When it comes to marketing to women on the Internet, there’s only one person I turn to for advice and insight, and that’s Holly Buchanan. When she and Michelle Miller wrote The Soccer Mom Myth, Today’s Female Consumer: Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys, I couldn’t get my hands on the book fast enough.

Holly Buchanan photoAdding to their fun to read book, Holly writes in her Marketing to Women Online blog. Michelle’s blog is also a strong resource for marketing to women topics, such as her latest, What Her Eyes Tell Her About Your Business.

It’s a huge honor and pleasure to introduce you to Holly Buchanan, who managed to squeak out some time to answer some questions. She’s one of the busy folks at FutureNow Inc. and one of my top favorite blogs, Grokdot.com.

Male and female brains do work in different ways. One of the main differences is that women have more connections between the two hemispheres. They are tapping into both right brain and left brain functions when making decisions.

Here we go:

1. There are a huge number of “women-only” social networking sites on the Internet now. It’s no longer iVillage or Oprah.com ruling the roost, or even Blogher. More women-only sites are in the planning stages. Why the increase? What possible reason could there be to have so many of them?

Holly: I think there are a few reasons.

#1 – Women are flocking to the Internet
Women outnumber men online and it looks like those numbers will only continue to grow. (http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?id=1004775) Women are on the Internet early in the morning, on their lunch hour at work, late at night when everyone else is asleep. The Internet fits their 24/7 lifestyle. Whether you are a content provider or an advertiser, if you want to reach women, online is the place to do it.

#2 – Advertisers like the micro-targeting the Internet provides.
Advertisers like the ability to target specific groups of women through online portals. Look at the rise of Glam Media who states they have 77M unique visitors on the more than 600 sites in their network. (http://www.glammedia.com/about_glam/our_story/index.php) Glam’s success is just one testament to advertisers’ desire to reach women online.

I talk to so many women who feel so alone.

#3 – Advertisers want to tap into the powerful connections women have with many of these online sites.
Glam talks about the “unique voices” of their online publications. Certainly, some sites do a better job than others with connecting with their readers. But many women do have a powerful connection to the websites and blogs they visit. There’s also a chance to interact with the sites/blogs/brands through comments and forums and online communities. Advertisers are eager to tap into these powerful connections.

#4 – Women are desperate to find ways to connect in a society that is increasingly isolating.
I know this sounds more “airy-fairy”, but I tell you – I talk to so many women who feel so alone. They are so busy with work and their immediate family (if they have a family- many women are single), they are moving more often, and they are losing touch with extended family and friends. I think you’ll continue to see women turning to the internet for, not only research and news, but also for personal connection.

2. Do women’s consumer habits vary by age? Do you have quick examples of say, how a banking/stocks site would market to retired women vs. career ladder women? (Same site but two revenue streams.)

Holly: Since you brought up women and retirement – take a look at Wachovia’s women’s retirement section on their website (http://www.wachovia.com/misc/0,,1391,00.html)

They ask “where do you picture yourself” and offer you different ages and financial situations to choose from. I really like that. But I do have a problem with the stereotypes of their first choice – “Credit, Debt and Shoes” with a picture of a woman with shopping bags. Why does everyone have to stereotype all women as being shoe-aholics?

That said – I think you’ll see more segmenting not just by age, but by lifestyle. A 28 year old may have young children in the home, and a 50 year old may have young children at home – so I think age will matter less than life stage.

3. What REALLY ticks off women on the Internet? Ethics, attitudes, scams, poor usability, stereotyped ads?

Holly: All of the above. On the ethics and scams front – They don’t trust banner ads that scream “You’ve won a free Prize” – they HATE spam – they want to know what you’re going to do with their email address – they are growing very distrustful. Poor usability is also a big problem. It’s still ridiculously hard to find what you’re looking for on many websites. Companies need to do a better job with clearer navigation, stronger calls to action, better categorization, and providing answers to women’s questions. One of the reasons why product reviews increase conversion is – women are finding the answers to their questions in the product reviews, because, so often, they aren’t finding those answers in the product descriptions.

And yes, stereotypes are a big problem. (see the shoes example above) Women want to see images that reflect their true lives (why does every family have a husband, wife and two kids? How about some images for all those single mothers out there, or women who don’t have kids) And the three words that are the kiss of death for any website are “we understand women.” As soon as you say that, she thinks “Oh no you don’t. You don’t understand me.” So if you want women to feel you understand them – show them, don’t tell them.

A final note on design – a University of Glamorgan study (http://www.glam.ac.uk/news/releases/003056.php) found men preferred websites designed by men, and women preferred websites designed by women. So, make sure you have a good designer, but make sure you get feedback from women on the design.

4. Who is today’s female consumer? What does she want marketers to know most about her?

Holly: That she’s not like every other woman. In the book we talk about the four buying modes and give examples of how to speak to women in each mode. It’s essential to understand that not all women think alike and want the same thing. Today’s female consumer wants to see ads and messaging that are relevant to her, that reflect her values and her life. So break through the stereotypes and spend some time with her, either through surveys, or focus groups or discussion forums, or following her around for a day to see what her life is really like.

The three words that are the kiss of death for any website are “we understand women.”

