What Women Want

A Selling Spiral

Whether buying for themselves or for the businesses they own or manage, women make final purchasing decisions based on the relationship with the seller, not on statistics and quantitative data, says Peters. Given a choice between two nearly identical products, women are likely to choose based on customer service and the ongoing relationship with the vendor, while men focus on statistics, such as the breakdown rate of the equipment.

"Men want [to buy] the product then leave. Women want to know 'How will it work?'" says Andy Andre, owner of Prescott True Value Hardware in Prescott, Arizona. By having enough staff to guide customers through installing shelves or hanging a picture, Prescott True Value has developed a loyal following of older women running households on their own for the first time due to divorce or widowhood. They have a lot in common with women who have just purchased their first homes and want to get down and dirty with drills and brushes.

Every time Prescott True Value adds a product line in response to the requests of women customers, it has a winner. Andre says the store doesn't need to focus its advertising specifically on women; all it takes is one visit to hook them. "Customer service is all about respect," he says. "It's taking the time to explain things to a customer and not talk down to them."

There is no shortage of cosmetics companies, but Sandi Hwang Adam, 32, felt that major cosmetics companies were limiting the color spectrum of their products. Maven Cosmetics, which she founded with Noreen Abbasi in 2002, markets makeup for women of all skin types, including very dark and very light. The Chicago-based company's sales are expected to grow by about 75 percent between 2003 and 2004, thanks to newly signed contracts with the likes of department store Marshall Field's.

Customers are enthusiastic because the company constantly tests and retests its shades by literally pulling women off the streets to give them makeovers, says Adam. She and Abbasi, 31, ditched their high-paying corporate consulting jobs to work at department store makeup counters for six months before launching their line. That experience has helped them present Maven products with a "we're on your side" attitude instead of the "we're the expert" tone many cosmetics conglomerates adopt.

Entrepreneurs assume marketing to women is all about discounts and giveaways, but creativity and care are what really attract women, says Martha Barletta, president of Winnetka, Illinios, consulting firm The TrendSight Group and author of Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach, and Increase Your Share of the Largest Market Segment. When women find a business that speaks their language, they'll talk about it with their friends. While men make decisions by "stripping away extraneous information, women add information to the process," says Barletta. "We notice the small things. If a man is ignored by a sales clerk, he thinks 'What a jerk.' A woman will think 'I hate this company.' The small things, good and bad, make more of an impact."

What About Dad?
James Chung is happy to announce the demise of the soccer mom. With more dads adjusting their work hours to pitch in with the kids, the president of marketing consulting firm Reach Advisors has discovered a new niche: dads who identify with the home-with-the-kids lifestyle. Whether they're working part time, telecommuting or working flexible hours, dads are tackling more child-rearing responsibilities. They're going to the grocery store, schlepping kids to and from violin lessons, and showing up for parent-teacher conferences. And because they're taking a more active role in domestic management, these "engaged dads" are starting to have more say in how the household budget is spent. In fact, Irene Dickey, a lecturer with the department of management and marketing at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, estimates that men now control upwards of 24 percent of household spending. They're at home to spend it, too.

"There's a dramatic shift in generational perception of a dad's role," says Chung, who works partly from his home office and shares family responsibilities with his wife. The recently folded Women's United Soccer Association, for instance, made the mistake of trying to appeal primarily to moms, says Chung, who researched the league's marketing strategy. In fact, dads were the ones who bought tickets to attend with their daughters. "If your services are purchased by families," Chung says, " you need to question the old wisdom that mom controls everything that goes on inside the house."

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This article was originally published in the February 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: What Women Want.

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