  Allow me share the highlights of this book that you can use in marketing and customer experience design and employee engagement.

The Six Key Differences

The authors argue that “The ways we react, the ways we behave, the goals that motivate us and the strategies we develop for achieving them can all be illuminated, if not explained, by these deep-rooted and hard-wired tendencies.” So let’s take a brief look at these six differences.

Intellectual function: the female brain is wired in a way that there is a much richer integration between the two sides of the brain. As a result, women tend to get a much richer / fuller / rounded view of the situation at hand because their brain picks up and integrates the subtler aspects such as non-verbal communication, aesthetics and feelings.  Which in turn explains why women are more intuitive and better communicators.

Base reaction: men are wired to respond to external stimuli by acting  whereas women are more likely to react by feeling. This happens outside of conscious awareness – it can be said to be an automatic way of being. The wiring of the brain is such that females experience intense and complex feelings.  Men don’t.  “Biology…protects males from experiencing intense and frequent emotions in order that they can take action when they must….”  This explains why men are less ‘soft’ (insensitive) about people and situations.

Stress response: men and women respond differently to stress. When men become stressed they fight or withdraw whereas women ‘tend and befriend’ one another.  Higher levels of oxytocin (the love hormone) in women induces calm, connections and community.  Men produce testosterone under stress and this triggers a ‘fight-flight’ response characterised by alarm, aggression and individualist behaviour.   “When things became stressful the men went off to different parts of the lab and worked away on their own’; by contrast when things got heavy the women scientists got together, cleaned the lab, and hand a cup of coffee and a chat about it.”

Innate interest: men tend to interested in things (stuff) whereas women tend to be interested in people. “The female tendency is to want to connect, to bond and to understand other people and their motivations.  By contrast, the male tendency is to want to understand things and how they work.

Survival strategy: what are the basic influences that drive men and women?  Men compete with other men to get access to female mates.  Therefore, the male imperative is to compete and win. So the male tendency is to demonstrate strength, see of the competition, climb and dominate the hierarchy.  The female tendency is to cultivate relationships that they can rely on: form bonds, make connections and build community.   Male dominated organisations tend to value self-assertion, separation, independence, control, competition, focus, rationality and analysis.  In contrast, females tend towards inter-dependence, co-operation, receptivity, merging, acceptance, awareness of patterns-wholes-contexts, emotional tone, intuition and synthesis.

Mental preference: men and women understand and process information differently.  “Men understand the world by constructing systems: breaking a thing down into its component parts in order to establish how it works and what underlying principles govern its behaviour.  Women…. understand the world by putting themselves in the shoes of others, feeling what they are feeling and seeing what they are seeing.”  Why is the male brain attracted to deconstructing/reconstructing systems?  Because the understanding of how the system works promises the ‘systemiser’ control.  Women on the other hand are built to understand people by empathizing.  The ‘whole brain’ aspect of the female brain enables women to pick up all the nuances and intuit how others are feeling.  A women is more likely than a man to read the face and figure out how the person is feeling inside.  This systemising:empathy difference has huge implications and explain a lot of male/female behaviour.

So what are the implications of these differences?

Men and women are wired to want different things in life and to have developed different ways (strategies, tactics, techniques) to get them.

Men have a tendency to survive through self-interest, hierarchy, power and competition.  “Ultimately life is about finding ways to win.  This gives men a powerful impulse ….. to do better and be better.”  The authors call this the ‘Achievement Impulse’; the great technology centred achievements and how we live today are a direct result of this male achievement impulse.  In living this achievement impulse men employ the following strategies:

  • Focusing on hard rather than soft measures
  • Creating hierarchies
  • Focus on the headline, not the detail
  • Politics – figuring out and playing the game
  • One upmanship
  • Status symbols that assert position

Women adopt very different strategies because they way that they survive in the world is very different to men.  “Women are driven by the need to create a safe environment in which they, their offspring, and other people on which they depend, feel safe, secure and happy.”  The world is a not an arena where on competes.  It is place where one collaborates to arrive at a place where ‘I win, you win, we win’.  The authors label this the ‘Utopian Impulse’ because women are driven to create a better world for us all.  Here are the strategies that they use in their daily lives:

  • Working for the greater good.  Women have a much stronger sense of right and wrong, of moral order and of justice.  This is a direct result of their tendency and heightened ability to empathise.  Because women survive by building a wide network of relationships they are more conscious of the greater good.  “Women believe that social programmes and issues like education, healthcare, childcare, poverty, joblessness, the environment and world hunger are of primary importance.”
  • Improving physical surroundings.  Women go beyond the functional. They want to create an environment which is pleasing to be in and which is safe and secure.  An environment which is physically and emotionally pleasing and comfortable. This quest is never ending because something can always be improved: women notice the details – all of them.
  • Self-enhancement.  A woman’s identity is shaped by her appearance (her looks) in a way that the ordinary man cannot comprehend.  “… for women, making themselves look better is vitally important and again, it’s a never ending process of continual developement.  Women enjoy shopping.
  • Searching for new answers.  In search of utopia women jump on the bandwagon of the newest / latest fad or fashion.  Anything that can help to create utopia or get closer to it is embraced.
  • Anticipating pitfalls and laying off risk.  Women are risk averse and they consider other people not just themselves.  “While a man may not feel that a bad or boring night in a poor restaurant is a big risk, for a woman it is a source of anxiety. She’s trying to create a utopian night………Anything that risks or undermines the enjoyment of the group must be anticipated and quashed.”
  • Assuming responsibility for everything.  Women take the responsibility for making everything work in their own and their family’s lives including moving house, finding new schools, planning holidays, birthday parties and so forth.  This is hard work, it is never ending and it is exhausting.  There is never enough time to do all that needs to be done.
  • Improving relationships.  “It’s not just the surroundings or themselves women seek to improve.  Their quest for Utopian perfection also extends to wanting to improve their relationships with other people…Think of the fuels that feed relationships: keeping in contact, remembering important moments in another’s life, conversation and communication, sharing confidences.  All these are primarily female activities.”  Also women want to cultivate (grow, enhance) relationships by sharing personal information.  Men simply establish relationships by trading views and opinions – they do not share personal information.  Broadly speaking it is the women that want to put relationship problems right.  It is women that tend to form communities and friendship networks around the stuff that matters to them.

Some questions for you

Is your customer experience design team balanced? Does it have the right blend of people (male, female) on the team?  Do the women have equal say?

Are you differentiating the customer experience?  Are you treating men and women differently?

And finally

I will be drawing out the implications of these difference in more detail in a follow up post.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.