How to engage the female customer and deliver the right experience

This post follows on from the last post: If 80% of spend is driven by women then is it not time we had a better understanding of women?

Why should you read this post?  Society is incorporating more of the female values.  If that is not enough then it is worth remembering that women account for / drive 80% of purchases.  And you want to design marketing strategies and customer experiences that work.

What’s The Issue?

Marketing, customer service and customer experience are oriented towards the male ‘achievement impulse’ and male behaviours.  Which means that the female ‘utopian impulse’ and associated behaviours are simply not being addressed.  Let’s take a look at the following diagram:

To engage and build mutually beneficial relationships with female customers requires a different tack as shown in the following table:

Let’s take a look at each of these four codes in a little more detail to see if they suggest courses of action that you can take to better connect with your female customers.

The Altruism Code

The female speciality act is the ability and tendency to put oneself in another’s shoes effortlessly: women empathise on autopilot.  This means that women are motivated to act on another’s pain as they feel it.  It also means that women are open to doing what it takes to cultivate pleasure in others because they feel and can share in that pleasure.  Honesty and transparency matter because they allow women to relax; women pick up inconsistencies due to their ‘whole brain’ radar being to pick up all kinds of detail and nuances.

How can you work with this altruistic code and thus connect with women?  The simple answer is to stand for a purpose/cause beyond selling your product and making money.  Go beyond the functional benefits and stand for something that contributes to a better world for us all: lessen the pain, increase the pleasure.  The authors of Inside Her Pretty Little Head have identified seven ways that you can do this:

  • Position your brand as an ethical brand (my view is that you should just be ethical!)
  • Champion the consumer through your brand positioning
  • Win-win strategies – promotional activity that feeds back to the community
  • Invest in corporate social responsibility
  • Strong communication of altruistic values in your brand
  • Play against the category weaknesses

Lets just look at some examples:

The Body Shop is a memorable ethical brand – it was the first main brand that made a big thing of doing the right (ethical) things including the ‘no animal testing’ claim.

Apple is a great example of a brand that championed the consumer.  As the authors say “From the moment that the woman threw the hammer through the screen in the 1984 commercial, Apple hit it’s target and has stayed on the female radar……. Apple turned the status quo on its head, and offered people a break out of that gloomy vision and into a world of creativity, fun and freedom…”  That is still the case today.

Waitrose has a deeply held and practiced commitment to all stakeholders in the business.  That includes employees (generous benefits, profit sharing, having a say/being heard); suppliers (fair trade agreements); communities (giving back to the communities at store level) etc….

Persil’s ‘Dirt is good’ campaign / positioning is a great example of communicating altruistic values.  Through that positioning the brand is celebrating life and reassuring women rather than making them fearful and perhaps ashamed of themselves.

Orange used to be an example of a brand that did a great job of differentiating itself in a dull category.  It did so with choosing the Orange colour and the ‘future is bright’ positioning.  In recent years, Orange has lost its way – my personal perspective.

The Aesthetic Code

Women want to / are driven to make that world a more beautiful place: the way something looks matters – it makes a big difference to women.

The details matter.  Women can tell if something is not as it should be.  “Women’s minds are trained to notice the things that are out of place – the dirty mug left in reception, the months-old magazine in the waiting room, the speck of dust on the lapel…. they will read this to mean that something’s not right…….Conversely, women also appreciate that detail can make all the difference: it can indicate care taken, thought expended and trouble gone to..”

Women are judged by their appearance and so they have a much stronger incentive to notice the appearance of things.  As a result how things look (aesthetics) matter as much as what they do.

What is the implication for brands?  Ordinary products can be lifted out of the commodity heap of sameness and functionality and put into the limelight simply through great design – a focus on the aesthetics.  Here are two ways of doing this:

  • Selling an integrated aesthetic vision of life
  • Making the functional beautiful / pleasurable.

Gap has managed, at times, to pull off the trick of selling that integrated aesthetic vision of a colourful life through color.  “It was about buying into a world where everything was cheerful and everything was colourful.”

Apple and particularly the iMac is great example of making the functional beautiful and pleasurable.  PC’s used to be the example of a functional product totally oblivious to aesthetics.  Apple came along and totally changed that.  The success of Apple is the proof that functionality and utility is not enough.   It demonstrates the importance of form as well as function: beauty matters – it brings something into life.

Packaging matters to women and is an easy way to speak to the aesthetic code.

Aesthetics is not simply beauty, it is more.  “…everything needs to be in its rightful place, well ordered, consistent… and neat and tidy.”

