See What She Sees Online, and Learn

See What She Sees Online, and Learn

Observing the patterns and noticing the gathering hotspots of women online can help to quash any assumptions you may have about them and to focus your marketing approach in ways you'd never imagine.

If you knew that the women in your market were heading to in droves, how might that clue you in to their concerns and values? If you were an auto manufacturer and you noticed that women seemed to submit the most passionate reviews (negative and positive) of certain cars on, how might that help you with product development?

Just as we'd recommend that you hit the streets to watch and listen to get information about women off-line, so do we propose that you hit the sites to see what those women are discussing and what's inspiring them online. Whether it's swapping self-discovery quiz results, reviewing books on or participating in a purposeful survey, there are many clues to be gathered about women online that can guide your product and marketing strategy development.

Because "everything matters," especially to women, we should all remember to take that same approach as we explore the best ways of reaching them. How women behave online, including how they respond to and interact with polls , quizzes and surveys, is definitely something that should matter to us as marketers.

The clearer our marketing viewpoint, the better we can see what she sees. Online research will help keep our viewpoint, and our awareness of what interests and motivates women consumers, clean and clear.

Chapter 11: Enlisting Women as Your Marketing Partners ”An Alliance for Brand Success

Women have an incredible capacity to help solve brand challenges for the products and services they purchase. If we as marketers simply pose the right questions in the right way, we're sure to receive telling input from women like: "If you just tweaked this one product design issue, I'd be buying out the store". Or, "This marketing approach deeply offends me".

In this chapter, we will show you how to involve women sooner and more fully in product development and marketing, and we'll demonstrate why it's worth staying in touch with them on an ongoing basis. Women do provide powerful product and service insights through your monitoring of their buying behavior, but they are also very willing to help even more when directly asked. So ask!

Partnering with Women to See Through Their Perspectives

For simplicity's sake, we've been referring throughout this book to the idea of marketing to women. However, as awareness increases of how women buy, there will certainly be a paradigm shift from marketing to women to marketing with women. We can no longer rest on our marketing laurels and assume or stereotype what might appeal to the women in the markets we serve. When we begin to work with women, it's much easier to find out what they really want and how that should be delivered.

With so many roles, life stages and life transitions affecting their buying perspective, women's needs and views are constantly evolving. So, you can't just guess what they want. Instead, invite them into your marketing research to discover their true requirements, values and preferences.


Before you can finely tune your marketing ear to what women may be saying about your products or your industry, you should start by noting what you think you already know. Then, consider what you still need to learn. As a guide, you may want to refer to the list of twenty questions included at the end of this chapter. Your answers to those will help you communicate with female customers in a more relevant and compelling way and give you a great basis either for future listening research or for your product development and marketing efforts.

Listening, really listening, to women is the bottom line. The goal is to involve women sooner and more fully in your development of products, packaging and marketing. And, the fastest and most accurate way to learn what your women customers want is to ask them, listen carefully and see your brand through their eyes. From that vantage point you will be better equipped to make more intuitive and insightful products, marketing campaigns and advertising messages.

It may be a challenge if you've been in the corporate world for eons and using focus groups is routine. But, let's consider exploring new ways to listen to women and elevate their voices. A few listening methods to consider include:

Conversations. Don't ask women to change how they communicate; instead, change how you listen. Gathering women in informal environments like day spas and bookstores presents a more intimate, conversational-style listening option. In our own experience, we've found that such relaxed surroundings support the conversation flow and generate incredible insights on topics from making health decisions during menopause to planning lucrative retirement incomes.

Live talk-show-style listening. Mary Lou Quinlan, founder and CEO of Just Ask a Woman , a market research firm that has become known for its talk-show format, listens to women on behalf of Fortune 500 companies. The discussions are designed to respect the all-female audience and to encourage a deeper level of sharing among the twenty-five or so participants . No two-way mirrors or hidden listeners allowed, and the show is taped for future analysis. Women love to feel included and asked in this way, and the sharing and conversation is lively, fun and revealing .

Established networks. Taking a more grass roots approach than conversations and talk shows, tapping into the meetings of existing women's groups, like book clubs, walking groups, or dinner and investment clubs, can be highly effective. Established gatherings, where women have a long history of connecting to one another, often work well for discussing more personal topics. One note: Such intimate networks may not be a good choice for some financial topics, since many women may want privacy about their money issues even among friends (finding it easier to talk about those issues among strangers).

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how to learn from and join the conversations of women [1]

Especially when you put them together in conversation, women have the power to help companies solve challenges, design more intuitive and relevant products, and create advertising messages that resonate ”all with their usual humor and common sense. Talking with them early on produces yet another bonus, it gives them a sense that their roll in product development is active, so they will more likely be purchasers and purchase influencers as soon as the new product hits the shelves .

Tips for joining conversations with women include:

Encourage story telling. One of us (Lisa) had a college boyfriend who encouraged her to tell her stories of the day by stating her point first and then filling in the details in a logical order of importance. That way, he explained, he could choose whether to listen to the whole story. That relationship didn't last long, but mentioning the experience serves a purpose: Women share vital information about the things that brands need to know in the context of stories. So, it's not our job as marketers and researchers to ask women to sort their conversations into outlines or bullet points; rather, we must develop our ears to extract the rich information and insights embedded in their uninhibited stories. So resist the temptation to constantly interrupt and overorchestrate the conversations ( otherwise you risk validating your own personal hypotheses). If you want genuine and usable insights, you need to provide breathing room so women can get to the heart of the matter.

