Four Essential Insights For Marketing to Women

I think we'd all agree that men and women communicate differently. It's almost so obvious it's often overlooked when thinking about marketing and advertising.

A great illustration of communication differences is in a compliment exchange.  OK, pause and think back to a time when you observed a man complimenting a man — come on, it happens! It goes something like this: 

Guy One: "Nice shirt."
Guy Two: "Thanks."

But between two hypothetical women, let's call them Brooke and Jen, it's quite different.

Brooke: "Love those boots! Where'd you get 'em?"

Jen: "Thanks! I got 'em on sale last March at this adorable boutique when I was in New York City with John. I had a client meeting so it was all expenses paid — the view from the Four Seasons Hotel was amazing! We both totally needed an adult-only weekend since Lilly was born. Three kids is a huge change — we're outnumbered now! And with my promotion, I don't feel like I'm spending enough time with any of them, including John."

Brooke: "Listen, I don't know how you do it. I can barely keep my houseplants alive. You're an amazing mom and wife!"

From my over 20 years of experience researching and marketing brands to women, I have distilled four essential female insights that are all on display in this simple compliment exchange.

Insight #1: Context matters. 

Women tend to think less in a straight line and more in the context of interconnected webs of people, thoughts, and ideas. One explanation for why women think this way more than men is that the "bridge" between the two sides of the brain, the corpus callosum, is thicker in women, allowing for greater communication between the two hemispheres. So women naturally put people, categories, and brands into a context. One of my favorite authors on gender differences is anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher. She created a perfect term for how women think called web thinking. 

In the case of the compliment, Jen immediately reframed Brooke's boot comment into a more interesting and compelling context — her life as a woman, wife, mom, professional, etc.

This has big implications for brands and how you market them. Framing your brand in a relevant, motivating context is crucial if you want to get her attention and engage her. For example, is Luvs a value-priced diaper or the wise voice of experienced parenting? Is Olay a skin cream or an essential tool to take control of beauty?

So when you think about your brand and category, consider the relevance of the context. Have you defined it based on a marketer's point of view or a woman's? A relevant context elevates the role of a brand and invites greater engagement. 

Insight #2: Details create meaning. 

While men can spend hours talking about the stats of the quarterback on their fantasy football team, women are much more interested in the details of real people and events and the emotions and feelings associated with them. This is because her brain is collecting these details to create meaning. That thicker "bridge" between the two sides of a woman's brain allows her to send, receive, and connect details with ease. 

Women build relationships through a collaborative form of storytelling filled with rich details. It's what gender expert and author Deborah Tannen calls rapport talk vs. report talk. In the exchange between Jen and Brooke, Brooke would have been hugely disappointed and even felt disconnected from her friend Jen if she simply received a "thanks" reply. It wasn't about the boots! The boots were simply a trigger for the shared storytelling.

With women, you can never underestimate the power of rich, nuanced storytelling in building your brand. And in this socially enabled world we live in, allow her to share her stories as well.  

Insight #3: The better me

Women carry around two versions of herself — her "me" and her "better me."  From a young age, women are socialized to reach for that better me from countless "self-improvement" media messages on topics ranging from beauty to motherhood to career and home.

In my research with women on the topic of personal beauty, I found some women are motivated by an idealized vision, even at the cost of anxiety and angst. More and more women, especially baby boomer and millennial women who were raised by boomer moms, are responding to more positive and empowering paths of self-acceptance and celebration. Look no further than the chart-topping success of the "I'm-just-fine-thank-you" anthem "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor. 

Going back to Brooke and Jen, Brooke addressed Jen's self-doubt with affirmations. Instead of fueling self-doubt, brands will win with women in categories from beauty to financial services by elevating her confidence and empowering her with solutions — much like a friend would do. 

Insight #4: She gets by with a little help from her friends. 

Speaking of friends, women's deep-seated need for friendship goes back millions of years.

As Dr. Fisher put it, "Ancestral women who made friends and built teams of ever-ready supporters undoubtedly bore more young and had greater access to food and protection as they reared them. Their young survived — and passed along the feminine tendency to regard power as connections."

We often talk about strength and intellect as part of survival of the fittest, but evolutionary theories validate the notion that friendship, especially among women, was key to survival as well. 

Female friendship is built on three principles: affirmation, self-disclosure, and compliments. An enduring multibillion-dollar brand built on this insight is the Oprah brand. She bonds with women by sharing her worries and vulnerabilities, uplifts them by celebrating their determination and strength, and yes, is quick with a compliment. As virtual platforms for self-disclosure and compliments, it's no wonder women dominate social media like Instagram and Facebook. 

Now imagine your brand is a person. Is this person male or female? What does this person look like, dress like, act like, value in life, etc.? What kind of friend is this person? Supportive? Fun? Intelligent? Encouraging? Sassy? Trusted?

Using friendship as a metaphor for building relationships with women is a powerful way to guide your marketing efforts. Ask yourself questions like: What connects the brand to her? How would a friend foster this relationship? How do I continue to check in and measure the strength of the relationship — beyond simply sales figures?

Now, with these four insights in mind, go give a woman a compliment. You now know WHY she'll respond with a whole lot more than "thank you."

Cherri Prince is an expert brand consultant and researcher who helps Fortune 500 clients, like Kellogg, Bic, and McDonald's, unlock brand growth through insights, innovation, and ideas among female consumers. Cherri has devleoped unique strategies and research tools to challenge how marketers think about the needs of women of all ages and lifestages.