Women and marketing: Why gender-specific plans don’t work

SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright talks about the importance to include women in overall marketing strategies rather than just targeting them.

Any attendee at Outdoor Retailer or SnowSports Industries America’s trade shows has seen them: scantily clad women parading around the show floor handing out promotional material or invitations to happy hours. Spend a few moments and watch these walking models, and you will note, not surprisingly, that those postcards or leave-behinds primarily are placed in the hands of men. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that marketing to women is not a priority for brands that opt for this type of presence.

Common wisdom states that women are from Venus and men are from Mars, but that intelligence is often neglected or misunderstood in marketing decisions, especially in male-dominated markets.

But here’s the thing. Women command the largest percentage — some research indicates more than 85 percent — of purchase decisions, even in male-dominated markets where they might be final voice in big-ticket items or buying a gift for their significant other. In addition, well-intentioned decisions in marketing or merchandising often are based on gut instincts that can be inaccurate.

So how can a company get it right and maximize its marketing strategy? Enter Leslie Prevish of Prevish Marketing, who specializes in marketing to women. I caught up with Leslie over a cup of coffee a few weeks ago, and we chatted about how important a well-thought out plan is to increasing market share, as well as the barriers both of us have faced with our clients in this arena.

Prevish cut her teeth on the challenge of expanding market share among women. She spent more than 12 years with Harley Davidson working to connect and engage with female riders before moving to Trek where her team increased road bicycle sales by 8 percent in 2011, generated more than 100,000 consumer leads in 2012 and spurred a 500 percent Trek Facebook growth among women.


“If companies don’t think about women, they are missing the boat,” she said. Prevish advocates for marketing plans that factor women into the overall equation, rather than creating a separate market segment, and adds, “marketing to women is an outdated term.” Check out Ellen DeGeneres blasting Bic Pens when it planned to launch a line of pens specifically for women.

While some companies do a good job in marketing, training and product development, others are guessing on key decisions without any actual research, preferring to rely on the anecdotal or what they defend as “in the field” information, explaining that they talk to their customers on a regular basis. The problem with this is that type of information does not do much to increase a company’s current customer base.

Prevish’s research indicates that with the female consumer, it’s particularly important to maintain engagement and to establish trust. Tap into a woman’s emotions and understand just how much trust is critical to her purchasing decision. Help her be heard and understood and above all, be sure not to make her feel stupid or unworthy of the level of equipment she is seeking, something just about every female consumer has experienced at one point or another. Give her the correct information and help her to believe she can do it, whatever “it” might be relating to.

Who does a good job in the industry marketing on these fronts? Prevish says REI is a good example. They do it without specifically saying it with their imagery, messages, educational seminars and by not being overly feminine or ‘shrinking it and pinking it’ and keeping their core customers engaged.”

An appreciation in gender difference is important in hosting events for women as well. Like any event, it’s important to know who you want to attract and provide a clear goal focused around a common denominator. While inviting men to an event can happen mere days before it occurs, women tend to be planners of their household and need more time to invite friends and get coverage for children, etc. Prevish recommends that event sign-ups ask for phone numbers and call a week before saying, “We are looking forward to seeing you.” Women need time to socialize at events, so it’s important to keep speakers short and sweet, provide food and beverage and allow time to shop after any presentation. Take the time to talk about what your next event will be and get your audience excited to return. Partnerships outside the industry can be an enormous attraction as well with offerings by spas, salons, and organic nutrition outlets, etc. Above all: Don’t forget to track your return on investment and send a follow-up thank you email with coupons or a driver to lure your potential new customer back into your shop.

Prevish has three key tips for manufacturers and retailers who aim to grow their market with the female gender:

• Understand her. Do your homework and invest in some research.

• Invite her. Make her feel welcome and included.

• Train your staff on the above.

SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright
is the founder of Merchandising Matters, 
which provides merchandising support to brands, retailers and their agencies.

Reach her via email at robin@merchandisingmattersnow.com

with questions, ideas and suggestions.



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