5. How does she purchase online? Does she search and buy offline? Price compare? Impulse buy? Not buy online?

Holly: The latest figures show 87% pf consumers research products online before buying offline (http://www.internetretailer.com/internet/marketing-conference/98448779-87-consumers-research-products-online-buy-offline.html) So understand that even if she is purchasing offline, your online presence can make or break that offline sale. She absolutely uses the internet to save time with price comparison shopping through sites like shopping.com and pricegrabber.com.

Bottom line – more and more women are going to be shopping online and researching products online – so it’s crucial that the experience she has on your website is a good one.

6. Why and when blogs useful to marketing to women?

As we saw in the answer to your first question, women feel a real connection with blogs and the people who write them. Many blogs have a wonderful, unique, real voice. Plus they are interactive- you can comment and interact with the blog writer or writers. So, if you have a blog that has a voice and personality, women feel connected to that blog writer. That blog writer has a real chance to influence his or her readers, as long as they honor that relationship and don’t pitch products they don’t believe in.

We’ve seen how powerful word of mouth is with women. Blogs are a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of the word of mouth, as long as the blog is providing valuable, unbiased information.

7. In your book, it says that “Effective marketing to women never excludes men.” Can you talk about this please?

Some marketers think the way to reach women is to put down men. This almost always backfires. Women don’t like ads that put down men. I see so many commercials with the “doofus dad.” Dad messes something up and mom has to swoop in and save the day. Where are the commercials with positive images of dads? One of my favorites is the AT&T commercial where the dad’s little girl gives him her stuffed animal to take on the trip, and he takes picture of the animal in all the different locations he travels to and sends them home. What a great dad! I bet that commercial is very effective with dads, but also with moms.

You also have to be careful of creating “women only” spaces that exclude men. Some hotels are experimenting with women only floors. It’s terrific that these floors cater to women with higher security, brighter lighting, better mirrors in the bathroom, etc. But for women and men who travel together (which is often my situation) do women really want to be separated out? It’s a fine line you have to walk.

Harley Davidson has “Garage Parties” for women new to biking, where they provide training specifically for women. I like this because it provides a non-intimidating environment and focuses on issues specific to women bike riders – like, if you’re bike goes down, how do you pick it back up again. Women who are smaller in stature may need specific help and instruction. But I would hope Harley would have a similar class for guys who are new to biking as well.

A great way to handle it is to create the experience for women, but allow men to benefit as well. BeJane.com is a do-it-yourself home improvement site designed specifically for women. It has simple “how-to” instructions and allows visitors to share their own stories, and has a positive “you can do it – don’t be afraid to try” attitude. But they’ve found that men also like these simple instructions and “don’t be intimidated” attitude.

That’s what we often see – when you create a better experience for women, men benefit as well.

8. I read your book and “The Female Brain” at the same time. It’s always been obvious and even a source of teasing in my house that my daughter and I are very different shoppers than my husband, her boyfriend or brothers. The men are far more impulse buyers for big ticket items, whereas she and I discuss, clip coupons, price compare for food, clothing and “girlie stuff”. And when we find a great deal, then we pounce on it! Both books describe how differently men and women are wired. Can you talk about the brain, gender differences and how it relates to shopping?

Holly: I have a confession – once I started researching marketing to women four years ago, I fell in love with neurology. I am now a total geek. It is amazing to me that we are just now (in the last 5 or so years) learning about how the brain really works. My copy of the “The Female Brain” is all marked up and dog-eared. I just finished “The Brain that Changes Itself” and it was absolutely fascinating and very accessible. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning about brain plasticity.

But alas, I digress. (which is what you get when you ask about one of my favorite subjects)

Male and female brains do work in different ways. One of the main differences is that women have more connections between the two hemispheres. They are tapping into both right brain and left brain functions when making decisions. This is one of the reasons why women often have more questions and more criteria that matters to them when making decisions.

Just know that when a woman says, “I need to think about it,” she really does need to think about it. She’s not just blowing you off. She may need more time to process logical and emotional information.

Also – it’s important to understand that everything matters. She is tapping into all sorts of emotional and logical areas of her brain and seeing how it all interconnects. If one thing is out of place, it will throw up a warning sign. Michele and I call it her “B.S. Meter.” She is looking at your store, your layout, your restrooms, the lighting, the smile or lack of it on the attendee’s face. Same thing online – she’s looking at your design, your copy, the images, what you say and how you say it. If anything contradicts her expectations, she’s going to notice it.

So remember to pay attention to the details.

One example – Fairmont Hotels, who I love and adore, make you choose a prefix when you sign up for their club. For a woman, your choices are “Mrs.” Or “Ms.” Why is this required? Why do you have to know her marital status? And are you aware how many women despise the term “Ms.”?

Little things mean a lot to women. But they are worth the effort. Once you delight her, she will not only remain a loyal customer, she’ll tell everyone she knows, and I do mean everyone. She will be your best source of new business. How cool is that?

When you create a better experience for women, men benefit as well.

I strongly recommend The Soccer Mom Myth. I refer to it often. I even read it while sunbathing by the pool, armed with highlighters and my cool shades!

Thanks so much Holly for taking the time out to answer my questions. I’m happy to send new readers to purchase The Soccer Mom Myth

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Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, SEO and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, information architecture and persuasive design. She shared her passion for Usability and SEO through her site and private consulting at Cre8pc for 17 years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability testing, customer experience and conversions design.

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