The Ordering Code

I suppose you can call this the highly practical bit of the female orientation.  It is about the details of life that need to taken care of if life is to work.  Workability allows space for the altruistic and aesthetic codes to come to the foreground: it creates the space for generosity, for flair and fun. “It is not only about practicalities, it is also about helping women to navigate the ‘nice’ bits of organising and planning…”

Women have to grapple with two key issues here. First, they simply have a much broader range of responsibilities – they take responsibility for more and then have to juggle these responsibilities.  Second, women see the details and more more concerned with getting things right for all parties.  For example, when my wife is planning the holiday she takes a lot of time to make sure that it is well planned so that we will all enjoy it.  All the stuff that can get in the way is addressed so that there is nothing to worry about.  Women simply know that attention to detail is a necessity to arrive at Utopia; men cannot be bothered beyond the headline.

How can you, the brand, help women?  How can you deliver a better customer experience?  The first thing is simply to remove the obstacles that slow women down and make their lives harder.  Second, make sure that your internet presence is a strong one – that it speaks to women, helps them to easily do what they need to do.  “The internet is genuinely empowering for women.  It offers women access to lots of information hitherto denied to them…..”.  Think about women, like my sister, who are ‘burdened with young children’: the internet allows her to shop, talk with, get help on a broad range of tasks.  It takes some of the pressure of and it allows her to get more done – including in the half an hour here and there.  The internet allows women to only go offline (into the real world) when they really want to.

Women want great service.  They hold you, the brand, to the same standard they hold themselves to: be thoughtful and efficient.  “Women do not understand why or how you can deliver poor service and still feel good about yourself.  Putting good service at the epicentre of your operation will get you noticed and… talked about..”  The flipside is “…nothing will make a women madder…. in her disdain for your brand than poor service.

Being thoughtful and efficient is not enough.  Women find it frustrating to ask for help and be met with indifference or incompetence.  In Utopia everyone helps everyone else out proactively.  Women want/expect you, your people, to go the extra mile.   They look for and expect genuine communication – the human touch.  Yes, they do want you to save them time.  No, that does not mean that you should cut out the relating stuff: the human stuff.

The Connecting Code

This code is all about the female need to cultivate a strong network of mutually beneficial relationships; “women have a deep and profound survival instinct that requires them to make friends.”  Women strive to draw people together and find common ground.

What this means is that if you, the brand, want to cultivate relationships with women then you are pushing at an open door.  Your female customers are much more inclined to enter into a ‘learning relationship’ with you to use a Peppers & Rogers term. And they are ideal candidates for entering into / participating in communities of shared interest.  This means that you have opportunities in three areas:

  • Create and provide a network through which your female customers can get together;
  • Act as catalyst for generating community of shared interest; and
  • Provide fuel to feed a community or relationship.

Weight Watchers is a great example of a brand as a network.  “The weekly meetings deliver what all good female networks are there to do: they provide support, morale, fortitude, share experience, encouragement, information and strength that comes from knowing that you are not struggling alone.”  Apparently the same applies to the website.

Charities and book clubs (Richard and Judy, Oprah) are great example of acting as catalysts for generating a community of shared interest.

The point to note is that women enjoy and get a lot out of participating in communities of shared interest.  “Any brand responsible for generating that esprit de corps, and building that sense of common ground and shared objectives between women, will be amply rewarded with their participation, involvement and support.”

Conversation (talking, dialogue) is the core ingredient that binds successful female communities.  Women use conversation to build closeness.  Conversation is the fuel that gives life to relationships and the glue that holds them together.  “It is the primary means by which they get to the bottom of what someone is feeling, and the primary means by which they befriend others.”  Put bluntly women love to talk – it is natural for them.  And they love to share what they have learnt with their wide social circle and communities of interest.  They are the ideal brand ambassadors: sources of advocacy and word of mouth marketing. Yet they are not walking advertisements for any old brand.

Women can be exceptional customers – brand advocates and loyal.  The price?  Women are likely only to stand up for brands that have treated them well and/or done something thoughtful.  The opposite is also true: women can be the most vocal opponents of brands that fall foul of their four codes and standards.

Final Words

First, if you do not have a deep interest and affinity for people as human beings (rather than as objects) then you really should not be in marketing, sales, customer service or customer experience in the 21st century.

Second, it is much easier to ride the horse in the direction in which the horse is heading.

Third, I recommend that you read ‘Inside Her Pretty Little Head’ by Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts.

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.