Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How To Sell To Women

acquire-customers-female-dominant-markets-FI

The average customer is now female.

1. Women are earning, spending, and influencing spending at a greater rate than ever before.

From the Ad Age white paper
From the Ad Age white paper, “The New Female Consumer”

2. Over the next decade, women will control two-thirds of consumer wealth.

(If that sounds a little unreal, just think of all the mothers out there making purchasing decisions for their families.)

3. Women make or influence 85% of all purchasing decisions, and purchase over 50% of ‘traditional male products’ (including automobiles, home improvement products and consumer electronics).

Chances are, either you have a significant female customer base, or your customer base is already dominantly female. And since knowing your customer well is fundamental to customer acquisition, your customer acquisition strategy must reflect a superior understanding of the women you’re marketing to.

Yet  an appalling 91% of women feel that marketers don’t understand them.

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What are some ways you can understand and acquire customers in female-dominant markets, especially if your business isn’t female-led? We illustrate some practical tips with current examples.

1. Research existing players that serve your market

Do your due diligence

This applies whoever your customer base is. Take Bustle as an example to never follow.

If you’re trying to build a great content site for women, and you’re not a woman, you should check out websites like Jezebel and Autostraddle before claiming that you’re the first to play. It’s likely that “there are many, many titles already doing what you imagine, and doing it without a man at the helm.”

“Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without the Airbrushing”

2. Be present in their communities

Hang out where your customers are.

Your wife and mother are not (the end-all of) market research. If you’re a fashion, lifestyle, or hobby business, you need to spend time in blogging communities, because purchases are heavily influenced there. You should hang out on Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr, where buzz is concentrated and trends begin.

Tinder went to sorority houses

tinder-whitney-wolfe

Crucial to Tinder’s success was then-CMO Whitney Wolfe’s ideas for building an early user-base. She planned a tour that would take her to prominent college campuses around the country. 

“She would go to chapters of her sorority, do her presentation, and have all the girls at the meetings install the app. Then she’d go to the corresponding brother fraternity—they’d open the app and see all these cute girls they knew. Tinder had fewer than 5,000 users before Wolfe made her trip. When she returned, there were some 15,000.”

3. Involve women in product development

We put a lot of effort into rounding out our team with key people who, mercifully for them, look nothing like me.
– John Levisay, CEO of Craftsy, on hiring women in product development

AN INSTINCT GAP: “It’s not that a male founder or a male CEO automatically is precluded from doing a good job of running a company for women. But they are precluded from understanding their customer on an instinctual level.”  – Nicole Farb, CEO of Darby Smart Inc.

pinterest-ben-silbermann

Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann had no idea that the social scrapbooking platform would gain an 80% female user base, or that it’d become the default tool for wedding planning and craft projects.

Neither did the male founders of Craftsy, whose 4 million users are mostly female. They started the tutorial site for “golf and personal finances”, and quickly realized that their paying customers were women who were interested in their crafting classes.

Etsy built its product on women’s input

CEO Chad Dickerson learned from his female staff that they like to browse first before searching for specific items, so instead of just improving its search function, he changed Etsy’s home page to show a variety of items.

On top of that, Etsy introduced grants of $5,000 each to help talented young women engineers enroll in Hacker School, from which Etsy has plucked more than a dozen rising stars for its team. This is how it managed to increase its number of female engineers by 500% in just a year.

4. Advertise to women without patronizing them

There is no shortage of ads and marketing campaigns that are guilty of this (see: Veet, Snickers). Instead of repeating tired tropes, demonstrate an intimate understanding of women’s challenges.

Hello Flo is one of the best examples of advertising done right – check out their viral ads, Camp Gyno and First Moon Party:

Hello Flo gets its customer profile right – the mother who hands her preteen daughter the box at the end is the savvy one who consistently outsmarts her daughter; who knows the tiniest details about periods and isn’t afraid to talk about it.

5. Follow women running women-centered businesses

Watch and learn from women running ecommerce businesses that are women-facing. Just a few of many great examples – Make Love Not Porn (Cindy Gallop), HappyPlayTime (Tina Gong), Birchbox (Katia Beauchamp, Hayley Barna), and One Kings Lane (Susan Feldman, Alison Pincus). Follow them on Twitter and participate in the conversations they care about.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can do like Anil Dash, who spent a year retweeting only women and wrote about it:

When my peers in the tech industry complain that “everyone” is talking about some inane meme or horrible tech story, I find it’s much less dominant in my stream. Conversely, when conversations such as #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen or #NotYourAsianSidekick, the dialogue seems to be in surround sound, much more pervasive and all-encompassing than the usual “tucked away in the sidebar of another article” treatment such voices get.

6. Familiarize yourself with women’s issues

This won’t magically boost your customer acquisition numbers overnight. But if you’re really invested in understanding women’s lives and experiences, you will learn so much by watching women talking about themselves. Read content written by women in tech – Model View Culture and Medium are great places to start. Check out The Conversation, in which Amanda de Cadenet interviews women entrepreneurs and celebrities and discusses what it’s like to be a successful woman in their respective industries:

Go out of your way.

Building an affinity with female customers requires you to understand more than just their consumption patterns. Using Bustle again as an example – CEO Goldberg’s fault wasn’t that he wanted to build a women’s content site. The “women’s content” pie is big enough to accomodate more players. Goldberg’s fault was that he didn’t care about women as much as he cared about his own ideas about women. His bigger fault was that, when people pointed this out to him, responded that “Knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job.” 

The problem is that it is. The truth is that women are increasingly important consumers. And entrepreneurs would do well to sit up, shove their dismissal, and mind the small things – because it’s the little things that make all the difference.

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Read next: 28 Examples Of Diversity In The Startup Scene

Melissa Tsang

Melissa Tsang is a writer and speaker on the social impact of ecommerce and technology. She's also a bit of an impulse shopper. (A bit.)

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