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.

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.

Why organisations will continue to struggle to get close to their customers

I am not well, I think it is the flu.  So today I am going to keep my writing short – please excuse me if it is a little light.

I love learning especially stuff that challenges the dominant ways of thinking about stuff.   As a result I regularly visit TED and in my last visit I came across this video:

It got me thinking and I asked myself the question: is it that simple?

If you read the articles on CRM, on Customer Experience, on Social Business then time and again the writers mention the need to get commitment from the Tops, the need for leadership from the Tops, the need for cultural change – which, no surprise, needs agreement and leadership from the Tops!

Who are the Tops?  Almost always men.  The language that men speak is the language of warfare; the language of the impersonal; the language where the end often justifies the means.  And men love technology – we love our toys.  We love command and control. And in the process we make toys of human beings.  That applies to employees, it applies to suppliers and I argue that it also applies to customers.  We seek to manipulate customers adeptly as they are the more important pieces on the chessboard – yet they are just another piece on the chess board.   Can I dare assert that the men that are most adept at playing this game of chess end up at the Top?

Yet the social, relational and experience paradigms are predominantly feminine.  It is soft stuff. the stuff that has been neglected for a long time and often handed over to the HR folks.   If you are struggling with this then I have a question for you?  How is that in business we refer to getting customers as ‘conquesting’, as hunting; keeping customers is referred to as ‘farming’; and hunters are the hero’s that get the lion share of the rewards  whereas the farmers are looked down upon and get meagre rewards.

Is it that simple?  That organisations are struggling to become customer centric because this is  relationship centred paradigm which is natural for many women and unnatural for many men and especially the Top.  That the Tops prefer to play generalship (the art & science of warfare) then to play midwife to the relationship centred organisation and economy?

If it is not that simple then why is it that whilst the Tops profess customer focus and customer centricity their lieutenants claim that these very same Tops are the main obstacles to bringing customer centred initiatives to fruition?

I do not claim sole access to  ‘truth’ so do let me know what you think.