Use all your senses to listen. Pay attention to the energy level in the room as well as to the content of the conversation. It is important to notice when the group gets into a buzz, because then you know you've hit on an important topic or issue. When everyone starts talking on top of each other or laughing, they are having a "that's me" moment such as, "That's how I am with my kids ", or "That is the state of my finances". These powerful energy shifts often provide signature stories that can form the essence of a brand's messaging.

Support the conversations through environment and context. Most research approaches don't allow women to share information in a natural way. But, fun and relevant environments can do wonders to support authentic conversations. As an example, Panasonic tested the Panasonic Pantene Ultra Ionic Hair Dryer by inviting their focus group participants to a beauty school. Each participant was given a complementary shampoo from a professional stylist-in-training, and then a new blow dryer with an assigned station and a chair and a mirror. As women took the new dryers for test- drives , Panasonic's brand managers spent time watching and interacting with participants, gathering real-time feedback and insight.

Look at her holistically. Women often view products and services as part of a solution or improvement that they will incorporate into their lives. By understanding the factors that influence a woman's buying decision along with her specific motivations for buying your product, you can gain further insight into how to position your brand.

Examine, for example, how soy milk entered the marketplace as one thing, but has since become so much more for the people who consume it. When it first hit the mainstream market, soy gave customers a lactose-free alternative to cow's milk. Then, soy milk became a popular choice with women looking to decrease menopause symptoms. And, for a whole separate reason, vanilla soy milk became popular with people who simply enjoyed the sweeter vanilla taste in their cereal and coffee. So, some milk manufacturers then caught on to this and began creating vanilla -flavored cow's milk. It just goes to show that you might think women buy your products for a certain set of reasons, but then discover that a health condition, flavor, color or even the portion size is tipping the scale in your favor. By understanding the full range of reasons people buy your product, you can form a more complete picture of which factors influence buying decisions.

Use your best listeners. When conducting research and listening to women, make sure to send those people to listen to women who understand and enjoy the market, and who are clear on the objectives of your brand. If you don't pay attention to this element of your research, the listening part of the process can end up being delegated to a professional discussion leader or stranger who may not have your brand's real interests in mind at all. Remember, it's not just what women are saying, but what the listener is hearing that will greatly affect the quality of the women's feedback you receive.

The biggest advances in joining and learning from the conversations of women will come as companies use streamlined internal communication systems (intranet and e-mail) to make the ongoing feedback from women available throughout their organizations in real time.

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Virtual listening. The online world has become incredibly sophisticated in its ability to listen to women customers and learn their preferences. And, the Internet has become the perfect way to survey and connect with female consumers. The online realm provides a private way to share opinions and personal information (if the person chooses to) from the privacy and comfort of their own home.

One of the best examples of virtual listening in action is, a hugely successful self-discovery quiz Web destination that has attracted members tens of millions strong ” roughly 70 percent of whom are women. With quizzes like "What Breed of Dog Are You?" and "Which Reality Show Is Right for You?" new members are drawn into a fun interactive experience where they involve their friends and discover more about themselves . The "word-of-mouse" factor for these quizzes is high, and members keep coming back for more, helping gain even more members .

While members are having a blast finding out about themselves, sponsoring companies like Unilever, Coke, Pfizer and Volkswagen are gathering important customer information (aggregated, not personalized) through the incoming data. In fact, there are billions of answers to questions stored in's database. Sponsor companies can begin to understand consumers through the personality profiles and aggregate information collected by Tickle.

Ask the insiders. You already know who the insiders are ”the people in your industry who have important insights about your customers. So, get them on the phone and conduct interviews immediately! For even more input, you may want to assemble a panel of these experts at a trade show to discuss your specific market segment. But remember to tailor your interview requests , invitations, incentives and interview styles to meet the needs and preferences of your experts. Groups of automobile executives and gatherings of fashion journalists , for example, may find comfort in very different environments.

Internal audit. Your own customer service staff members have a wealth of information, so be sure to give their insights your full attention. Of course, some of what they mention will challenge the status quo, so make sure those you do interview have the assurance that you won't shoot the messengers. Along the same lines, you should use an outside contractor to conduct the interviews or any group conversations so that employees feel safe as the bearers of both good and bad news.

Feedback review. Via their complaint letters , e- mails and product-return records, current customers can provide valuable information to guide your brand toward communicating in a more compelling way. Remember to read the feedback from a marketing perspective (rather than the frustrated perspective of someone who has to restock the shelves, for example), and you'll gain deeper elements of truth.

Data review. You should already know where to find data on women that pertains to your industry, right? But, are you actually making a point to read it? Especially in combination with the above listening methods, reviewing that data regularly can bring your women's market profile into clearer focus.

Cross-industry research. It's amazing how connected a woman's consumer behavior may be to other elements of concern in her life. A great way to explore this is to look outside your own industry to see what women are responding to in those marketplaces . Imagine what companies in the financial services industry could learn from how a day spa or a tire company like Les Schwab operates their service businesses. There are clues to a women's buying mind and a wealth of transferable information in it all!

[1] Lisa Johnson, "How to Learn from and Join the Conversations of Women", in All About Women Consumers , annual from the editors of Marketing to Women newsletter (New York, EPM Communications, Inc., 2003), page xiv.